Saturday News: Abominable


RALPH HISE IS TRYING TO SMOTHER RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Hogshead said that H196, which passed the state House and Senate on Thursday, would essentially require the HOPE program to maintain 100 smaller rental programs — one in each county. “It will be chaos, which is the last thing we need in a program that folks are really counting on,” Hogshead said. “It’s about delivering these funds where the need is across the state, and yes, that’s going to require work,” Hise said in an interview with The N&O. Samuel Gunter, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition, a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy organization, opposes the provisions in H196. He told The N&O in a phone interview that the most important thing right now is speed. “When we come down with resources, we want to attach all of these strings and make it very difficult for individuals to access it,” Gunter said. “It becomes incredibly difficult for folks to access the help they need in a timely manner.”

MAJOR EXPANSION OF LICENSE PLATE READERS REMOVED FROM BILL: The measure revives an issue that has generated concern among privacy advocates. The North Carolina House narrowly rejected a bill on the topic in 2019. License plate readers record plate numbers as vehicles pass, which can be cross-referenced against a database to find stolen vehicles, missing people and help with other criminal investigations. Police already use them in a number of North Carolina cities, but lawmakers have gone back and forth over whether to expand usage along state highways. State Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, who is carrying the bill in the House, said Friday after this story published that the license plate reader language will be removed from the bill as it goes forward. He said he was planning this prior to publication and filed the bill as-is to meet a filing deadline.

RURAL NC STUDENTS TO TEST ELON MUSK'S SATELLITE INTERNET SYSTEM: Public school students in some of North Carolina's most isolated areas could benefit from a new state initiative that offers high-speed internet through low-orbit satellites. Gov. Roy Cooper's office announced this week that a pilot program assembled by several state offices and paid for with federal COVID-19 relief funds will target young people in Hyde and Swain counties who lack reliable broadband service, or have none at all. The deficit in internet access makes it harder for students to study from home, especially during a pandemic. Students in the counties' school districts will be able to test internet service through Starlink, which uses satellites launched into the air by SpaceX, a company led by CEO Elon Musk. Cooper's office says the $264,000 in coronavirus relief funding will be used to research and recommend how best satellite technology can help improve rural healthcare and rural economic development, let alone education.

BUNCOMBE TEEN TREATMENT CENTER HAS HISTORY OF ABUSING CLIENTS: Jaycie Henderson was only 15, but already had survived rape and two suicide attempts. When a mental health clinic recommended a new treatment strategy, Henderson chose to go to Solstice East because it promised round-the-clock care and fewer restrictions than other psychiatric centers. But when Henderson arrived on the campus, the former client said, workers ordered Henderson to strip naked and jump up and down. They wanted to make sure Henderson did not bring in weapons or other contraband. One worker grabbed Henderson’s underwear and began making disparaging comments about the garment. Henderson started to cry. The worker’s handling of the underwear was reminiscent of the actions of an assailant during the rape Henderson suffered in the past. “It felt like I was going through my sexual assault all over again,” said Henderson, who is now in college. “It felt like I was being held captive. I begged to call my mom.” Kate Shanahan said she went to Solstice East in 2015 after being sexually assaulted by an adult. Shanahan said staff made a plaster mask of her face. They made her write everything she hated about herself on it and said to make sure it was painted to look ugly, Shanahan said. She said she had to wear the mask for four weeks unless she was showering or sleeping.

SENATE DEMOCRATS BATTLE OVER STIMULUS CHECKS AND UNEMPLOYMENT: The package includes a fresh round of one-time $1,400 checks for cash-strapped families, seeking to deliver on Democrats’ popular promise in the final hours of the 2020 campaign. But moderates discussed reducing the size of the benefit, limiting the number of Americans who could receive it, and slashing the additional sums set aside for families with children. For parents, the cuts might have been significant, leaving those who had expected $1,400 per child receiving only $400 under the alternative plan. The change would have been in addition to cuts put forward publicly in the past by Manchin, who has floated cutting off the payments for individuals earning over $50,000 and joint filers earning more than $100,000. But the early talk from the chamber’s centrist leaders quickly ran into stiff opposition among other members of the Democratic caucus, according to the three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the discussions, the full scope of which has not been reported. The White House and its moderate Democratic allies instead agreed to a more narrow change to stimulus checks, meaning most Americans who received payments in December are set to obtain payments again. By Friday morning, Democrats had agreed to tweaks to incorporate new infrastructure spending in the bill and rethink the way the federal government would disburse money to cash-strapped cities and states. They had also brokered a deal targeting an extension of expanded unemployment payments. Party leaders seemed ready to lower the amount from $400 to $300 per week, while extending an extra month of benefits, in an attempt to stop Manchin and other moderates from joining Republicans on a broader, last-minute effort to curtail the jobless aid. He did not respond to a request for comment.