NC JUSTICE NEWS: Perdue's Budget Veto + Protecting Child Farmworkers + Consumer Finance Bill

June 14, 2011

BUDGET VETO: Perdue rejects damaging state budget

Gov. Bev Perdue made state history this weekend by becoming the first North Carolina governor to ever veto a state budget. She ended a week of suspense and debate by rejecting the GOP $19.7 billion proposal, telling reporters that she could not lend support to a budget that would turn back the clock in North Carolina and inflict “generational damage” to public education. “I will not put my name on a plan that so blatantly ignores the values of North Carolina’s people,” Gov. Perdue said.

Republican leaders believe they still have enough support to override the veto, but Gov. Perdue’s rejection of the job-killing, school-destroying budget demonstrated her crucial support for North Carolina’s most valuable institutions. In her announcement, Gov. Perdue pointed out that some of the budget’s most devastating cuts could have been avoided by maintaining the penny sales tax, and that preserving current revenue would have made a huge difference in preserving public structures.

New data released by the Budget and Tax Center shows just how toxic the proposed budget would be – budget cuts would cost the state almost 30,000 jobs and billions of dollars in reduced economic output. The job losses would hurt the middle class particularly badly, with jobs paying an average of $40k per year being affected most.

Such facts need to be considered by lawmakers. Perhaps then they can stand with North Carolinians by sustaining the Governor’s veto, and creating a budget that raises revenue to fund vital public investments such as schools and health systems.

CHILD LABOR: House committee votes on protecting child workers

Last week’s House Agriculture Committee meeting marked what could have been North Carolina’s last chance to protect child farm workers from hazardous occupations.

Under current laws, children are allowed to work as paid employees at agricultural operations beginning at age 10. As an industry, Agriculture is exempt from most child labor laws, meaning that children are often subjected to difficult, dangerous conditions in farm and poultry work. Despite comprising a tiny fraction of workers, children account for 20 percent of all deaths on the job in the agricultural work force. House Bill 838 would remove the exemption for agriculture from child labor laws, and ensure that children working in agriculture are offered the same protections as in all other industries.

Passing the bill seems like an obvious, easy choice. Yet pressure from the NC Farm Bureau and Department of Labor prevented this legislation from reaching the floor for an up-or-down vote. Negotiations broke down after the Farm Bureau took issue with protecting 13-year-olds.

It is critical that the Farm Bureau and Department of Labor lets the bill move forward. Not only will this free the state from exploitative child labor, but the up-or-down vote will also expose lawmakers who support dangerous child labor and hold them accountable for their actions. Advocates for the bill now hold out hope that HB 838 could be heard in a special meeting after the crossover deadline. It’s not too late to correct this erroneous vote.

HOMEOWNERS AT RISK: Bill gives way to real estate scams

North Carolina is currently facing one of the worst housing markets in recent memory, with nearly 70,000 foreclosure filings in 2010 alone. During this time, real estate scam artists have flourished, offering homeowners false hope that they'll be able to keep their homes only to pull the rug out from under them.

House Bill 654, which passed in the NC House last week, would only make consumers more vulnerable to predatory practices and bad deals that devastate families. The bill – a desecration of the Homeowner and Homebuyer Protection Act – would create dangerous gaps in the law by removing regulation on practices such as foreclosure rescue scams, lease “option” contracts, and contracts for deed. The latter transactions often result in homeowners making a down payment on a property with monthly payments for 30 years, with the promise of a deed to the property that is often never delivered. Thousands of dollars are lost to families that were swindled into faulty, unethical contracts.

Essentially, the new bill would nullify everything that the original Homeowner and Homebuyer Protection Act sought to accomplish. It would make it easier for scammers to create abusive contracts with provisions that could cost families their homes even if they’ve made all of their payments on time. In addition, the new bill would remove a requirement for sellers to disclose the conditions of their property.

Weakening North Carolina’s defenses against foreclosure rescues and other real-estate scams is unethical, irresponsible and reckless during the current economic crisis. Homeowners, renters and buyers need support and protection against predatory practices that could leave them bankrupt or even homeless. House Bill 654, which is now in the Senate Commerce Committee, needs to be stopped before it destroys any more lives.

DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION: Community college can change lives

Last week, President Barack Obama told a crowd at Northern Virginia Community College that community colleges have never been more important to the future of America’s workforce. “Lighting a spark, that’s what community colleges can do,” Obama said. “We’ve got to light more sparks all across America.”

Yet last week, North Carolina House members passed four local bills that will allow community colleges to refuse to offer low-interest student loans. In their attempt to bypass Gov. Perdue’s veto of a bill that would have dropped a requirement for colleges to offer loans, Republicans have cut off a vital life line to thousands of current and future students.

Community colleges provide a key resource for North Carolina workers seeking training and skill improvement to meet the growing demands of modern industry. Unemployed workers have looked to their remediation and developmental education courses to re-train themselves after a long recession that saw many North Carolinians losing work due to their lack of proper training and skill sets. Without access to federal student loans, these students will miss out on coursework that could help ensure their place in a competitive workforce.

The success in gaining a degree through community colleges and their related developmental education courses will be critical to North Carolina workers’ ability to earn wages and support North Carolina’s economy in the future. Lawmakers must heed the President’s words and protect access to the community college system.

“The goal is to make sure your degree helps you to get a promotion, or a raise or a job, and that’s especially important right now,” Obama told the crowd last week. “We’ve got to do everything we can, everything in our power, to strengthen and build the middle class.”

CONSUMER FINANCE BILL: Protect consumers from predatory lenders

For months, the debate over House Bill 810 (Consumer Finance Act Amendments) has raged on in the General Assembly, as industry members battle against advocates for military members and working North Carolina families. Yet the battle comes down to a simple truth: these individuals cannot afford a bill that will increase the rates and fees on small loans in a state where loans are already in the 25 to 54 percent APR range.

Last week, the House passed the bill that has been opposed by military commanders, consumer advocacy groups and individuals at levels as high as the Pentagon. Gov. Bev Perdue has also voiced opposition to the bill, arguing that it seemed to only garner support from the very companies that would benefit from the increased rates and fees.

During the approach of the last House vote, House members were flooded by calls from industry and Americans for Prosperity members. We can help counteract these calls by contacting House members such as Senator Richard Stevens, who could be a critical vote on this bill. Call Sen. Stevens at (919) 733-5653 as soon as you can, and tell him to oppose House Bill 810. Sen. Stevens needs to hear from his constituents who believe that rates on small loans are already too high, and that North Carolina families and military members will suffer if the bill passes.

HEALTH CARE EVENT: Brunch for older adults and caregivers

Join the NC Justice Center and the AARP NC in Greenville on Thursday, June 23, for a free brunch for older adults and caregivers to address the state’s key health care issues.

North Carolina has an urgent need for Better Care. The goals of the Campaign for Better Care are to make improvements in the health care system for vulnerable, older adults, and build a strong and lasting consumer voice for better health care.

Be sure your voice is heard. Come and share your experiences about what you think needs to be changed in North Carolina’s health system, and learn from representatives from AARP, the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information program (SHIIP), and other experts who will be available to respond to all of your questions and concerns.

The lunch will be held on June 23, 2011 from 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Pitt County Council on Aging/Senior Center at 4551 County Home Road in Greenville. Registration closes Tuesday, June 21, at 5:00 p.m. RSVP to Nicole Dozier to reserve your space now at nicole@ncjustice.org or (919) 856-2146.

 

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