COVID-19


  • Arguments in a lawsuit challenging Governor Cooper’s implementation of emergency powers without concurrence from the NC Council of State were presented in North Carolina Business Court Tuesday. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest brought the suit, arguing state law requires the governor to get council of state approval before shutting down sections of the state economy, but the governor’s representative disputes this reading of the law. Senior Judge James Gale has indicated he will decide the case as quickly as possible.

  • Governor Cooper announced that North Carolina will remain in Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19-related reopening plan for at least five more weeks. Bars and gyms will remain closed and other non-essential businesses will continue to operate at the currently reduced capacity. Cooper and DHHS chief Mandy Cohen report infection rates are beginning to stabilize but remain high, and the reopening of schools in combination with the fact that over 50% of the state’s residents are at high risk due to age and/or chronic conditions make it necessary to keep Phase 2 safety measures in place.

  • The UNC Chapel Hill administration faced criticism for failing to publicly reveal Orange County health department recommendations to hold online-only classes and severely limit on-campus housing. Dr. Mimi Chapman, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, called the decision to not share the health department recommendations “a serious breach of trust.” She noted that returning students are not following mask and social distancing, behaviors that the university has said would lead to a revision of its reopening plan. UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz indicated the decision not to follow the county recommendations was made by the UNC System leaders, who have directed all system chancellors to follow orders but not recommendations from public health officials. Unions and groups representing UNC system personnel are urging county health directors in college communities to order universities to close for normal business during the COVID-19 pandemic “until such time as students, faculty and staff can return safely to their work.”

Voting Rights

  • A federal court decision announced Tuesday leaves certain state voting requirements unchanged but modifies others. The voter registration period will not be extended and the one-witness requirement for absentee ballots will remain in place. However, election officials will not be permitted to reject an absentee ballot for superficial errors, and the order also blocks a number of rules that would make it harder for nursing home residents to vote. Although this order solidifies some voting rules, there are at least nine additional lawsuits targeting aspects of the state’s voting laws. In his 188-page decision, U.S. District Judge William Osteen warned that North Carolina must “take its election response to the coronavirus pandemic seriously” in order to assure voters fundamental voting rights because plaintiffs “raised genuine issues of concerns” beyond those addressed by his order.

Education Policy

  • UNC-Chapel Hill will ask the US Supreme Court to review a NC Supreme Court decision ordering the University to make available to the public the names of students sanctioned for sexual misconduct. The records at issue are part of any case filed under the University’s Equal Opportunity Compliance Title IX provisions, rather than being reported to law enforcement agencies, and are kept confidential. News media had sued the University in 2016 after being denied the records as a part of a public records request. University officials fear the loss of confidentiality will discourage assault survivors and witnesses from taking advantage of the Title IX provision. Advocates for releasing the records argue that it will lead to more transparency about the extent of sexual assault on campus.

  • The State Board of Education will ask the NC General Assembly to adjust state law so that school districts will not lose funding if public school enrollment numbers fall this year. The Board is concerned that COVID-19 may lead parents to seek other options for their children. Funding for public schools is determined by enrollment numbers, and losing funding could impact efforts to implement alternatives to in-person classes during the health crisis as well as to prepare for when these classes resume. School officials expressed concern that a reduction in funding would also disproportionately impact low-wealth communities.


COVID-19

  • On Tuesday Governor Cooper issued an executive order prohibiting the sale of alcohol at restaurants after 11 PM. Bars are still closed in the state under a previous executive order, and Cooper cited the desire to “prevent restaurants from turning into bars after hours” as the primary rationale for the new order. The order does not apply to grocery stores or other stores that sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.


Voting Rights

  • On Monday a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that the state’s options for voting by mail discriminate against blind and visually impaired voters. The lawsuit alleges that having only a paper ballot for mail-in voting means that unless they want to risk their health to vote in person, blind voters will be forced to tell someone else their voting preferences and to trust that person to actually fill out their ballot. Plaintiffs in the suit include North Carolina voters, both Democratic and Republican; Disability Rights North Carolina; the North Carolina Council of the Blind; and the alumni association of the Governor Morehead School, a school in Raleigh for visually impaired children.

Education Policy

  • On Monday seven North Carolina parents, with the support of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) and the National Education Association (NEA), filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the state’s private school voucher program. The plaintiffs argue that many private schools that benefit from the Opportunity Scholarship program discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation, and that the use of public funds for these schools -- with little oversight -- violates anti-discrimination provisions in the NC Constitution. The program, which was created by the General Assembly in 2013, has long faced criticism that it draws needed resources away from underfunded public schools.

  • On Wednesday the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted to remove the names of three white supremacists from campus buildings. Charles B. Aycock, Julian S. Carr, and Josephus Daniels were all leaders in the implementation and promotion of white supremacist policies at the turn of the twentieth century. While no new names for the buildings have yet been announced, the removal of the names from the buildings was already underway Wednesday afternoon.


Economic and Housing Policy

  • The NC Utilities Commission extended prohibitions on cutting off electricity, gas, and water service through August and mandated that utilities provide customers a 12-month payment plan option. The order only applies to publicly traded utilities, however, exempting the many municipally owned and cooperative utilities operating in the state. Governor Cooper intends to announce a plan soon to aid those struggling to pay for basic utilities.


Criminal Justice

  • On Friday Judge Greg Horne of the Forsyth County Superior Court ordered the release of some of the video footage of the infliction of fatal injuries on John Neville by staff in Forsyth County Jail last December. In July, six jail workers were charged with causing the injuries that led to Neville’s death. Horne’s order came in response to a petition from a coalition of 11 news outlets, with the judge deciding in favor of a compelling public interest to release the footage. Neville’s family had requested after his death that the videos not be released, but they now support the release of the videos to press outlets.




Education Policy

  • Citing the need to support ongoing campus salary and operational costs, the UNC Board of Governors affirmed that tuition and fees at all UNC campuses will not be decreased, prorated, or refunded if the COVID-19 crisis forces universities to move to online instruction. A few Board members disagreed with the decision, asserting that the online experience is inferior and operational costs should not be passed on to students or families. In another split vote, the Board also agreed to waive the requirement of SAT and ACT test scores for admission to UNC schools, although students may voluntarily submit scores and schools can choose to consider them.

  • A proposed change to chancellor searches at UNC System schools would give more control to the UNC System President at the expense of the local boards of trustees. The change would allow the UNC System President to add up to two finalists to those presented to her/him by an individual school’s Board of Trustees, and – as is now the case - to choose a final candidate to present to the UNC Board of Governors. Incoming UNC System President Peter Hans, who proposed the change, said it would help identify the strongest final candidates, but some UNC Board of Governors members and trustees expressed concerns that a school’s trustees would have little power to object to a candidate. The proposed change passed a vote unanimously in the Committee on Personnel and Tenure and will come before the full Board of Governors this week.


Environmental Policy

  • In a setback for Wake Stone Corporation, the NC Department of Environmental Quality has returned the company’s application to mine a tract of leased land in Raleigh next to Umstead State Park. NC DEQ said the application, which proposes to create a 40-story deep pit in order to extract, crush, and sell minerals for road building, lacks essential environmental impact information. In addition to the NC DEQ questions, many private opponents have claimed the RDU Airport Authority, which is leasing the land to Wake Stone, does not have a legal right to do so.


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