The True End to the 2014 NCGA Short Session

legislative building

Legislators finally adjourned for the 2014 short session on Wednesday, August 20th which is almost seven weeks after originally anticipated. You may recall my Week 12 update where I claimed that week was a wrap but it did come with a catch. Legislators wanted time to decide if they needed to come back in November for a special Medicaid and/or Coal Ash Session as well as take up any number of other provisions. By law, legislators had to continue meeting every four days while leadership decided what to do. Legislators held skeleton (or no vote) sessions until they came back on Thursday, August 14th to really wrap up the short session.
Relevant bills with action

After a few committee meetings, Senators created 3 adjournment bills hoping the House would pass at least one of them:

House Joint Resolution 182 Adjournment Resolution: a bill that would end session but come back in November for a special Medicaid Reform short session.

House Joint Resolution 901 Adjournment Resolution: a bill that would end session but come back in November to discuss Medicaid Reform, conference committee reports, and a few other measures.

House Joint Resolution 1276 Adjournment: the winning bill that ended session with no plans to return in November. Unless the Governor calls legislators back for a special session, we won’t see legislators passing bills again until the 2015 long session which will start in January.

Legislators also wrapped up a few bills that were awaiting concurrence. Of interest to social workers:

House Bill 369 Criminal Law Changes was passed by both the House and the Senate and presented to the Governor for signature. The bill makes several changes to various criminal laws. Most pressing, section four of the bill directs the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission to work with various organizations, including NASW-NC, to study and develop age appropriate sexual abuse education to be taught in schools to students and educators.

Now that session is truly done for the short session, NASW-NC will now focus on work with our Political Action for Candidate Endorsement Committee (NC PACE) on endorsing candidates that support the social work profession. Through these endorsements, we hope to elect social work friendly candidates that can help advance our profession and support the clients we serve.

2014 NC Short Session: That’s Hardly a Wrap!

Senators wrapped up the 2014 short session shortly after a midnight on Friday when they finally approved a state budget. House members  followed by issuing their final votes on Saturday. But there’s a catch, legislators will return this week to agree on an actual adjournment date as the House made more changes to the Senate’s original plan.

On August 14th, legislators will return for a brief additional session to take up any bills that might get vetoed by the Governor, wrap up any bills that got assigned to a conference committee, and attempt to complete nine different other provisions held over in adjournment resolutions. There’s still one more catch, legislators will return again on November 17th for a special session to discuss Medicaid Reform and possibly Coal Ash, and there is no word on how long this session will last.

So, while legislators have adjourned, they have not technically finished working. We should have a better idea of  their plan to meet again in August by the later part of this week.

Relevant Bills with Action:

SB 744 Appropriations Act of 2014: This bill has been in the works since session started. When legislators couldn’t agree, they turned to appointing a 42 member conference committee. Last weekend, they reported that they had come to an agreement. The conference committee budget highlights are below. With the Governor’s signature, this will be the state budget for the 2014 fiscal year. View the Money Report for further explanation on the spending plan with accompanying page numbers listed after each highlight. Please note, it is difficult to capture all the provisions in the budget due to the amazing variety of the social work profession so information below is only a snapshot of changes.

  • Provides funds to support the costs related to the education of children in private psychiatric residential treatment facilities (F-6).
  • Provides funding for one year for group home residents who were determined to be ineligible for Medicaid personal care services on or after January 1, 2013. The maximum monthly payment is set at $464.30 and is based on providing 33 hours of service per eligible recipient (G-3).
  • Reduces General Fund appropriation for the Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) by 3%, leaving a balance of $31,808,889. Cuts are $969,549 (G-4).
  • Changes the income eligibility for the State-County Special Assistance (SA) Program from a method that bases income eligibility on the payment rate for the facility type where the recipient resides, to a method based on the federal poverty level for all recipients regardless of where they reside. The SA eligibility level is set at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. Current recipients of SA are grandfathered in and will continue to receive SA. (G-8).
  • Provides funding to replace $4.5 million in federal block grant funds that counties lost in 2013-14 that was utilized to pay for Child Protective Services (CPS) workers. An additional $2.8 million in funding is provided effective October 1, 2014 to reduce county departments of social services caseloads to an average of 10 families per worker performing Child Protective Services assessments (G-9).
  • Provides $4.5 million for Child Welfare In-Home Services to serve at-risk families (G-9).
  • Provides $218,538 recurring and $125,750 nonrecurring funds for the implementation of drug screening for Work First Benefits applicants (G-10).
  • Provides funding through incentives and rebates to end the waiting list of the Aids Drug Assistance Program (G-11).
  • Provides $2.2 million for community-based crisis services (G-15).
  • Provider rates are cut, once again, by 1% (G-18).
  • Mental Health Drug Management: Authorizes DHHS to impose controls including prior authorization, utilization review criteria, and any other restrictions on mental health drugs (G-18 and pg 87 of the budget).
  • Provision to hold special session in November to discuss Medicaid Reform (pg 87, budget).

Other Bills of Interest with Action:

HB 884 Dropout Prevention/Recovery Pilot Charter School: This bill establishes a two year pilot program for one charter school who has had students drop out. The purpose is to increase graduation rates and reengage students. The bill passed the House and Senate and was presented to the Governor for signature.

SJR 881 Adjournment: This bill directs legislators to adjourn but to return on August 14th and November 17th. As mentioned above, the November special legislative session will be focused on Medicaid Reform.

HJR 1276 Adjournment: The House version of the adjournment resolution. While the dates to return are the same as the Senate, the House has a few more issues to keep alive including any bills related to autism insurance reform. The House gives the Senate until Wednesday, August 6th to take up the new adjournment resolution.

2014 NC Legislative Short Session Nears End But No Deal on Budget

Last week, the General Assembly saw more action from the Senate than the House, and Senators have been meeting in Rules Committee the past couple of weeks to pass a few pressing bills. On Thursday, while discussing Medicaid Reform on the Senate floor, Senator Bryant sought an amendment to expand Medicaid. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the amendment failed.

Senators commented that this was the fourth time they voted down to expand Medicaid in the state. The House did meet on Thursday and Friday of last week, but they had little committee activity during the week. Despite filing an adjournment resolution for Friday, July 25th, the House does plan to meet this week. Rumors started over the weekend that legislators have reached another deal on the budget, so we hope to see the proposal this week.

Relevant bills with action:

short sessionHB 1181 Medicaid Modernization: This is the bill that would create a new department to oversee the operation of Medicaid and NC Health Choice run by a seven member appointed board, create full capitation by 2018 (instead of fee for service), integrate physical and behavioral health by 2016, and much more to reform Medicaid in our state. The bill went to committee to push back a few dates in the bill including the creation of the new department from August 1, 2014 to September 1, 2014. Senators will take a third, and final, vote on Monday night. The bill then has to get approval from the House before it is made law. No word yet on the House’s position on the bill.

HB 369 Criminal Law Changes: This bill passed out of the Senate last week and is scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Tuesday. The bill will allow NASW-NC and other partners to work with the Human Trafficking Commission on age appropriate sexual abuse education for students and teachers. The bill also makes several changes to various criminal laws such as expungement for certain offenses and higher penalties for providing inmates with cell phones.

HB 1133 Technical and Other Corrections: A bill that normally marks the end of the legislative session, the House and Senate have been working on a technical corrections bill to tie up loose ends of the session. Usually very technical in nature (spelling errors, corrections to previous bills, etc), the bill had a surprise section that would eliminate the Child Fatality Task Force that makes statewide recommendations to prevent unnecessary deaths of children.

During the existence of the Task Force, childhood death has decreased by as much as 32% in the past three decades. During floor debate, Representative Grier Martin (D-Wake), ran an amendment to eliminate this section of the bill and it passed overwhelmingly. The bill passed out of committee and passed the floor Friday. The bill will now go to the Senate.

2014 NC Short Session, Week 10: The Newest Medicaid Reform Plan

Bay Area Activists Protest Cuts To Medicaid

What a week at the General Assembly! The Senate decided to work on bills that were sitting in the Senate Rules Committee all last week and move them to the floor for votes.The most controversial was Medicaid Reform which the Senate proposes to create a completely new Department. The House did not meet last week and have nothing on their calendar for tonight, but it is possible that they meet later in the week to work on the bills the Senate is working through their Rules Committee.

Relevant Bills with Action:

HB 369 Criminal Law Changes: This is the omnibus bill that will expunge certain drug offenses and includes language on Erin’s Law. Under Section 4(a), the bill directs the Human Trafficking Commission to study the inclusion of age appropriate sexual abuse education in the classroom as well as gather information on sexual abuse in NC. Under the bill, the Commission is directed to work with several organizations to do this, including NASW-NC. The bill will be heard a third time tonight and, if it passes the Senate, will be sent to the House for concurrence.

HB 1181 North Carolina Medicaid Modernization: Last week, the Senate came up with an entirely new Medicaid plan. Under the new plan, the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) would become an independent agency called the Department of Medical Benefits which would manage behavioral, physical and other specialized care for Medicaid and NC Health Choice recipients under a Managed Care Organization (MCO) or Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model.

The Senate scheduled this new Department to be created by August 1, 2014 and governed by a 7 member Board of Directors. The Senate plan also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately cease any activities related to Medicaid reform. This plan is certainly fast-moving in the Senate and controversial among many. The bill is scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate tonight. If it passes, it will need to go to the House for concurrence. The Governor has already stated opposition to the new plan but the House has not spoken much for or against the bill.

Relevant Bills Filed:

HB 1276 Adjournment Sine Die: Yes, you read that correctly. The House bill filed last week sets adjournment for this Friday, July 25th. Keep in mind, the Senate filed an adjournment bill on June 27th, and legislators are still in session.

North Carolina 2014 Short Session, Week 8: Medicaid Budget Miracle

Social workers found victory during the eighth week of the legislative short session with the acceptance of the proposed medicaid budget. On Monday night, the last day of the fiscal year, the Senate rejected the House mini budget, Senate Bill 3 without even voting, and they returned the bill to the House for further consideration. In kind, the House then returned the bill back to the Senate on Tuesday stating they did not follow the rules by rejecting Senate Bill 3 without a vote. This unusual game of ping pong with the budget sent the bill to a committee meeting with the appointed budget conferees and no further discussion happened on the floor of the House or Senate.

MiraclesOn Wednesday, the appointed 41-member budget conferees held an unusual open-to-the-public meeting. During the meeting, differences in the House and Senate budgets were discussed and the group broke into a private negotiating meeting. Upon return to the public meeting, the Senate announced that they would accept the House Medicaid budget with a few compromises that had been made before the meeting starting.

The acceptance of the Medicaid budget means the aged, blind, and disabled citizens on Medicaid will not lose services. We are excited the Senate acted on behalf of our advocacy efforts to save services for these populations. While the Senate agreed to the Medicaid spending, the conferees are still working out differences in teacher pay raises, the education lottery, and film incentives.

Bills with Relevance:

  • House Bill 1181 North Carolina Medicaid Modernization: This bill was introduced a few weeks ago with controversy in Section 10 regarding a pilot for I/DD patients living in certain group settings to have integrated physical and behavioral health care under Cardinal Behavioral Health. Under the new edition, this section becomes a study with multiple stakeholders involved. The bill was discussed in committee and passed the House with a vote of 113 to 0. The bill now goes to the Senate where support is underwhelming as Senators do not believe this plan, supported by the House and the Governor, will do much to make Medicaid a cost predicting system.
  • House Joint Resolution 1262 Suicide Prevention Resolution: On Wednesday, House members read the suicide prevention resolution on the floor. The resolution directs the Legislative Research Commission to study ways to prevent suicide among minors and veterans including training for key health care providers that work to assess, treat and manage patients with suicidal ideation. After overwhelming, bipartisan support from legislators who shared personal stories on the floor, the bill passed with no opposition and was sent to the Senate. Following the reading of the resolution, NASW-NC, NAMI-NC, The Mental Health Association, and others were recognized in the gallery by legislators for our support and continued work on suicide prevention in our state. Representative Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg), a primary sponsor of the legislation, gave a heartfelt, personal speech on the bill and credited social workers and educators for help during her family’s situation. We are grateful to the many legislators who stood up to speak on what can be such a tough topic for many.

What to look forward to this week:

Legislators have announced they are finished with committee work. They will use this week to focus on the budget and work out their differences. There are a few more bills expected to be heard on the floor this week but it should mostly be a quiet week with budget work being done behind closed doors.

Short Session, Week 7 and Still No Budget

The end of session should be approaching soon. The evidence? The large volume of bills that were gutted, amended, and flew through the legislature last week. The House and Senate are still divided on how large the Medicaid shortfall really might be – up to a $248 million difference between the two proposed budgets.

Pope-Southern StudiesThis was evidenced when the Senate nearly subpoenaed the State Budget Director, Art Pope to show up at their second budget meeting on Medicaid as he and his staff did not show up to one the previous week. Legislators grilled Mr. Pope on not being able to give definite numbers on the shortfall or how many adults and children are enrolled in Medicaid in the state. This tension continues to hold up the proposed budget for the House and the Senate.

Today, the House read the Suicide Prevention Resolution. The resolution called on NC to develop measures to help prevent suicide particularly for youth and veterans. Those in attendance were recognized by legislators in the House gallery during session. Many spent the day talking to legislators about how important the resolution is for young people and veterans in our state.

Last week, the Governor sent a directive to state departments to operate with the biggest cuts in the proposed budgets, but this does not include teacher assistants and massive cuts to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled on Medicaid. This would also mean no pay raises for state employees and teachers- a major goal outlined by legislators prior to the start of the short session.

Relevant bills with action:

  • SB 3 2014 Budget Mods./Pay Raises/Other Changes: Deemed the “mini budget,” this bill is a smaller version of the budget bill Senate Bill 744 and adjustments to the current budget. Raises for state employees and teachers will be paid for with agreed upon cuts. The bill does not do much to Medicaid. The bill passed the House unanimously, 117 to 0, and was sent to the Senate for concurrence. It is unsure if the Senate will agree to this mini budget with all the controversy regarding the Medicaid shortfall calculations.
  • SB 493 Health and Safety Regulatory Reform: Last Tuesday, legislators split the large Regulatory Reform Bill (Senate Bill 493) into two separate bills. SB 493 became Health and Safety Regulatory Reform that includes measures for autism insurance for anyone up to age 23 that was diagnosed before age 8, establishes a behavioral analyst licensing board, requires all health benefit plans cover prescribed, orally administered cancer drugs, and prohibits tanning bed use by anyone under age 18. The bill quickly passed committee and went to the floor. On Wednesday night, after much debate, legislators approved the bill with a vote of 78 to 32. Because of changes made to the bill, the bill has to return to the Senate for concurrence. It does not have to go through Senate committees. and if the Senate confers, the bill will go to the Governor to be signed into law.
  • SJR 882 Honor Senator Martin Nesbitt: Both the House and Senate honored late Senator Martin Nesbitt who died suddenly on March 6th, a week after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. Senator Nesbitt, from Buncombe County, was a champion for the social work profession. He was a long standing legislator, serving in both the House and Senate during his time. He is greatly missed!
  • HB 369 Criminal Law Changes/WC Illegal Aliens: The original bill was gutted and new language was inserted in the bill to address several criminal law changes. This bill does multiple things: it will expunge certain drug offenses with no age limitation and it directs the Human Trafficking Commission to study Erin’s Law (a bill NASW-NC has been working on to get a licensed clinical social worker involved). It will be heard on the Senate floor tonight. If approved, it will only need concurrence from the House before it goes to the Governor to be signed into law.
  • HB 1220 Hope 4 Haley and Friends: After passing the House last week, a Senate committee debated the bill and it was sent to the Senate floor. The bill allows for hemp oil extract from the cannabis plant to be used for youth with certain seizure disorders when no other treatment has worked. The bill does allow for UNC Chapel Hill, East Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke Universities to develop, conduct research, and participate in clinical trials with the oil. Neurologists, patients and caregivers who prescribe or are prescribed the oil would have to register under the legislation with a registry established by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Once DHHS approves measures and establishes the registry, families can start using the oil. The bill passed the Senate, the House concurred with a few changes that were made, and the bill was sent to the Governor for signature. The Governor has stated he will sign the bill into law.

Related news:

While not a priority piece of legislation for NASW-NC, we wanted to address the comments made by Representative and Speaker Pro Tem Skip Stam regarding sexual orientation in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV- TR (DSM-IV-TR) when discussed during debate on Senate Bill 793 Charter School Modifications. During debate, Representative Fisher put forth an amendment to prohibit charter schools from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The debate spurred questions on the definition of sexual orientation and Representative Stam shared with House members a memo from the outdated 2000 DSM-IV-TR on sexual paraphilias that listed a number of sexual perversions and disorders as well as homosexuality. The DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder in 1974. The amendment did not pass. On the second day of debate, Representative Ramsey pushed an amendment that would prohibit charter schools from discriminating based on any category under federal law or the Constitution. This amendment was approved and the bill passed.

NASW-NC does not support any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We are pleased that House members found common ground not to discriminate in charter schools to further protect North Carolinians.

Photo Courtesy of Southern Studies

North Carolina Legislators Heading Towards Adjournment, Week 6 Recap

ChamberGavel_8

Legislators are still going back and forth on an adjournment date, but our latest predictions are that legislators will go home by the second week of July if they are not done the week of July 4th. With a lot of controversial bills still on the table and not having reached an agreement on the budget yet, legislators have a lot more work to do before adjourning for the year. It is possible for legislators to leave with the current budget in place that was passed in the 2013 long session and only make a few adjustments to cover the shortfalls in Medicaid and the Department of Revenue.

Week 6 of the short session started off with a new regulatory reform bill that created controversy for many House members that did not see the bill until shortly before it was presented. Legislators commented that their uneasiness with the bill stemmed from the bill being more than just regulatory reform and included other provisions. This uneasiness slowed down the bill and it was sent back to the Regulatory Reform Committee before going to the floor. Additionally, on Wednesday night, House Health and Human Services Committee members introduced a new Medicaid Reform plan that makes big changes for provider payment and certain I/DD clients in Cardinal Behavioral Health’s catchment area. More information about these two bills is below.

Relevant bills with action:

  • HB 712 Clarifying Changes/Special Ed Scholarships: This bill allows $3,000 for eligible students with disabilities per semester to attend private schools and exempts certain private schools from child care licensure requirements. The exemption is extended to private schools that provide more than 6.5 hours of child care as long as they are not funded by childcare subsidies or NC Pre-K. This may open the door for more private schools to offer after school care knowing they do not have to be licensed and meet certain state requirements for health and safety. The bill passed the Senate and was sent back to the House.
  • HB 1181 Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina: This bill addresses a new Medicaid Reform plan. The plan would set provider capitation rates over the next 5 years instead of fee for service. This would make providers responsible for overspending but also allows them to absorb any savings. Section 10 of the bill directs Cardinal Behavioral Health to pilot integrated care, physical and mental health care, with certain I/DD clients living in group settings. This bill is supported by the Governor. It was discussed in committee this week and referred to Appropriations. Read more about this plan and House and Senate differences on Medicaid.
  • HB 1220 Hope 4 Haley and Friends: This bill establishes standards for the use of hemp oil extract from marijuana plants to be used for people suffering from intractable seizure disorders when no other medicines have worked. The bill sets up a registry of neurologists who prescribe the extract, caregivers, and patients. The bill also encourages UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University and Wake Forest University to further study the use of hemp oil extract. The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate.
  • HJR 1262 Suicide Prevention Resolution: This bill directs the Legislative Research Commission to examine ways to prevent suicide among minors and veterans in NC as suicide in these populations more prevalent. The bill directs the commission to study evidenced-based treatment and prevention strategies and ways to engage and train professionals who work with minors and veterans. It was assigned to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House.
  • SB 493 2014 Regulatory Reform Act: This bill makes several changes but the biggest for social workers is that it would direct insurance companies to cover autism services and allows for reimbursement of licensed clinical social workers to provide therapeutic care. This is the language from House Bill 498, supported by NASW-NC, that passed the House in the 2013 long session. The bill also establishes a board for Behavioral Analysts in NC (there is currently no state level licensing board for behavioral analysts). Additionally, the bill prohibits tanning bed use for minors under the age of 18. The bill is going through House committees at this time.
  • SB 761 Credit for Military Training: This bill enhances the effectiveness of military members and veterans obtaining occupational licenses and directs the Board of Governors for the University System and the State Board for Community Colleges to submit a plan that would grant college credit for students with military training. The bill passed the Senate and will be sent to the House.

Budget Conferees:

The Senate voted not to concur with House budget changes last week and a conference committee was established. The 41 member appointed committee is compromised mostly of appropriation chairs that will work to flush out the details and other influential legislators. Only one Democrat was appointed to the committee that will work to combine the House, Senate and Governor’s budgets. No persons of color were appointed. Legislative staff released a Comparison Report of the differences in the House and Senate budgets.

North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) 2014 Short Session, Week 5 Review

By Kay Castillo, Director of Advocacy, Policy and Legislation, National Association of Social Workers, NC Chapter

Week five of the North Carolina General Assembly’s short session brought to us the House budget. Unlike the Senate, the House took extra measures to introduce and discuss their budget. Last Tuesday, House members reviewed their budget section by section in subcommittees to hammer out details before taking it to the full Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

North Carolina General Assembly
North Carolina General Assembly

Following Wednesday’s seven-hour committee meeting, the bill went to the Finance and State Personnel Committees before going to the floor for debate on Thursday afternoon with a final vote on Friday morning.Moving forward, a conference committee will be appointed to combine the Governor, Senate, and House budgets. While the House debated the budget all week, the Senate took up mostly non-controversial bills and adjourned early Thursday morning.

House Budget Proposal Highlights:

House Budget Money Report (special provisions, further descriptions about the budget)

  • No prior authorization for mental health medications (in Senate and Governor’s budget) or cuts to the medically needy on Medicaid (in Senate budget).
  • Medicaid Reform similar to Governor’s recommendation and funded at $1 million. (pg G-19 of Money Report)
  • Provides funds for implementation of drug screening and testing for Work First Program Assistance. This is only funded in the House budget. This comes from legislation passed in the 2013 long session but was never funded. (G-9 of Money Report)
  • Funds $750,000 to Critical Time Intervention (a social work supported model) to support short-term case management services for persons leaving inpatient psychiatric facilities, adult care homes, and other institutions. This is only funded in the House budget. (G-15 of Money Report)
  • Funds $300,000 for Child Protective Services (CPS) Initiative to help decrease caseloads to 10 per worker and other division changes. Additionally, the budget contains: $8.3 million in additional funding for CPS (same as Senate); $4.5 million for expanded in-home services (same as Senate); $750,000 increase for statewide oversight of child welfare services; $700,000 increase for CPS evaluation; and Foster Care Assistance is increased by $5 million. (starting on pg 81 of the budget)
  • Creates a strategic state plan for Alzheimer’s Disease including ways to improve research, awareness and education, caregiver assistance, long-term care, and more. (pg 88 of the budget)
  • Funds $5 million to expand community-based crisis intervention services. (pg 94 of the budget)
  • Funds over $2.3 million for Traumatic Brain Injury supports and services. (pg 91 of the budget)
  • Allows funding for Personal Care Services to residents in group homes that was provided in last year’s budget but will not all be spent by the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, 2014 to be extended until June 30th, 2015. This is approximately $2.2 million left from the $4.6 million appropriated.

While not perfect, the House budget is much better than the Senate budget put forth. You can visit this link to see a House and Senate Budget Comparison for the Health and Human Services Budget. We thank House members for taking our state’s most vulnerable populations into consideration while developing the budget and providing extra money to mental health, developmental disabilities, child welfare, and other necessary services.

Child Abuse Prevention Month: Interview with Students Against Violence Everywhere

Students Against Violence Everywhere
Students Against Violence Everywhere

In March 2013, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring the month of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In addition, the first week of April is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. As an annual observance started by Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), National Youth Violence Prevention Week enhances awareness on youth violence and creates discussion on how to prevent violence before it starts. In honor of this observance, SAVE and VetoViolence are co-sponsoring an Ask the Expert Facebook Forum event which began on April 7th and will end on April 11th.

VetoViolence is a creation by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a way to help increase awareness and adoption of evidenced base approaches by practitioners and other professionals in their efforts to prevent violence. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Jim Wise who is a school social worker in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and he is also the Board Chair for the National SAVE organization. This is what Jim had to say about this important month especially for us social workers:

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, organization, and the work you do in youth violence prevention.

SAVE:   My name is Jim Wise and I am a School Social Worker in Chapel Hill NC.  I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors for National SAVE as well as being SAVE chapter advisor at Chapel Hill High School.  I have been involved in SAVE as a chapter advisor since 1996 and have worked with the National SAVE Youth Advisory Board since 1999.

SAVE was started 25 years ago in response to the shooting of a high school student named Alex Orange.  Classmates at West Charlotte High School came together the following Monday and decided that they did not want to let his death be in vain.  To make a difference they started Students Against Violence Everywhere.

Since that day, SAVE has been student driven and lead. We have chapters in elementary, middle and high schools as well as college chapters and some in community organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs.  Each chapter decides on the issues that are most relevant in their setting and does education and prevention activities to address them.  We look at 3 areas for SAVE chapters being involved in their schools and communities, Crime Prevention, Conflict Management and Service Projects.  In some schools the issues may about bullying, cyberbullying, in others it may be fights or theft or vandalism.  Whatever the issue is we look to students to be involved in possible solutions and working as part of those solutions.  Thus our motto which is “Youth Voices, Grown Up Choices”.

SWH: What are the biggest challenges and barriers to reducing violence against youth? 

SAVE:  One of the biggest challenges is finding ways to include youth in the efforts. We feel strongly that any meaningful changes need to include youth every step of the way, from problem identification to possible solutions and especially at the point where programs and initiatives are being implemented.  If we fail to have the input of young people at any of these steps we are likely to miss out on important information and opportunity.  If youth feel that they are part of a solution they are much more likely to take ownership and work to make solutions successful.

SWH: How does your organization engage and involve social workers or plan to engage in the future?

SAVE:  Social Workers are chapter advisors for some of our chapters.  We also will use local resources and experts when chapters are working on projects where education, support and additional information may be needed.  Many  chapters will invite Social Workers and other staff from local Human Services agencies to attend meetings and share the work that their groups do or act as resources in other ways.

SWH: How does the Facebook Forum to Ask an Expert work, and what other activities have been planned to help create awareness? 

SAVE: With so many young people today getting information via social media that it provides a very available forum on a national level for them to ask questions and receive quality information and answers.  We need to continue to look to our young people and where they are getting their ideas from and work to access those platforms.

Many chapters have activities planned in their schools and communities and will be inviting school and local leaders to be part of them as well as reaching out to news media in their local communities to raise awareness.

SWH: What can a regular person do to help with the prevention of youth violence?

SAVE: All of us can be aware of what is going on in our communities and take time to be in touch with young people around us.  Any time we can show concern and interest for the well being of young people that is going to have a positive impact.  Everyone can also look for ways to support positive groups and activities in their local communities.  Anytime we can engage young people in prosocial activities we are building resilience and reducing the likelihood they will become involved in negative and potentially violent behaviors.

Interested in starting a SAVE chapter for your area, please visit http://nationalsave.org/chapter-tools/chapter-registration and for more information on this week’s awareness event see below:

Youth Violence Prevention Forum
When: April 7-11, 2014
Where: VetoViolence’s Facebook page
Co-sponsor: Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE)
Why focus on youth violence? Youth violence is widespread in the US—homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24.  Each year, youth homicides and assault-related injuries result in an estimated $16 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of SAVE 

Forensic Social Work and Its Importance in the 21st Century

In reflecting on how my career has formulated, particularly in the fields of criminal justice, human services and social work, I often wondered where I fit in; particularly when discussing traditional social work models, practices and approaches.  I knew I always wanted to work in the criminal justice environment, not necessarily as a sworn law enforcement official, but in a capacity that addressed the needs of delinquents, adult offenders and prisoners.  This venue, during the early to mid-20th century, unfortunately wasn’t always readily available to social workers, let alone forensic social workers.

Clinical work, specifically, was geared towards counselors and psychologists in criminal justice settings.  The role of the social worker, if any, represented that of a case manager at best.  Further, when attempting to market or explain what a forensic social worker was, the responses in most instances were either of confusion or an unawareness that the practice existed.

What is Forensic Social Work

llustration: John Michael Yanson
llustration: John Michael Yanson

Ironically, social work has a long standing history of practice in the justice sector, as well as the other more noted, child welfare and social services roles.  According to the National Organization of Forensic Social Work website (www.nofsw.org),

” Forensic social work is the application of social work to questions and issues relating to law and legal systems. This specialty of our profession goes far beyond clinics and psychiatric hospitals for criminal defendants being evaluated and treated on issues of competency and responsibility. A broader definition includes social work practice which in any way is related to legal issues and litigation, both criminal and civil. Child custody issues, involving separation, divorce, neglect, termination of parental rights, the implications of child and spouse abuse, juvenile and adult justice services, corrections, and mandated treatment all fall under this definition” (NOFSW website).

As one can gauge, forensic social work has long been a practice in various traditional social work capacities.  Though early in application, forensic social work was commonly associated with the legal field (Barker & Brannon, Forensic Social Work Legal Aspects of Professional Practice, 2000); it now encompasses a much broader representation in the criminal justice system and ancillary justice related services.

Forensic Social Work Today

Forensic Social Work in the 21st century continues to be a critical component of not only traditional social work and criminal justice systems, but it has expanded to cover more globally related human rights and social justice concerns.  As various academic institutions are now incorporating forensic social work courses into their respective curriculums, BSW and MSW students are becoming more aware and interested in pursuing this specialization.  Dr. Yolanda M. Byrd, LCSW, Director of Field Education at Winston-Salem State University stated “she has seen a continued interest from her BSW students in forensic social work; particularly in obtaining field education placements.”

As the latter part of the 20th century dealt with establishing the practice of Forensic Social Work, the 21st century will reflect more of a presence in various venues encompassing micro and macro approaches to the field, not only within the United States but more globally.  In speaking with the National Organization of Forensic Social Work President, Dr. Tina Maschi, LCSW, Associate Professor of Social Work, Fordham University, she noted  “in the 21st century the complex social issues, such as mass incarceration, necessitate that we use an integrated approach that incorporates clinical, policy, and community organizational skills to build the capacities of individuals, families, and communities to address them.”

Forensic Social Work in the Future

Looking ahead, you will see more forensic social workers represented in all aspects of society representing not only clients in criminal justice practice settings, but as administrators, social activists, academicians, and social justice change agents internationally.  As social work curriculums, both undergraduate and graduate, continue to broaden their course offerings and specializations to include forensic social work, you will see a continued increase in diplomas, degrees and certifications being obtained by future social work students.  Here in North Carolina, the need to have forensic social workers represented in the criminal justice system, specifically the penal system is a growing need and viable area of interest for local and state legislators.  For those interested, I strongly encourage you to attend the NOFSW annual conference in July.

Photo Credit via NASW

Yusuf Neville Sparks Conversation on Mental Health in African American Communities

In recent news, Yusuf Neville, a prominent African American male, committed suicide by jumping from the parking deck of a Greensboro hotel. His loved ones, family and friends said their last goodbyes during his memorial held at Durham’s First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Yusuf was a graduate of Hampton University and a service manager of a fortune 500 company. He was also a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, an avid runner and engaged to his long time girlfriend Jennifer Bowden. From the outside looking in, he seemed to have the perfect life, unfortunately, that was not the case.

Many celebrities have reached out via twitter and instagram to mourn, celebrate and say their last goodbyes to Yusuf. One of them being Terrance J, a news correspondent on E news. One of his last twitter posts read

https://twitter.com/TerrenceJ/status/428717370148794368

For some reason in African American communities, we do not recognize mental illness as an issue. Instead, we sweep it under the rug as if it does not exist and if it does, prayer is used as a bandage. Don’t get me wrong, the church can be a great resource, but why do we not seek treatment or diagnosis also? We are taught African American women have to be strong and hold our families together, and African American men have to be providers and are not allowed to show proper emotion.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness,

  • Yusuf-Neville-Instagram-suicide-noteMental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African American community. African Americans are much more likely to seek help though their primary care doctors as opposed to accessing specialty care.
  • Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural under standing; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.
  • Across a recent 15-year span, suicide rates increased 233 percent among African Americans aged 10-14 compared to 120 percent among Caucasian Americans in the same age group across the same span of time.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African American. Prison inmates are at a higher risk of developing a mental illness.
  • Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illnesses. African American children comprise 45 percent of the public foster care population. Read Full Fact Sheet

It is time for us to step up and begin to address issues of mental illness within African American communities and ways for people to seek help without judgement and scrutiny. There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves in healthy ways. If not, we will continue to see suffering in the same ways that manifested with Yusuf Neville. It is important to keep having these conversations, so we can positively move forward in our communities. Rest in Peace Yusuf.

North Carolina Citizens and NAACP Fights Corporate Owned Government

ethics

Many transplants from all over the country come to North Carolina because it’s a state with both mountains and beautiful beaches. North Carolina’s natural resources accounts for the biggest draw to the state in addition to being a fast growing progressive metropolis. These qualities keep many of us from leaving, and it has convinced many others to make North Carolina their home. Now, these same reasons are activating many North Carolinians to fight for our beloved state as evidenced by Saturday’s Moral March when approximately 100,000 people marched on the State Capitol.

Led by Rev. William Barber and the NC-NAACP, they have assembled a coalition of advocacy groups with different focuses who have come together for the singular purpose of taking back North Carolina from the extremist wing of the Republican Party. After the AP reported yesterday on the coal ash lawsuits environmental groups tried to bring against Duke Energy, it revealed that Duke Energy was actually protected by the State of North Carolina instead of regulated. North Carolinians are starting to look at Moral March and the efforts of advocacy groups with fresh new eyes because without them who is looking out for the interest of North Carolina citizens?

With the environmental debacle in West Virginia, North Carolinians are not having to stretch the imagination in order to envision what environmental damage and loose regulations can do to the water tables in our State. As an employee of Duke Energy for 28 years, Governor Pat McCrory’s decision to fine Duke Energy $99,000 dollars which equates to a parking ticket prior to the massive coal ash spill in the Dan River comes as no surprise. How many examples of less regulation is needed before one decides the GOP is not looking out for our interests rather than making money for their own pocket?

The NC Republican led legislature’s decision to move aggressively towards Fracking with Senate Bill 76 also planned to eliminate a 40 year old provision banning underground chemical disposal.  Current legislation and government practices appear to be in line with developing policies that are beneficial to Duke Energy and not North Carolina citizens.

According to the News and Observer,

The bill was highly controversial because the only geology in the state that would have allowed pumping waste into deep wells is in tourism-dependent coastal counties, some 150 miles away from the inland areas where shale gas would be drilled. At least 14 county and town governments, along with the U.S. Marine Corps, have adopted resolutions or position papers opposing deep-well injection as a threat to the region’s underground drinking water. Read Full Article

Without steep opposition, we would also have Fracking and underground chemical disposal going into effect in 2015 after being banned for 40 years. Nothing appears to be off the table for this GOP controlled government when it comes to protecting corporate profits, yet what policies have they put in effect to make your life better? Despite Moral Monday critics and detractors, Moral March serves as a strong rebuke of Governor McCrory and GOP policies as well as foreshadow of whats to come leading into the 2014 mid-term elections.

Voter ID laws Impact the Most Vulnerable: Time to fight back!

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director of Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Voting is a right, not a privilege. Somehow, this basic American truth is being forgotten in our frenzy to battle “voter fraud,” a phenomenon that exists more in the minds of the paranoid than in the voting booths. Voter ID requirements are one of the newest forms of voter suppression spreading through the states. Women and people of color are widely acknowledged to be the communities most adversely impacted by Voter ID laws. These communities must be at the forefront of the battle against discriminatory voter ID laws that will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of North Carolina voters.  To support community inclusion and access to information, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice invites you to join a FREE webinar to discuss strategies to combat Voter ID and other forms of voter suppression in North Carolina and throughout the South.

Please join the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Blueprint NC, State Voices, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Lawand Southern Leaders for Voting Rights (SOLVE) for a free virtual voter ID strategy discussion at the outset of 2014 state legislative sessions. This webinar is free and open to the public. Information is designed for community organizers and concerned citizens looking to find concrete ways to make a difference in the fight for access to the ballot for all eligible voters.

I tried to vote today

SCSJ Executive Director Anita Earls will explain the history and context of voter ID so that participants can understand the precise manner that voter ID laws are used to suppress the vote.

The webinar will also include first-hand accounts of how Voter ID laws are being fought on the ground in Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. We will discuss lessons learned, best practices, and how to effectively put together grassroots movements in our own communities.

Voter ID is just one of the tools in the arsenal of voter suppression tactics being deployed in North Carolina and beyond. Understanding voter ID is an excellent first step toward understanding and organizing against all forms of voter suppression. We hope you are able to join us on Tuesday, January 28 for this free 2-hour webinar. Click here to register!

NC NAACP Responds to The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014

DURHAM – While the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP appreciates the fact that a bipartisan effort has been made to amend and update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we have some serious concerns and objections to the proposal which has just been introduced in the U.S. Congress. On January 16, 2014, Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and other co-sponsors introduced legislation which is intended to replace Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013
NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013

This provision was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in its recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. That decision had the effect of gutting the Section 5 pre-clearance mandate of the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, the Section 5 mandate had been successfully used by the United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights organizations to prevent covered jurisdictions from enacting voting laws and regulations which had the effect of discriminating against racial minorities.

A preliminary examination of the proposed provisions of this legislation convinces us that it falls woefully short of what is needed to protect all people from race-based efforts to curtail the voting potential of people of color. We certainly see this proposal as a starting point, there is much work to be done before these provisions can be deemed to be equivalent to the protections which Section 5 provided over the years.

Any voting rights proposal which does not recognize and address the widespread voting suppression efforts which are presently occurring in North Carolina is defective. As presently written, the proposal would not mandate that North Carolina be designated as a jurisdiction which would be subject to pre-clearance. This is the State which leads the country in recognized and judicially determined voting rights violations since the introduction of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This long history dates back to the landmark cases of Thornburg v. Gingles in 1986 and Shaw v. Hunt in 1992. In response to the passage of the most sweeping voter suppression legislation in the United States, North Carolina is presently being sued in State and federal courts for enacting laws designed to curtail the votes of racial minorities. Passage of this proposed legislation would have the effect of endorsing the race-based actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP is not willing to accept any legislation which does not mandate that North Carolina is designated as a covered jurisdiction.

Another major defect with this proposed legislation is the exemption that the law would provide for voter identification statutes. Voter ID is an abhorrent and offensive to voting rights as were poll taxes and the literacy tests which are now outlawed by the Voting Rights Acts. The exemption which the bill drafters seek to give to Voter ID legislation is no more than a pandering to right wing regressive political forces who are the present-day architects of voter suppression efforts around the country.

As written, this bill does not protect the rights of racial minorities against discrimination at the polls. As the nation’s oldest and largest Civil Rights organization with a massive membership base, we have the responsibility to insure that any legislation which is enacted must protect the best interests of our members, our community and the democratic principles espoused in our constitution. Our mission is to stand on the side of equal protection under the law and not to merely celebrate political compromise, especially where it has the intent or effect of undermining our hard-won political victories. In that light, this legislation looks like an effort to proclaim that this is the best that we can do with these Republicans in power rather than being drafted from the perspective of “how do we maximize political protections for racial minorities which are consistent with our constitution and the 1965 Voting rights act?”. Political protections in our democracy should be unfettered, the rights of every voter should be recognized and every vote must be properly counted.

Accordingly, we plan to meet with North Carolina’s elected leaders in the U.S. House and Senate as well as our National NAACP leadership to amend and fix this proposed legislation. We have already contacted other State Branches of the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations who oppose and/or support this proposal. It is our plan to fight as hard to amend and fix this proposal as we are presently fighting against the voter suppression efforts here in North Carolina.

One of the most important and fundamental rights of racial minorities is the right to vote. Since the NAACP was organized in 1909, voting rights has been at the top of our agenda and it remains in that position today. Voting rights is the life-blood of a vibrant and politically connected people and we will not stand by passively and allow political compromise to destroy the hard-gained victories for voting rights for racial minorities in this country. We look forward to an opportunity to engage in the debate about this proposed legislation as this idea moves through the legislative process. We will call upon the 1,200 NAACP units from around the country to monitor their districts for additional evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices in their locales which can serve as further examples of the concerns and objections which we presently have about this proposal.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes the more than 150 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Peoples Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.

For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919 394 8137
Atty. Jamie Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919 682 4700

For Media Assistance: Laurel Ashton, Field Secretary, 828 713 3864

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Denied Service at a Restaurant Because of Service Dog

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

In Mooresville, North Carolina, a disabled veteran was denied service at a restaurant because of his service dog.  Benjamin Wardrid, a veteran who served in the Iraq War, experienced his first taste of discrimination as someone with a disability who uses a service animal.  Wardrid was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, upon returning home from serving in the U.S. Army.  Beau, Wardrid’s service dog, assists in ameliorating the symptoms of PTSD Wardrid may experience in his day-to-day life.

Service Dog in Training 1Last Wednesday, Wardrid was prevented from being served at a local restaurant while on a family outing because he had his service dog with him.  Wardrid knew that his rights had been violated, and he and Beau returned to the restaurant the following day accompanied by two police officers.  During the second visit, Wardrid and Beau were finally allowed in, and Wardrid was served.  The owner of the restaurant provided an off-camera statement that he has had “bad experiences” with service animals in the past.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly outlines privately-own businesses’ responsibilities that serve the general population when it comes to service animals:

Privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.

The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

The ADA defines a service animal as:

Any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.  Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself.

(Excerpt from the ADA’s Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business webpage.)

The ADA clearly states that a service animal is NOT a pet.  When a service animal is assisting its owner, they are considered to be “working.”  Though some people may not be aware, it is discouraged to pet or stroke a service animal while working (especially if wearing a harness); to do so distracts the animal who has been trained to provide a service.

When this story was brought to my attention, I was shocked at the lackluster excuse the owner of the restaurant provided regarding his refusal to serve Wardrid.  Dogs who provide such services undergo vigorous selection and training processes; dogs with an aggressive temperament or demeanor are not selected to serve in this manner.  In my experience, the service dogs I have come into contact with were very calm and friendly when they were “off,” and attentive to their owner’s needs when “working.”

Regardless of the restaurant owner’s previous encounters with service animals, Wardrid should not have been denied because he had a service dog.  Any hesitations the owner may have had could have been resolved in a different manner; for instance, he could have brought his concerns to Wardrid’s attention, and an alternate seating arrangement could have been chosen.  Or Wardrid could have eased the owner’s concerns by discussing Beau’s demeanor, and how he would not be disruptive.

The ignorance or “fear” displayed by the owner is disturbing because it makes me, and possibly others who hear this story, wonder how many other “Wardrids and Beaus” were denied at this restaurant before this incident made news.  I also wonder about the treatment of people with disabilities at this restaurant; do people with disabilities feel welcomed, or is there an air of hostility that exists?

Have any of you witnessed discrimination against those who used service animals at public venues?  Have you been the victim of such discriminatory acts?  If so, how did you react, and what was the outcome?  I would like to have the opportunity to learn of your experiences and responses surrounding this matter.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Petfinder.)

President Obama Visits NC State to Talk About Jobs

President Obama with Governor Pat McCrory
President Obama with Governor Pat McCrory

Under the current political climate, members of the GOP have avoided any public displays of affection with President Obama out of fear of retribution from tea partiers. However, this did not appear to be the case with Governor Pat McCrory as he welcomed President Obama after he exited Air Force One.

Today, President Obama visited North Carolina State University (NCSU) to discuss his plans for an innovation hub to be developed in Raleigh. The plan seeks to create partnerships between public, private, and universities in effort to spur innovations that will leading to fabrication and mass production in the United States.

According to the Raleigh News and Observer,

Obama announced a $140 million consortium of companies and universities at NCSU that will develop the next generation of energy-efficient electronic chips and devices. The effort – and other technology hubs like it – fulfill a pledge in his State of the Union address a year ago to develop high-tech jobs.

The Next Generation Power Electronics Institute will be headquartered on NCSU’s Centennial Campus. Over the next **-five years, the U.S. Department of Energy will provide $70 million to the institute, to be matched by at least $70 million in nonfederal money by the businesses and universities and the state of North Carolina.  Read More

The address to Wolfpack nation was nationally televised on all the major networks except Fox news who decided to cover the “Devil Baby” prank in New York City instead. Nevertheless, the President’s address has rebooted the national conversation and focus back on job creation where it should be.

In the wake of the long-term unemployed being kicked off benefits in both North Carolina and federal extended benefits, Americans are still having a tough time finding employment especially when there are three people for every one job.

Despite the record number of people at food pantries, the GOP is taking lessons on how to appear more compassionate while continuing to deny extended unemployment benefits to jobless Americans. You can view the President’s address at NC State below:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb–6RSdIkI[/youtube]

NC Grade Drops to “F” Due to Laws against Reproductive Rights

Durham, North Carolina — Today, NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina published the 23rd edition of Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States. The report, published each year, provides individual letter grades on the status of women’s reproductive rights for all 50 states and provides a comprehensive view of choice-related legislation and court decisions in those states. NC was scored as an anti-choice state for its 2013 legislative record on reproductive freedom, getting a letter grade of F.

Hannah Osborn (NARAL NC Intern Class of 2013, NC State Class of 2014) speaking at a pro-choice Rally last March.
Hannah Osborn (NARAL NC Intern) speaking at a pro-choice Rally last March.

Read NC’s report card here: http://bit.ly/WhoDecidesNC.

“In 2013, extreme lawmakers railroaded through a series of new laws that are part of a nationwide, well-funded anti-woman agenda sweeping the nation.  These laws are ill-conceived and out of touch with the majority of North Carolinians who believe lawmakers have no place in a woman’s personal, private reproductive decisions,” said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. “In 2014, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina is as committed as ever to holding the opponents of a woman’s right to choose accountable, and working hard to elect lawmaker who share our pro-choice values and belief that every woman should have not just the right, but the opportunity to make whatever decision is right for her.”

North Carolina is one of the twenty-four states nationwide that enacted anti-choice measures in 2013.  During the 2013 legislative session, the NC General Assembly passed and the Governor McCrory signed three new anti-choice bills into law, despite his campaign promise to not support any additional restrictions on access to abortion in North Carolina.  These laws require NC DHHS to create new restrictions on women’s health centers, ban women from obtaining comprehensive insurance coverage through North Carolina’s health care exchange that includes coverage for abortion care, even when they use their own money to purchase their plan.  The law also strips over 370,000 city and county employees of access to comprehensive reproductive health insurance coverage that most Americans currently have through their employer-based insurance coverage.

In total, 24 states—AK, MT, ND, SD, CO, KS, OK. TX, IA, MO, AR, LA, WI, MI, IN, OH, PA, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS—passed 53 anti-choice measures. The four primary types of laws restricting reproductive freedom included:

  • Banning abortion at different stages of pregnancy;
  • Banning insurance coverage of abortion;
  • Restricting abortion providers to close them down;
  • Helping anti-choice fake clinics called crisis pregnancy centers.

But the tide is turning, as elected officials like Texas state Senator Wendy Davis and Michigan state Senator Gretchen Whitmer took strong public stands to protect reproductive freedom. Ten states—AL, CA, CO, HI, IL, NH, TX, VA, VT, and WV—enacted a total of 15 pro-choice measures (twice as many as last year), fighting back against anti-choice extremists. (Source)

The full report is available at http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/government-and-you/who-decides/ 

Photo Credit: NARAL Pro-Choice NC

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Redistricting: The Hidden Side of Voter Suppression

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director SCSJ

On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) presented oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

NC Gerrymander Map
NC Gerrymander Map

During the summer 2013 trial, SCSJ represented several statewide nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, The North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC, and the NC NAACP, seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. NC. On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate.

SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.  In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.

SCSJ also argues that the plans violate the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts.  The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.

Post-election analysis conducted by SCSJ and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error. All of this evidence was presented to the State Supreme Court by SCSJ.

“Racial gerrymandering to create separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ districts is both wrong and unconstitutional. We need to get out of the mindset that black voters will only elect a black candidate and white voters will only elect a white candidate – this just isn’t true anymore. In the end, racially packed voting districts take away the ability of all racial groups to elect candidates of their choice,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of SCSJ client the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc.

“More than 2,500 voters in just seven monitored counties lost their right to vote in 2012 because of the unprecedented way district lines zigzagged through precincts and neighborhoods in order to divide voters by race,” said Bob Hall, executive director of SCSJ client Democracy North Carolina. “That kind of disenfranchisement points to the serious problems with what amounts to computerized apartheid – and hopefully the court will say it must stop.”

Relevant court filings are available below:

Plaintiff-Appellants’ Reply Brief

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

Amicus Brief 1

Amicus Brief 2:

Amicus Brief 3

Language Matters: Reforming Policy in Durham

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”~ Mahatma Gandhi

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but we don’t like being called names either. Who does, and what does it say about the name-callers? As the year winds down, we look back at the work of the FADE Coalition. What we see is an ugly unfortunate and perhaps a predictable pattern of name calling by city officials to discredit our work.

It started with Durham Police Chief Lopez referring to FADE Coalition members as “detractors” at the second Human Relations Committee hearing (HRC) in October. Now, it continues with the announcement of an upcoming community forum for the Citizen’s Police Review Board (CPRB). Speaking to Jim Wise of the Durham News, Review Board member Cynthia Walls said “I have no problem with a public input session, but it’s important to make it clear we don’t want the same complaints the Human Relations Commission is hearing.” Board Member David Harris piled on, saying of the upcoming forum, “This is not a gripe session.”

The “complaints” and “gripes” they refer to involve data provided by the Durham NAACP revealing that between 2004-2009, 75% of civilian complaints filed with the Durham Police Department were dismissed by the Internal Affairs/Professional Standards Division. During that same period, the CPRB received only five appeals and held no hearings at all. Furthermore, between the years 2010 and 2012, DPD received nearly two hundred citizen complaints, though only 20% of these complaints were sustained. While a number of individuals filed timely appeals of their dismissals, the Board granted only one request for a formal appeal hearing during this period.

More generally, we weren’t aware that providing empirical data and personal narratives of racial profiling and police misconduct constituted “gripes.” Nor were we aware that the mothers, lawyers, researchers, organizers, pastors and community members of the FADE coalition could be reduced to the term “detractor”. Chief Lopez, in remarks made about FADE in the Police Department’s December report to HRC, questioned the legitimacy of the coalition as a voice of the community, attempting to minimize our status as long-time Durham residents and engaged community members. The report further states, “we submit…that any alleged broad community concern is being manufactured rather than growing.” More name-calling and just outright dismissal of our long-standing efforts in order to distract from the heart of the matter.

But in the spirit of Gandhi, we accept the name-calling with pride, with a sense that we are making an impact and with the confidence that we will prevail no matter what they call us.

We encourage you to review the document FADE Coalition Policy Recommendationsto the Durham Human Relations Commission.  It reflects an enormous amount of careful research, input, collaboration and thought. And we promise that you will find no gripes, complaints or detractions in it.

NC DHHS Hosted a Twitter Town Hall on Mental Health Reform

ncdhhs
NC Department of Health Human Services

The North Carolina Department of Health Human Services (NCDHHS) held a twitter town hall today using the hashtag #ncmentalhealth in order to measure public perception of Governor McCrory’s new Crisis Initiative Solution for mental health reform. Governor McCrory is int the process of assembling an interdisciplinary team of experts from health care, law enforcement, government and community leaders. Some of the duties expected of the group will be to make recommendations on current system inefficiencies, data sharing, and potential legislation.

Dave Richard, Director of the Division of Mental Health, was present to answer questions on behalf of the Agency. Unfortunately, it appeared Agency officials were experiencing some technical difficulties with the twitter town hall format. Many of the participants who engaged sent out tweets expressing concerns about the communications team ability to moderate the chat.

According to a press release by NC DHHS in early November, the agency stated:

“Improving mental health and substance abuse services is a top priority of our administration,” said Governor Pat McCrory. “By bringing people together to implement strategies that work, we can better serve the thousands of North Carolinans who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse.”

“With today’s announcement, we begin a focused, long-term effort to ensure that individuals and families who are experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis know where to turn for the help they need,” said DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, M.D. “In turn, we can begin to reduce the tremendous burden that these issues place on hospital emergency departments and law enforcement.”

Although there were several tweets about Medicaid expansion and health care exchanges, the Agency did not make any comments on whether it will factor into their plan for mental health reform. However, there was a generally concensus that the mental health care system in North Carolina is in desperate need of repair.

Some of the major concerns that arose during the town hall was access, quality of services, reimbursement, and potential replacement models. Below, you can view a full interactive archive of the twitter town hall which will give you the ability like, add to your favorites, and retweet.

[View the story “NC DHHS Held Townhall Twitter Chat on Mental Health” on Storify]

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