Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BUDGET SHOULD MAKE NC BETTER, NOT BOOST PARTISANSHIP AND SETTLE SCORES: Sen. Brent Jackson’s impulsive scheme to spend $250 million and move the state Department of Health and Human Services (and the nearly 5,000 who work for the agency) from Raleigh to Granville County is crystal clear evidence of the arrogance of the Senate’s leadership. The propaganda operation in the Senate leader’s office has shifted into high gear. It has sifted out miniscule tidbits in the budget and inflated them into happy talk. Regardless the propaganda, the budget speaks for itself. It is about partisanship, ideological rigidity and revenge. It is not about a better North Carolina. We deserve better. 2020 can’t come soon enough.

DOCUMENTS POINT TO GOP RUSE ON NC ELECTION MAPS: State Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), one of the leaders of the redistricting process, dismissed claims that Hofeller’s maps could have been readily adopted for a special election. He said the Republican maps were drawn by the redistricting committee and he had no access to “play maps” Hofeller may have drawn on his own. Lewis’ response rings hollow. It’s unlikely that Hofeller was simply doodling when he composed alternative North Carolina maps. As more material emerges from his computer files, the Republican attempts to bend the system to their purposes will grow even more apparent. It’s no small irony that the man whose maps helped seal Republican majorities in many state legislatures has left behind a map of another sort: a collection of damning information that may show the way to the end of gerrymandering.

EXPANDING MEDICAID IS KEY TO SAVING MOTHERS' AND BABIES' LIVES. WILL WE USE IT? We know that clinical care is just one piece of the puzzle that creates health equity and well-being. This report underscores the impact this policy could have in North Carolina in supporting healthier young adults and families – opening the door to services to help them live their best, most productive lives. Access to quality health care as conferred by Medicaid expansion has been proven to be a win for mothers, babies, families, and the economy. While programs and research are essential to the equation, until policies shift, we are going to be pushing boulders uphill. And push we will, because Maternal & Child Health leaders always do whatever is in our power for North Carolina’s mothers and babies. If I could wave a magic wand and get our state’s leaders from across party lines to sit down together for a conversation, I would. Policy makers have the opportunity to open the gate for North Carolina to be one of the best places in the country to be born. This report offers a call to action to go ahead and make it happen! Our mothers and babies deserve it.

WE ARE PROSECUTORS. WE WILL USE OUR DISCRETION ON NEW ANTI-ABORTION LAWS: Some may argue it is a prosecutor’s obligation to prosecute all laws and that only legislators are charged with making these “policy” decisions. We don’t see the role of prosecutors elected by their communities through this narrow lens. With thousands of laws on the books, elected prosecutors use their discretion every day in deciding how to wisely and justly allocate resources to promote enforcement of laws that will have the greatest effect on advancing public safety. To do so, they necessarily decline to prosecute certain laws — such as those that criminalize substance-use disorder or adultery — which do not serve the interests of justice. In years past, our country has had a host of questionable laws on the books — including provisions prohibiting interracial marriage and homosexuality. Elected prosecutors may not in the past have been willing to stand tall and serve as the conscience of the community in refusing to use their discretion to criminalize these acts. But today, we are proud to refuse to remain silent in the face of troubling legislative decisions that harm members of our community and erode trust in our system of justice. Satana Deberry contributed to this piece.

THE BUSINESS OF HEALTH CARE DEPENDS ON EXPLOITING DOCTORS AND NURSES: By far the biggest culprit of the mushrooming workload is the electronic medical record, or E.M.R. It has burrowed its tentacles into every aspect of the health care system. There are many salutary aspects of the E.M.R., and no one wants to go back to the old days of chasing down lost charts and deciphering inscrutable handwriting. But the data entry is mind-numbing and voluminous. Primary-care doctors spend nearly two hours typing into the E.M.R. for every one hour of direct patient care. Most of us are now putting in hours of additional time each day for the same number of patients. In a factory, if 30 percent more items were suddenly dropped onto an assembly line, the process would grind to a halt. Imagine a plumber or a lawyer doing 30 percent more work without billing for it. But in health care there is a wondrous elasticity — you can keep adding work and magically it all somehow gets done. The nurse won’t take a lunch break if the ward is short of staff members. The doctor will “squeeze in” the extra patients. This month the World Health Organization recognized the serious effects of burnout from chronic workplace stress. Burnout levels among doctors are at new highs, far worse than among the general population, and increasing relentlessly. Burnout among nurses is similarly rising and is highest among those on the front line of patient care.


DR. MINDY OSHRAIN: GOP HEALTH POLICIES ARE FAILING: Our GOP legislature expresses concern about well-being from conception to birth, yet they refuse money to cover prenatal care, well child and well person care. Yet access to family planning services reduces unwanted pregnancies and abortion. Prenatal care decreases costs, both financial and emotional, compared to admission to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Those states which expanded Medicaid have seen: decreased hospital and emergency room use, greater access to behavioral health and primary care services, increased spending for opioid treatment, and decreased infant, child and adult mortality rates. The GOP-led Congress voted over 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Denying healthcare coverage to citizens, both in North Carolina and nationwide, is apparently Republican policy. The consequences of that policy are crystal clear.

TERRY BAKER: TIME TO STRENGTHEN GUN LAWS: I am once again appalled by the report of another mass shooting, this time in Virginia Beach, this time killing 11 innocent people and this time buried on page 6A. Have we become that callous? That immune to senseless killings? When will people (voters and our current administration) wake up and realize more guns mean more killing? Like many Americans, I have no problem with recreational guns for hunting, but gun laws must be strengthened, must become more strict and must be enforced. Wake up, America!

CHARLIE WHITE: MCCONNELL TAKES HYPOCRISY TO STILL HIGHER HEIGHTS: Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., never fails to choose party over country and raise the bar of Republican hypocrisy to new heights. On May 28, he pledged that he would confirm a justice to the Supreme Court in 2020 should Trump have the opportunity to do so. This is the same man who blocked President Obama’s nominee to the court for almost a year, refusing to hold hearings in an election year. Those, like Mitch McConnell, who break institutional norms for selfish or partisan gains, are bequeathing future generations a weakened democracy. He is the longest-serving leader of Senate Republicans in history, but Mitch McConnell is no leader. He is the epitome of unprincipled power. Shame on him — and anyone who supports him.



From the dark side

This week's loser is Duke Energy, for using ad hominem attacks on those who question their 5-year profit bonanza:

Several special interest groups continue to intentionally mislead the public about important energy legislation under consideration in the North Carolina General Assembly — Senate Bill 559 — and I’d like to set the record straight for the benefit of the communities we serve.

I’m confident this misinformation campaign has nothing to do with sound policy for North Carolinians, and everything to do with the fact that Duke Energy is backing it. Unfortunately, the noise surrounding this bipartisan legislation is drowning out the truth, which is a real disservice to our state.

While I will admit that Duke Energy's history of overstating their needs to get the highest rate increases they can from the NCUC has made many of us leery of any and all of their proposals, this particular plan is bad for many reasons, not the least of which is reduced oversight by the NCUC. Locking in rate increases in five year increments ignores changes on the ground and in economic developments, and will very likely result in over-payments by ratepayers.

The truth is, all SB 559 does is provide the North Carolina Utilities Commission new tools to use at their discretion to regulate rates and ensure everyone pays the lowest possible price for reliable energy. An important benefit of the legislation that these groups don’t talk about is how the use of a securitization plan, one of the potential new tools, can save customers an estimated 15-20% on storm recovery costs. As storm threats continue to grow and become more expensive in our state, having this tool in place would offer better price protection for customers going forward.

And there is the crux. Duke Energy is already a publicly-traded company, which has generated income from issuing stocks. But "securitization" means they will begin issuing bonds, and those bonds will need to have a guaranteed return for investors, hence the five year ratemaking for you and I.

For all practical purposes, those bonds are the same as "derivatives." People aren't buying stock in Duke Energy, they are buying stock in the rates you pay. That's right, Duke Energy is selling you. There's nothing wrong with corporations taking on debt to finance upgrades; happens all the time. But there's always a risk, that the upgrades won't increase revenue enough to cover said debt. Duke Energy is using you and I to absorb any risk, and that is a recipe for disaster, because it encourages projects that aren't really necessary.

Nothing in this bill raises rates and nothing in this bill alters the commission’s ongoing oversight of Duke Energy or any other utility’s rates or service. The commission will continue to scrutinize all the utility’s costs, and then select the best approach for establishing fair rates, which includes public hearings. Under today’s laws, and under this legislation, a utility is never guaranteed a profit but instead is provided an opportunity to earn a fair and reasonable return that must be approved by the commission.

That's a whole lotta hogwash. Of course it alters the Commission's oversight. The NCUC rules on plans that are presented by utilities. If Duke Energy chooses to only present a five-year rate request, that is what the NCUC will have to deal with.

As far as Duke's profits, what the hell does the author think "fair and reasonable return" means?

In no way does this legislation allow the company to pass through its grid improvement costs and other projects, like coal ash management, automatically to customers. As with current law, the commission would continue to determine what costs are fair and reasonable to share with customers.

Yeah, you keep saying that. But if it didn't do those things, you wouldn't have bothered to write this op-ed.