It wasn't a question of if, but when the new Republican majority at the N.C. General Assembly would file a bill to repeal the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which allows death row defendants to appeal their sentences on grounds of racial discrimination. Under the progressive new law, death-row defendants who prove racial discrimination factored into their case could serve life in prison instead of being put to death by the state.
But as expected, House Majority Leader Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, and three conservative colleagues filed HB 615 Monday, titled "No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty." The title doesn't quite sum up the purpose of the bill, which nullifies the statute established in 2009 commonly called the Racial Justice Act (PDF, see page 3, Section 2).
The Racial Justice Act allows death-row defendants to present evidence showing their case was influenced by racial bias, including statistical evidence. But the new House bill makes reference to a U.S. Supreme Court case in which a statistical study was "insufficient to support an inference that any of the decision makers in the defendant's case acted with discriminatory purpose."
Some supporters of the Racial Justice Act say bringing in the Supreme Court references to the Georgia case of McCleskey v. Kemp is misleading.
"They took language from McCleskey, but they took only a piece of the language," said Ken Rose, a senior attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which supports the Racial Justice Act. Rose and his colleagues at the CDPL represent several death-row inmates making appeals under the law.
"What they don't say is that no one's ever been able to get relief [under McCleskey]," Rose said. "No one has been able to show purposeful discrimination under McCleskey. [The bill] repeals the RJA and it reinstates a standard that no one can meet."
Supporters of the Racial Justice Act have arranged events and press conferences last week and this week to spread the word about the bill, which on Tuesday was referred to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, which meets on Wednesdays. As of Tuesday night, it was not on the agenda for discussion Wednesday, April 6.
Leaders in the state House of Representatives passed two controversial bills Wednesday afternoon, sending both to the state Senate for consideration. One of the bills (HB 33) rules out documents from the Mexican Consulate for North Carolina issued to Mexican residents in our state as a valid form of identification or proof of residency. The second (HB 111) would allow people with handgun permits to carry weapons in parks and restaurants, including establishments that serve alcohol.
The act to disregard documents issued by the state’s Mexican Consulate would prohibit government entities, including schools, magistrates and police, from verifying someone’s identity or residency through a Mexican ID card, known as a “matricula consular,” or any similar documents issued by a foreign government. Although the act would include documents from other nations—potentially problematic for a state with internationally-renowned universities and global businesses—many House Democrats said the act was unfairly targeting Latinos.
Those pushing the bill, including sponsor Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford and Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, have said consular ID cards are often forged and used by illegal immigrants to stave off deportation. Opponents of the bill say cases of forgery are no more frequent than other forms of identification. Further, forgeries are being made more difficult with changes to the format.
Leaders in Durham and Carrboro have passed resolutions in recent years supporting the acceptance of Mexican consular ID cards as valid forms of identification. When Durham’s City Council passed its resolution last fall, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez was among its supporters.
Google announced today it selected Kansas City, Kan., for a free fiber-optic network that promises Internet speeds 100 times faster than those currently available to most homes and businesses in the U.S. It's a project worth millions. The news likely dashed the hopes of the more than 600 communities across the country that asked to be considered for the project, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
We wrote about Google fever last March. The frenzy to get Google's attention prompted a lot of stunts. Topeka, Kan., renamed itself Google, people were jumping into freezing lakes in the middle of winter—it was big. Here, our efforts were more mild—Durhamites spelled out 'Google' for an aerial photo at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
We understand. It's a little disheartening to be passed over for Kansas. Here in North Carolina, we actually have a lot in common with Kansas: breathtaking landscapes (but we've got the beach), great barbecue (vinegar, baby) and exhilarating college basketball (although both Roy Williams and Dean Smith chose to settle on Tobacco Road).
This isn't the first time Kansas has beat out North Carolina for a multi-million dollar investment. In 2006, both North Carolina and Kansas were on a short list of states where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was considering building National Bio and Agro Defense Facility. The NBAF is a huge federal complex for the research of "pathogens and pests" that threaten plants and animals vital to the country's agricultural systems, including zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
When it was proposed that the facility be located in Butner, residents and community leaders across the region gathered in fervent opposition. In 2009, Homeland Security announced the NBAF would be located in Manhattan, Kan. So, maybe being passed over for Kansas isn't always a bad thing.
(Also, our good state's name hasn't been branded by melodramatic prog-rock for the past four decades. Just saying.)
House Democrats held a press conference Monday afternoon to challenge a bill filed late last week by House Republicans, including Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam and Rep. Tom Murry of Wake County, to block last year's federal health care reform law. The federal law, which is being challenged by 26 states and may end up before the Supreme Court, would require all Americans to have health insurance and prohibit insurance providers from refusing to cover many preexisting conditions.
The local bill, titled "Protect Health Care Freedom" (but more widely referred to as House Bill 2), would effectively exclude North Carolina from enforcing the federal health care reform act. It would prohibit the state from requiring anyone to obtain health insurance and levying a fine against them if they don't enroll. If passed, the bill could also require North Carolina's attorney general to join those 26 states in action against the federal legislation or defend the state and its residents against federal action.
Stam introduced the bill at a House Judiciary committee meeting last Thursday. The bill is scheduled to reach the House floor Wednesday for a full vote, according to a WRAL.com report. When Republicans around the state vied for their seats in last fall's elections, many promised they would challenge the health care act passed by Congress in March 2010. Taking a stand on the federal legislation was included among the new majority's other top tasks, including possibly increasing the number of charter schools allowed in North Carolina and undoing the landmark Racial Justice Act passed in 2009.
But the legislature needs to focus on local challenges, not on intervening in a federal matter when North Carolina is facing a nearly $4 billion budget deficit and thousands across the state are still unemployed, challengers of House Bill 2 said Monday.
"This bill doens't really accomplish anything except perhaps unnecessary costs and unintended consequences. It's a federal issue and it will be solved at the federal level in the federal courts," said Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange), who led the press conference. She said she hoped the event would spread the word to constituents, who would not have an opportunity to testify directly before the House after the judiciary committee denied a public hearing on the matter last week.
Speaking with Insko were a representative from the N.C. Justice Center and two patients, including Melanie Taylor, the sister of Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). Charles van der Horst, an internist and infectious disease specialist at the UNC medical school and hospitals, also spoke against House Bill 2.
"I really believe deeply in this issue. A third of the patients in the hospitals of North Carolina are there because they don't have insurance. If they had insurance and could get regular care, they wouldn't get sick and they wouldn't be in the hospital," he said.
The federal health care reforms passed in 2009 would end a cycle that is driving up health care costs nine percent each year, van der Horst said. The bill could actually improve the quality of services physicians are currently providing while reducing costs, he argued. Right now, anyone who shows up at a hospital must be treated regardless of insurance status. When those bills go unpaid, it's consumers and taxpayers who end up paying the bill, van der Horst said.
Just minutes after the press conference began, The New York Times reported that a federal judge in Florida ruled that President Barack Obama's health care law violates the U.S. Constitution and that in writing and passing the law, Congress had reached beyond its authority. This is the case 26 states have already made in their lawsuit against the health care act. According to the story, it was the fourth opinion on the reform. Two Democrat-appointed judges have upheld Obama's health care law while the Florida judge and a second Republican-appointed judge have ruled it unconstitutional.
House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) issued a statement just after the Democrats' response in light of the Florida ruling:
“In the House of Representatives, we have no higher priority than to balance our budget and work to foster an environment that encourages job development. The Federal Health Care bill is bad for business in North Carolina. For over a year, North Carolinians have clearly expressed their displeasure with the Federal legislation, and as recently as this afternoon, a Federal judge in Florida expressed his concern by ruling the entire law unconstitutional.
We will not stand idly and watch an unconstitutional usurpation of authority by the Federal government. North Carolinians expect us to act to protect their right to make their own health care decisions; we plan to do just that, and protect North Carolina’s economy in the process.”
In her statements earlier, Insko challenged talking points from Stam and other allies that the federal health care bill would cost North Carolina jobs. She argued it would do the opposite, insuring 1 million more North Carolinians and growing demand for workers in insurance, pharmaceuticals and medicine.
"I think they've been given a lot of misinformation, a lot of short 'snappies' that just dont hold up when you get into the details," Insko said. "This issue of being a job-killing bill is one of those. It's easy to say. That's a nice bumper sticker. But you can say that the moon changes shape because a little mouse nibbles on it. But saying it doesn't make it true."
Little research, other than this sparse fiscal note filed today, has been presented on the possible local costs if the House passes H2, and the state attorney general's office is forced to intervene in the national lawsuit.
The U.S. Department of Justice settled a lawsuit with the Town of Garner today that alleges that the town violated the Fair Housing act by refusing to allow eight recovering drug and alcohol addicts to live together and receive treatment.
Federal investigators filed the discrimination suit in May 2009 after Oxford House, a nonprofit Maryland-based group that runs more than 1,200 rehabilitation centers nationwide, claimed the town and its Board of Adjustment violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to listen to their requests to increase the number of residents from six to eight. People with disabilities including drug addiction must be granted equal opportunity to housing.
Under the settlement, the town must also submit periodic reports and train their staff on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act requires equal access to housing for persons with disabilities,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, stated in a press release.
“The Justice Department will continue to ensure the right of people with disabilities to live in housing appropriate for their needs.”
Durham's City Council took a symbolic stance on a sharply divisive issue Monday night when it passed a resolution endorsing the practice by the Durham Police Department to accept the Matricula Consular, the national Mexican identification card for non-residents, as valid identification during traffic stops and other police interaction. The resolution passed five to two, with Council members Eugene Brown and Howard Clement voting against it.
Whether the Council voted on the matter, the city's police department has actively been accepting the identification from Mexican nationals when stopping or questioning people suspected of criminal activity, said Police Chief Jose Lopez. The acceptance of the resolution (PDF) would not affect that practice, he added.
Lopez said a resolution from the Council would, however, "garner the trust" of Latino immigrants who currently might be reluctant to report crimes or testify as witnesses because they're afraid they themselves could be targets of police investigation if they are in this country illegally.
As the Council deliberated, Brown opposed the vote, saying Durham as a city should not be weighing in on an issue regulated by federal authorities.
"This is a federal issue and in my judgment, above my pay grade," Brown said. "If our very able police chief believes this is a reasonable, pragmatic and useful crime fighting tool, then I accept his decision. ... I wasn't elected to micromanage the Durham Police Department." Brown took the same stance in June when the Council boycotted travel to Arizona in light of the controversial new immigration law requiring law officers to demand documentation of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
Clement voiced doubts over whether the Mexican ID cards were secure. Though she eventually voted in support, Mayor Pro-Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden vocally debated whether it even necessary for the Council to vote on the matter.
The proposal had been brought to the council via the Durham Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the Durham Immigrant Solidarity Committee, and was introduced at a Council work session last week. The resolution initially proposed that police and other community institutions across the city accept the Mexican national ID card as a valid form of identification, particularly as the requirements to obtain a N.C. driver's license now include a Social Security number.
Over the weekend, Mayor Bill Bell said, he realized that the Council didn't have jurisdiction over banks or other civil institutions and that if the Council passed a resolution on the matter, it should be strictly limited to police activities, in which the Council does have a stake.
Ever since the resolution was placed on Monday's agenda, the elected officials have been flooded with e-mails from all over the country on the matter. Those who urged support said the resolution was a way to build bridges with Mexican nationals in Durham. Many others have denounced the idea, saying it unfairly protects illegal immigrants without proper U.S.-issued identification.
Lopez said the ID card is simply a way of identifying a person police encounter. Police would still have the discretion to arrest or cite the holder for any criminal activity they observed of the person, he said.
"It does not give the holder of the card any specific rights other than we know who the person is," Lopez told the Council.
An e-mail between the Lawson campaign and MEI Political casts doubt on claims the Republican candidate was duped by media production company over whether Morgan Freeman really provided the voiceover for the ad.
MEI forwarded to several media outlets the following e-mail, which clearly states a voice double would be used for the ad. The Lawson campaign provided another e-mail exchange that appears to state the real Freeman would be doing the voiceover. mei_lawson.pdf
Read below the fold for more info on MEI.
Former President Jimmy Carter has cancelled his appearance tonight at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop and will remain in a Cleveland hospital overnight where he is being treated for an upset stomach. (More details from CNN here.)
“We just know from the publisher that they are keeping him overnight, although it went back and forth several times today,” he says.
The store received the news at 3 p.m. Lorentz De Haas says he expects to hear from the publisher within the next 24 hours to confirm another day for Carter to meet and greet Triangle readers.
“Obviously we hope he gets better soon,” he says. “He was in Cleveland for a book signing there as well, and when he arrived there early this morning he was ill. We don’t think it’s anything serious as we’ve heard from secret service.”
When Kosta Harlan's mother answered the door early Friday morning, she found two men who identified themselves as FBI agents, asking to question her son.
Harlan, a member of Students for a Democratic Society and the Colombia Action Network, came to the door. "They said they had a lot of information and there was an ongoing investigation," Harlan said at a press conference in Durham today. "I said I would not speak to them without a lawyer present."
Harlan was one of about a dozen anti-war activists targeted by the FBI that day; the rest were in Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, California and Wisconsin. Federal agents raided seven houses and an office in Chicago and Minneapolis, confiscating cell phones, computers and other personal items. Agents also subpoenaed 11 anti-war activists to testify before a grand jury about their activities.
Today's press conference is one of about 30 events scheduled nationwide protesting the FBI's actions.
Harlan said the two agents left, but two other men stood by his house, then eventually got into their car and drove away. However, Harlan said he saw the car pass his home about once an hour.
Later that day, Harlan met with a fellow activist. Within hours agents visited that person about the meeting, he said.
"I am proud of all the anti-war organizing I've done. It's all been public and above board," he said, adding that activists across the U.S. should not "be intimidated by the FBI's activities."
Another protest is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 9 a.m. at the Federal Building in Raleigh, 310 New Bern Ave.
See the upcoming print edition of the Indy for an update.
This weird tidbit has been sitting in the Triangulator's inbox for a while: Companies that want to export execution equipment including electric chairs, gallows, guillotines, air tight vaults and lethal chemical injection tables must now get a U.S. export license, the trade magazine Government Security News reported earlier this month.
The export licenses are issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The new rule became effective July 15.
The death penalty is legal in 70 countries, including the U.S., India, Japan and many Middle Eastern and African nations.
The equipment could be used not only for products and systems that have a "clear nexus to crime control," the GSN explains, but also "an obvious potential use in repressing human rights."
Thumbcuffs, thumbscrews, spiked batons and finger cuffs are classified as implements of torture, according to the Commerce Department's Control List, and can't be exported.
However, the department has determined stun cuffs, shock sleeves and shock belts have legitimate crime-fighting uses.
Triangulator will sleep better knowing all this.