Capital Tonight June 26: Same-Sex Marriage Decision

capital_tonight_show25jpgOn Capital Tonight: We explore the implications of the US Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage with Campbell Law professor Greg Wallace, Equality NC director Chris Sgro, and Catawba College Professor Michael Bitzer. Watch the program here.

Supreme Court Extends Same-Sex Marriage Across U.S.

SCOTUS_Gay_Marriage_Rally_0428WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court has declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.

Gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court’s ruling on Friday means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.

The outcome is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996.

President Obama Tweeted that gay marriage ruling “is a big step in our march toward equality”.

• Read the court’s full opinion here

Supreme Court Upholds Nationwide Health Care Law Subsidies

ACA_newestWASHINGTON—The Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act on Thursday for the second time in three years.

The High Court rejected a challenge to the law, which would have caused thousands of North Carolinians to lose their health coverage.

By a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal tax credits called for in the Affordable Care Act are legal. The income-based subsidies help make health insurance more affordable and are crucial to its success.

Opponents argued that a single phrase in the law prevented the government from providing subsidies in the 34 states that don’t have their own marketplaces. That includes North Carolina.

But Thursday’s ruling means the nearly half-million North Carolinians who currently receive the subsidies will keep them.

“We will not go backwards and more and more people will get the health care they need to protect their families,” said Ron Pollack, Founding Executive Director of Families USA.

Chief Justice John Roberts again sided with the court’s liberal wing in defending the law. He wrote: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

Justice Antonin Scalia was among the three no votes. His dissent dripped with disdain:

“We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” Scalia wrote, suggesting the court partly owns the law now that it’s twice upheld it.

The Affordable Care Act is still unpopular in some quarters, but the law is a survivor. It’s withstood more than 50 repeal efforts in the House, and now two Supreme Court rulings. Shortly after the ruling, President Obama delivered a statement from the White House Rose Garden.

“Today is a victory for hardworking Americans all across this country whose lives will continue to become more secure in a changing economy because of this law,” said President Barack Obama.

It’s also a victory for President Obama, with the High Court reaffirming his legacy issue. And while Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation blasted the court’s ruling and the president’s health care law, President Obama says the matter is settled.

Statement from President Obama:

I applaud the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who came together to give the United States the chance to negotiate strong, high-standard agreements for free and fair trade that protect American workers and give our businesses the opportunity to compete. With bipartisan majorities, Congress also voted to expand vital support for thousands of American workers each year, and to bolster economic relations between sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. Of course, we still have more work to do on behalf of our workers, which is why I’ll continue to encourage Congress to pass robust trade enforcement legislation that will help us crack down on countries that break the rules. But this week’s votes represent a much-needed win for hardworking American families.

As President, I’ve spent the last six and half years fighting to grow our economy and strengthen our middle class, and that remains my top priority today. I believe we should make sure that the United States, and not countries like China, write the rules of our global economy. We should support more good jobs that pay good wages. We should level the playing field so that our workers have the chance to compete and win. That’s what this new legislation will help us do, and I look forward to signing these bipartisan bills into law as soon as they reach my desk.

Eyes Focus on Medicaid Expansion Following Supreme Court Ruling

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH—Many people in North Carolina have been watching and waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act subsidies.

The governor had indicated earlier this year, that the ruling could have an impact on whether or not he would recommend expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

However, the ruling may not move that Medicaid issue any closer to resolution.

With the Supreme Court ruling saying all citizens can get subsidies for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, states who were bracing for potential chaos if the ruling had gone the other way can now move on to other issues associated with the law.

President Barack Obama said he wants that effort to be on Medicaid expansion.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to convince more governors and state legislatures to take advantage of the law, put politics aside and expand Medicaid and cover their citizens,” said President Obama.

North Carolina is one of those states that did not accept federal dollars through the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid. Earlier this year, Gov. Pat McCrory said he was holding making his recommendation on expansion until after this ruling.

“It is a very complex issue. You can’t just say are you for it or against it,” said Gov. McCrory.

On Thursday, he was not ready to make a decision. The governor said he is studying how successful expansion has been in other states, and if he believes it could work in North Carolina.

“We’ve got to make sure that in order to make sure those people falling through the cracks that we don’t break the entire system for those who currently have insurance. And that’s the balance at this point in time,” said Gov. McCrory.

But the final decision for expansion, would need to pass through the legislature. For his part, the leader of the Senate is clear that he is against it.

“We continue to have a Medicaid system that grows at rates far greater than inflation. We cannot contemplate adding more people to the Medicaid rolls at a time when we are having difficulty sustaining the Medicaid system that we currently have. That situation is exactly what it was before this decision,” said Sen. Phil Berger, President Pro-tem.

The House, Senate and governor are all currently working on Medicaid reform for the state which does not include expansion.

Statement from NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin:

The case did not rule anything further on Medicaid expansion but it will provide some growing interest in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid to consider to do so. This is a long standing, controversial matter. I do not expect this particular ruling to end the controversy, but it does provide some level of comfort for 450,000 North Carolinians.

Statement from Speaker Tim Moore:

“The Affordable Care Act has forced many North Carolinians to pay higher premiums, has limited personal choice of doctors and coverage, and has cornered businesses of all shapes and sizes. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing, but does not change the fact that this flawed policy is doing more harm than good for our State.

This week, the House passed the 2015 Medicaid Modernization Act in an effort to transition the government-run program to patient-centered, provider-led healthcare. This reform will allow the State to fully fund enrollment growth and eliminate wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. Medicaid Reform, not expansion, will remain the priority, and today’s Court ruling will not directly impact North Carolina’s final decision.”

- Loretta Boniti

Spending Plan heads to Full Senate Debate on Wednesday

senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate is pushing its budget proposal forward.

The two-year North Carolina government budget proposed by Senate Republicans is one of the longest in recent memory, full of policy changes that contrasts with GOP declarations that the proposal is fiscally lean.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday for a spending proposal that would spend $21.5 billion next year, less than 2 percent higher than the current year.

“I do understand that they have flexibility, but I also understand the limited dollars don’t give you a whole lot as well,” said Sen. Gladys Robsinon, a Guilford County Democrat.

Lawmakers were given an opportunity to raise questions about the document, many of which centered around the area of cuts to funding for teaching assistants.

Even though it could equate to thousands of fewer assistants, budget writers say local school districts can still fund the positions.

“It doesn’t really cut positions, they can still fund as many positions as they want. but they have fewer dollars per student to do it,” said Sen. Dan Soucek, a Watauga County Republican.

After questions were answered, legislators were given their first opportunity to offer changes to the plan. In appropriations, a handful were considered and approved—including one that would remove the requirement for new drivers to take driver’s education; which the Senate plan stops funding during the next budget cycle.

“It would instead change the score for passage, raise that to 85 and would add 25 additional hours driving with parents or guardians, 60 to 85 before you could move up in the graduated license,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

Another amendment went through, but with substantial debate. It is simply asking for a study of student graduation timelines in the UNC system. But some say parts of what is to be look at in the study is concerning.

“In some studies it shows that students with lower than a 3.0 may have a more difficult time in graduating, maybe they need to go to an alternative to the four year schools, maybe look at a community college,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Rowan County Republican.

Changes were made, the bill was voted on, and moved to the next committee. The finance and pensions and retirement committees moved along more quickly.

With no amendments allowed, but there were questions and comments on some of the key areas of the bill.

More amendments will be allowed to be offered when the budget bill is heard on the floor on Wednesday.

- Loretta Boniti

NC Senate Republican Plan Spends Less Than House, Saves More

senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate has unveiled it proposal for state spending for the next two years.

Senate leaders say this 21.47 billion dollar plan is responsible budgeting, that includes some teacher pay raises, and cuts on state income taxes.

“With a prudent overall increase of about 2 percent, our $21.47 billion plan keeps state government spending in line with population growth and inflation,” said Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown.

State senators came forward with their state spending plan proposal on Monday afternoon. It is a more modest budget than the one approved last month by the House.

One area where the that modesty can be seen is in pay raises. It does include the promised starting teacher pay increase to $35,000 and provides an average pay raise of four percent for teachers.

However, the spending plan does not give across the board raises to state employees.

“We followed Gov. McCrory’s lead in providing targeted market based pay raises to attract and retain effective state employees,” said Sen. Brown.

In the area of education, the Senate is looking to reduce class sizes in Kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. At the same time, they are reducing funding for teaching assistants.

The Senate is also looking to move the discussion on Medicaid reform forward in its budget proposal. Their plan moves forward at an aggressive pace, with capitated care beginning in 2017.

It also uses a mix of out of state managed care entities and in state provider-led programs to help control costs.

In addition, it creates a board outside of DHHS to oversee the program.

“The new department is created outside of most of the acts of the state personnel act. There will be no limits on what they can set as salary and the entire department will serve as at will positions,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

The Senate will move the budget along quickly now. In committee on Tuesday and voted on the floor on Wednesday and Thursday. Some items not included the Senate’s budget proposal is moving for historic tax credits or to fund the governor’s proposed transportation bond.

It does extend the current job development investment grant and make further tax cuts for individuals and corporations.

- Loretta Boniti

Supreme Court Won’t Revive North Carolina Abortion Law

US_Supreme_CourtWASHINGTON—On Monday, the justices declined to hear the case of a North Carolina abortion law, however they could soon decide the fate of abortion restrictions elsewhere.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to reinstate a North Carolina law that would have required that abortion providers show and describe an ultrasound to a pregnant woman before she has an abortion.

The 2011 law, which never took effect, required an ultrasound even if the woman objected. The High Court left in place a Federal appeals court ruling which said the law violated the First Amendment rights of both doctor and patient.

Since 2010, Republican-led states have passed a wide range of abortion-related laws. A separate appeals court ruling involving a Texas law is expected to soon make its way to the Supreme Court.

That law requires that abortion clinics in the state meet the same standards as surgical centers and that abortion providers have hospital-admitting privileges.  Lawyers for the abortion clinics say the requirement , which was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, could force 11 clinics to close by July 1.

Abortion opponents say the law is designed to ensure women get medically safe abortions. But those on the other side argue the restrictions are aimed at preventing legal abortions.

“These laws are sham laws. They do nothing to promote women’s health and safety. What’s they’re doing is denying women access to high quality care by shutting down clinics,” said Kristine Kippins , with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Activists on both sides may soon have the ruling of the highest court in the land to clear things up.

The Guttmacher Institute says North Carolina is one of 23 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, that passed this type of law.

- Geoff Bennett

Capital Tonight June 10: Gun Bill Discussion

ct_gunsOn Capital Tonight: We take a look at the details of the gun bill with Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck and Grass Roots NC board member Marc Erickson. Watch the program here.

NC House Overrides Governor’s Veto of Same-Sex Marriage Opt-Out

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH—The legislature has overridden a veto of bill aimed at allowing magistrates to opt-out of performing marriages.

The state House quickly took up the measure on Thursday morning. The veto override has sat on the House calendar for over a week now as Republican leaders worked to make sure they had the votes needed to override the governor’s veto of this bill.

The vote ended up being 69 to 41 in favor of the override—enough to meet the three-fifths requirement.

Gov. Pat McCrory released the following statement in response:

“It’s a disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation in North Carolina. I will continue to stand up for conservative principles that respect and obey the oath of office for public officials across our state and nation. While some people inside the beltline are focusing on symbolic issues, I remain focused on the issues that are going to have the greatest impact on the next generation such as creating jobs, building roads, strengthening education and improving our quality of life.”

The House called the bill up as its first calendar item for the day and immediately made a procedural maneuver that stops debate on a vote other than from the majority and minority leaders. In his last ditch effort to stop the override from occurring, the minority leader said he believes the governor’s veto of the bill was appropriate.

“We should not be in the business of sanctioning people lying to the government and to the citizens of the state by taking the sacred oath and then willy nilly deciding at their convenience that they will not uphold that oath to the citizen of North Carolina,” said Minority Leader Rep. Larry Hall.

The Senate previously overrode this veto.

With limited debate, attempts were made to argue against Senate Bill Two during points of personal privilege at the end of the floor session. Democrats expressed concern that they were not given an opportunity to speak out against Senate Bill Two during the override vote. However they did get a chance after session had adjourned for the day.

“We would like to apologize to all lesbian and gay couples because love is not different than anyone else’s love in this state. And we’re sorry on behalf of the state of North Carolina,” said Rep. Cecil Brockman, a Guilford County Democrat.

Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“This is a sad day for North Carolina that history will not judge kindly. Just eight months after our state extended the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, extremist lawmakers have passed discrimination into law, allowing government officials to deny marriage services to virtually any couple. This shameful backlash against equality will make it harder for all couples in our state to marry and force many to spend what is supposed to be a happy day trapped in a maze of government offices. We encourage any North Carolina couples who encounter new hurdles because of this discriminatory law to contact our office.”

Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NC Values Coalition, released this following statement:

“It’s hard to believe that any governor – much less a conservative one – would veto a bill protecting the religious freedoms of his constituents. The House and the Senate made the right call in overriding Governor McCrory’s ill-advised veto and we are grateful for their continued leadership in fighting to preserve this fundamental American freedom.”

Capital Tonight Extended Interview: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

scott_walker_timCapital Tonight anchor Tim Boyum talks with Wisconsin Governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker. Watch the interview here.