STATE NEWS BRIEFS FOR 05-30-19
BLACK MONUMENT ON STATE GROUNDS IN SENATE BUDGET
[RALEIGH] As part of the proposed state Senate budget, $2.5 million is being appropriated to construct a monument on state Capitol grounds in downtown Raleigh honoring the contributions of African Americans. It was 2016 when the NC Historical Commission held a month-long series of community meetings for feedback on what such a monument should represent. Gov. Roy Cooper late put funding in his proposed budget the following year for what became known as the Freedom Monument, but Republican lawmakers ignored his proposal, and appropriated funding for a civil war museum in Fayetteville instead.
GOVERNOR BLASTS NC SENATE BUDGET
[RALEIGH] According to Ford Porter, spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, the new budget proposal put for by the NC Senate is lacking. ““This budget leaves out Medicaid expansion that would close the health care coverage gap and it shortchanges public schools in exchange for more corporate tax cuts. The Governor hopes to continue working with the House and Senate on a budget that does more to help hard working North Carolinians.”
NEW ELECTIONS DIRECTOR MAY GET $30,000 RAISE
[RALEIGH] Now that the Democrat-led State Board of Elections has fired SBOE Director Kim Strach, replacing her with Karen Brinson Bell, the board believes that Bell deserves a $30,000 raise coming in. Why? Because apparently, there were county elections directors across the state, like in Mecklenburg County, who were actually being paid more than the state elections director was. The raise recommendation still must be approved by the state human resources director.
HOW CASH BAIL HURTS
By Cash Michaels
Since April 22nd, a bill has been pending in the NC House Rules. Calendar and Operations Committee seeking to establish a joint legislative study committee on the use of secured and unsecured appearance bonds.
Are there alternatives to requiring suspects arrested and charged with nonviolent crimes to be required to pay a cash bail to ensure their not only their release from jail (all suspects are legally considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law), but also their appearance in court?
And are African Americans, Hispanics and other poor people of color at a disadvantage, compared to their well-to-do white counterparts who can afford to post cash bail, or in some cases, because they can afford good private criminal attorneys, no bail at all?
Those are the questions being asked across North Carolina and the nation, as critics are taking a serious look at what they claim is “unequal justice” when it comes to the cash bail system, and how, depending on your economic circumstances, especially if your black, you’re treated much differently by the criminal justice system.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina has already started a “Smart Justice” campaign to “end the unjust for-profit cash bail system that strips people of their rights, targets poor people and people of color, and hurts families and communities,” according to their campaign website.
“People who cannot afford their bail are locked up while their cases go through the courts, which can take weeks, months or even years,” the ACLU of NC Smart Justice website continued. “Those who can afford bail go free, allowing them to return to their homes, families and jobs before their trial.”
The ACLU of NC site concludes that while “…we are all supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty… [the cash bail system has ] created two criminal justice systems: one for the rich and one for the rest of us.”
The Smart Justice site adds that the cash bail system is, “…doing nothing to make our communities safer.”
On another ACLU of North Carolina site, not only does the nonprofit legal advocacy group claim that cash bail “doesn’t work,” but that in North Carolina “…86% of the people in our jails haven’t been convicted of a crime,” adding that the system is “broken and corrupt.”
While it was no surprise when a local NC district attorney a few weeks ago, Ben David of New Hanover and Pender, held an emergency press conference to defend his office’s use of the cash nail system, saying that it “…protects this community,” the strongest pushback against any reform is coming from the bail industry, which enjoyed making $2 billion in revenue in 2018, and whose NC Bail Agents Association Political Action Committee last year gave a reported $26,000 to Republican candidates in the NC General Assembly.
In fact, according to published reports, between 2009 and 2017, North Carolina ranked second-highest in the nation when it came to political contributions from bail agents, with $148, 300 (some of that went to Democratic candidates too, the National Institute on Money in Politics reports).
Are there alternatives to locking nonviolent suspects up prior to trial?
Yes, but politically, observers say, they may not fly.
Part 2 next week – a look at those alternatives
ADAMS, BUTTERFIELD CLOSE TO
CALLING FOR TRUMP IMPEACHMENT
By Cash Michaels
Following the lead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), North Carolina’s two African American Democratic U.S. House members Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC-12) and Rep. G. K. Butterfield, have not officially or publicly called for the impeachment of Pres. Donald J. Trump yet.
But both have made it clear, especially after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference into the 2016 presidential campaign, and the Trump campaign’s role in it, that impeachment of the Republican president is, in Rep. Adams’ words, ‘…not off the table.”
“I’m not there yet, but we’re getting pretty darn close,” Congressman Butterfield told McClatchy News service last week when asked where he was on the issue.
It’s little surprise that Adams and Butterfield are holding the line Speaker Pelosi has drawn, despite increasing public pressure to at least formally begin the congressional process of holding impeachment hearings.
Pelosi says Trump wants House Democrats to proceed with impeachment, in order to ultimately portray himself as a victim of a political “witch hunt,” something they deny.
While refusing to call for impeachment yet, saying that House committees are still “following the evidence,” the speaker has openly accused the president of “a coverup,” something that ignited an angry Trump last week to walk out of a planned meeting with Democrats on proposed infrastructure spending, demanding that congressional probes must stop before he negotiates anything with them.
“I don’t do coverups,” Trump defiantly told reporters shortly after.
While she might not be for impeachment yet, Rep. Adams apparently doesn’t buy Trump’s assertion that he isn’t hiding any.
Adams made national headlines last week with her brisk questioning of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnnuchin during a hearing by the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who was one of the first black members of Congress to call for Trump’s impeachment.
The Internal Revenue Service falls under Mnnuchin’s agency, and he has blocked the IRS’ required legal compliance to turn over Trump’s past tax returns to Congress.
Adams demanded Mnnuchin tell the committee why, especially when the decades-old law is clear that he must.
“I have been advised that had I turned them over, I would be violating the law,” Trump’s Treasury Secretary told Adams in open hearing, adding that the U.S. Justice Dept. told him not to.
When asked by Rep. Adams whether the American people have the right to see their president’s tax returns, Secretary Mnuchin replied, ““No, I don’t. Presidents are not required to turn them over. The American people knew he didn’t release them before they voted for him.”
The episode, along with the Trump Administration’s blanket refusal to honor congressional subpoenas and order former administration officials not to cooperate with congressional committee investigations, crystallizes Adams and Butterfield’s concern about the authority of Congress being blatantly ignored by the Republican president.
“Congress has a sacred responsibility to obtain the information necessary to determine the next steps,” Rep. Adams said in a statement.
Rep. Butterfield agreed.
“The thing that bothers me the most,…,” he told McClatchy, “… is the disrespect for the rule of law…”