RALEIGH — On Saturday, Feb. 21, an epic match was played before the State Capitol that had participants on both sides reminiscing of the glory days of years long passed. Nevertheless, by the day’s end, the International Socialists thoroughly drummed the National Socialists, 500 to 35, in the Capitol’s “Battle of the Failed Ideologies.” The challenge was issued first by the National Socialist Movement, which organized a rally at the Capitol on the pretense of celebrating George Washington’s birthday. The International Socialist movement quickly rose to the challenge. After all, there’s nothing communists hate more than Nazis, ideologically their twins except for the overt racism. Familiarity breeds contempt.
RALEIGH — The nation’s largest drug benefits company and 20 states Monday reached a settlement of $20.2 million over pricing claims. The company, Medco Health Solutions, Inc., switched patients’ drugs so that it could win rebates from drug makers, the N.C. Attorney General’s Office said. The settlement, on behalf of 62 million consumers, resolves charges that Medco violated state unfair trade practice laws by encouraging doctors to switch their patients to different prescription drugs, then failing to pass on the resulting savings to patients or their health care plans. As a pharmaceutical benefits management company, Medco contracts with health plans to process prescription payments for drugs provided to patients enrolled in the plan.
RALEIGH — In January, a campaign began in Michigan to prohibit racial preferences. The campaign for the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative” (MCRI), is led by executive director Jennifer Gratz. Her name may sound familiar because she filed one of the lawsuits against race preferences in the University of Michigan that led to the Supreme Court decision last year upholding a narrow use of race by universities in admissions decisions. The MCRI states, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
RALEIGH — U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance and Warren County Sheriff Johnny Williams helped a woman avoid registering as a North Carolina sex offender as required by law and a federal plea agreement. Subsequent to her conviction as a sex offender, Ballance employed her as an instructor in a substance-abuse program run by an organization of which he was the chairman. The woman, Lisa Louise Hayes, of Warren County, was employed as a drug treatment specialist at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner from October 1991 until February 2001. In August 2001 federal authorities arrested her and charged her with engaging in a sexual act with a person who was in official detention and who was under her custodial, supervisory, and disciplinary authority.
HICKORY — Catawba County is making use of an innovative health care arrangement in an effort to limit the amount of money it spends on employee health. The results are promising, with the county realizing significant savings while employees enjoy quicker and less costly access to routine health care that would otherwise have necessitated a visit to the doctor’s office. North Carolina’s localities have faced difficult financial times in recent years, with slowing sales tax collections and the state withholding local money. At the same time, the cost of mandated services has continued to grow rapidly, making every cost savings significant.
RALEIGH — The state Attorney General’s Office said last week that it was taking enforcement actions against some of the largest sources of unwanted telemarketing calls to North Carolina consumers under the state’s Do Not Call law. “Some telemarketers keep calling even when consumers ask them not to,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said. “We’re putting a stop to these unwanted calls.” Cooper announced settlements with AT&T and American Communications of High Point, which sells DIRECTV satellite equipment. He also filed suit last week against MST Business Research of Surrey, Canada, a telemarketer working with American Communications to sell DIRECTV products.
RALEIGH — A U.S. appeals court has upheld a 1995 change in North Carolina law limiting the right of felons to own handguns. Significantly, in doing so, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the law can be applied even against those convicted of felonies before the General Assembly’s passage of a 1995 amendment, which transformed a previous five-year ban on felons possessing handguns into a lifelong ban. The felon had challenged the retroactive application of the ban as an ex post facto law. But courts have distinguished between retroactive punishment, which is unconstitutional, and retroactive civil laws, which are not.
RALEIGH — In a repeat performance yesterday of last week’s press conference, State Auditor Ralph Campbell explained his findings for a special panel of General Assembly members in a review critical of the North Carolina Division of Medical Assistance’s misuse of more than $1 billion in the Medicaid program. Yesterday, Campbell and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom, who oversees DMA, were peppered with questions about the audit. Odom has criticized Campbell since the audit’s release, claiming his findings were either inaccurate or that he was negligent in the timeliness of his discoveries. In Tuesday’s testimony the finger-pointing between Campbell and Odom escalated.
RALEIGH — A lack of education and vocational training has left North Carolina lagging in the competitive race of building a competent workforce to attract new corporations and businesses to the state. Community colleges leader Martin Lancaster said the system is doing its best to bridge the gap across the state through tech prep and other programs, but he thinks the state is on a collision course with disaster.“Forty-eight percent of recent high school graduates that enroll in community college need remediation in either reading, writing, or mathematics,” he said. “It’s a very bad sign that puts the North Carolina economic future at risk.”
RALEIGH — Two rival bills under discussion in the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee would get the federal government involved in the debate on higher-education tuition increases. Both bills, however, take different approaches to make college more affordable for students. The Republican plan would call for a College Affordability Index and would give more information to parents and students about college costs. The Democrat plan would also call for an affordability index, however it would punish states that decrease higher-education spending. The bills are part of an effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in time for passage of the 2005 fiscal budget.
RALEIGH — U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance pledged $10,000 from the embattled John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation toward the Buck Spring Leadership Excellence Center, a Warren County conference facility in the planning stages. The foundation, which Ballance chairs, has received more than $2 million in state money for substance-abuse programs. But last year, an investigation by Carolina Journal and a special review by State Auditor Ralph Campbell uncovered that the foundation often went for items unrelated to substance abuse. The pledge appears to have been unpaid, and the center remains far short of its fundraising goal.
RALEIGH — Students who cross county lines to attend a charter school should have local funds provided by their county of residence. That’s the state law. But two charter schools in Northampton County are having trouble collecting payments for students who reside in Halifax. The two schools are part of the KIPP Academy network. They are Gaston College Preparatory charter and the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal charter school. Halifax officials have not replied to inquiries from either school about the alleged omission. Families of the KIPP students who reside in Halifax are not being cited for truancy, so it’s not clear where the county believes those students attend school.
RALEIGH — Calling it “the most damaging audit” issued in his nearly 12 years as state auditor, Ralph Campbell on Tuesday released a scathing review of the North Carolina Division of Medical Assistance’s misuse of more than $1 billion in the Medicaid program. As much as $414 million in improper Medicaid reimbursements may need to be repaid to the federal government. Auditors zeroed in on the Disproportionate Share Hospital Program because of federal concerns about fraud and misuse in the program, which was designed to reimburse hospitals that serve larger numbers of poor patients than other hospitals.
RALEIGH — The Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste released its annual “Pig Book” last week detailing how earmarking in the federal budget delivers pork to local districts. It reported that “the total number of pork-projects hidden in the 13 appropriations bills ... is a record 10,656, 13 percent over last year’s eye-popping total of 9,362.” After finishing 51st last year in per-capita pork spending, North Carolina ranked second-to-last this year. Only New Jersey’s congressional delegation brought home less bacon per person. A couple of items headed to the state were rated worthy for specific mention by CAGW, including part of a grant of $6.1 million for “wood utilization research.”
RALEIGH — The president of the N.C. Center for Applied Textile Technology created the appearance of a conflict of interest by accepting outside teaching jobs, the State Auditor’s Office said in an investigative audit released last week. The auditor’s office was asked to review the secondary employment of the center’s president, James L. Lemons, by the president of the State Community College System. Meanwhile, another community-college audit found that Blue Ridge Community College had used state-paid technology staff to perform services for outside organizations in competition with private firms, thus potentially violating state law.
RALEIGH — Tax Freedom Day, the day working Americans pay off their federal and state taxes, will be celebrated nationwide on Sunday, the earliest such day in 37 years, the Tax Foundation says. April 11 is three days earlier than 2003’s Tax Freedom Day and 21 days earlier than in 2000, when the economy’s boom and bubble pushed tax burdens to a record high, and Tax Freedom Day did not arrive until May 2. Tax Freedom Day is the day when Americans will finally have earned enough money to pay off their total tax bill for the year. In North Carolina, Tax Freedom Day came a few days earlier, on April 6.
RALEIGH — The air turned foul in a General Assembly committee meeting Tuesday when representatives of various industries in assailed the state Department of the Environment and Natural Resources. One DENR official told the Joint Select Committee on Small Business and Economic Development that North Carolina’s environmental laws sometimes are stricter than federal laws, and other times they are less stringent. But Republican Rep. Connie Wilson of Charlotte said she was concerned about DENR’s excessive regulations that thwart economic development in the state. And Democratic Sen. A. B. Swindell of Nashville expressed outrage at DENR’s intransigence.
RALEIGH — State and federal programs directed at the disabled are costly and ineffective because they apply an “entitlement mentality” to problems that would be better addressed by promoting investment in job skills and self reliance, according to a new report released by the John Locke Foundation. Author John Hood observed that while most persons living with disabilities today have “an unprecedented quality of life,” largely as a product of medical and technological advances, they are also experiencing some “surprisingly negative” trends. For example, a smaller share of the disabled have jobs today than was true before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was supposed to pry open the doors of economic opportunity.
RALEIGH — Latino households with school-age children find more to like in the nation’s public schools than do white parents or black parents, a national survey finds. About half of all Latino families expressed confidence that U.S. schools have improved over the past five years, compared to 25 percent of whites and 31 percent of blacks. Foreign-born Hispanics are the most optimistic group. Opinions about President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law were mixed, but Latino parents endorse the use of standardized tests, and the idea of holding schools accountable for student performance. North Carolina is home to a significant and growing Latino school population.
RALEIGH — Gov. Mike Easley announced March 15 that officials had awarded a $7 million grant to Verizon Wireless and that the company would build a high-tech call center in Wilmington. Had he chosen to make the announcement at the company’s 17-acre building site in South Wilmington, he would have had to wear a hard hat and dodge bulldozers, because the project had already started. An investigation by Carolina Journal revealed that state officials might have violated state laws and guidelines in making the award. According to evidence found by CJ, the company had already committed to the site and had started the project before the state awarded the grant.
RALEIGH — Most states expect a breather in 2004 from the budget problems of the last three years, but many anticipate shortages again for fiscal year 2005. According to a new report, states have a $2.5 billion shortfall for the current fiscal year, compared to a $25.7 billion gap this time last year. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that NC anticipated a $500 million budget gap for 2005. “Continuation budget needs are fully funded,” the report said of NC, “but there are no resources for key gubernatorial and legislative priorities including pay raises, education improvement, higher education improvement costs, repairs and renovation account, and partial restoration of the rainy day fund.”
RALEIGH — Since 2002, controversy and UNC-Chapel Hill’s summer reading program for incoming freshmen have gone hand in hand. The university’s book choice for 2002, Approaching the Qur’an, prompted an outcry among some Christian activists. Last year’s selection of the book Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America fanned the controversy as conservative said the book was unscholarly, Marxist, and amounted to liberal indoctrination at a public university. The selection committee this year sought to avoid the outcry of the past years by opening the selection process, and this year’s choice is a book that looks at the experiences of a group of cadets at West Point.