Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer on tropical storm Ana:
Ana jumped the gun, and not just by a little bit. Our first tropical storm of 2015 came about three weeks before the June 1 start of the hurricane season and a couple of months before we expect to see tropical weather.
Feel free to take that personally, since the storm came ashore around Myrtle Beach and swept over parts of the Cape Fear region, dousing a lot of Mother's Day celebrations on its way.
But was it an omen? Hurricane forecasters may still think it's not. The tropical weather prognosticators at Colorado State University are among the most respected at their trade and they see seven named storms this year, three becoming hurricanes and only one becoming a major storm. They say this should be one of the least-active hurricane seasons since the mid-1990s.
And last month, North Carolina State forecasters predicted near-record-low activity for this hurricane season.
We hope the predictions are right. A record-quiet hurricane season would suit us.
But we won't forget Ana. Or the unpredictable weather that has become the norm. A lot can happen in the next six months.
News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on registration drop:
Voter registrations of people applying for public assistance appeared to fall sharply across North Carolina in 2013 and again in 2014, voting-rights groups said last week.
The numbers, which come from the State Board of Elections, are dramatic and demand a good explanation.
A 22-year-old federal law tells states to allow voter registration at driver's license offices and when people apply for public assistance such as food stamps and unemployment benefits. From 2008 through 2012, the lowest number of public assistance registrations in any year was 33,705. Registrations dropped to 18,758 in 2013 and 13,340 in 2014 under the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory.
"The voting-rights groups also conducted field investigations last fall at 19 public assistance agencies across the state that are supervised by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services," Democracy North Carolina said in a news release. "Interviews conducted by the investigators show that 75 percent of the clients at the agencies did not see a registration question on agency forms and were not asked whether they would like to register to vote, as required by federal law."
A spokeswoman for the N.C. DHHS said the administration supports increasing voter registration and added, "Given the gravity of this issue, we wish these activist organizations had approached the department sooner when they first had concerns about the registration process." But the State Board of Elections told WRAL of Raleigh Monday it was aware of the problem and "had been prodding DHHS for years" to address it.
It's important not to jump to conclusions. A number of factors can explain changes in voter registration numbers.
As the economy improved after 2009, fewer people applied for public assistance. Or, thanks to strong voter registration efforts in 2012, fewer people were not registered in 2013 and 2014.
Charlie Collicutt, the elections director in Guilford County, added that registration numbers normally fluctuate depending on political circumstances. For example, Barack Obama's initial candidacy spurred large registration numbers in 2008. Guilford County had 2,906 public assistance registrations then, but only 103 in 2014.
Collicutt said it's possible that missing paperwork could result in some new registrations not being recorded as originating with public assistance applicants. He planned to look into the numbers.
Still, suspicions abound because of the many voting changes enacted by the Republican legislature and Gov. McCrory. Same-day registration was eliminated, as was preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. The early voting period was shortened and, starting next year, a photo ID will be required to vote. Critics say these changes disproportionately impact poor and minority voters, who tend to vote for Democrats. So would reducing opportunities to register for people applying for public assistance.
That's why a thorough investigation is needed. If the state isn't fully complying with the law, it must start doing so immediately.
Charlotte Observer on health-car law spurring progress:
When the Affordable Care Act and its insurance plans made their disastrous debut on the Internet nearly two years ago, the last thing journalists might've expected was an offer from President Obama's health-care secretary to drop by the newsroom for an in-person briefing on how things were going.
But memories of the massive 2013 crash of the healthcare.gov website are fading, and the legislation known as "Obamacare" is settling into the fabric of the nation's health-care system.
That's not to say it's perfect. People still complain about how hard it is to navigate the dense bureaucracy, especially when trying to fix errors. But it's generally working as intended.
More people are insured, and insurers can no longer turn away those with costly medical conditions. Contrary to what doomsayers predicted, employers kept hiring despite the new insurance requirements. They reported only modest growth in insurance premiums last year.
A recent Gallup poll found that while half of all Americans still disapprove of the 2010 law, the percentage of those who approve (44 percent) is rising. The gap is the smallest since October 2013.
A Kaiser poll found that we might have even hit the tipping point, with 43 percent of people reporting a favorable view of the legislation, compared to 42 percent unfavorable - the first time the positive view had taken the lead in that poll since late 2012.
So it wasn't a surprise when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell sought to drop in on the editorial board last week while in town to announce new money for a community health center.
She seemed less interested in touting past successes than in looking ahead toward improvements in the affordability and quality of care, as well as access to it. The federal government, she said, sees its role as helping set the pace for such improvements.
North Carolina, of course, is hobbled to some extent by the legislature's refusal to expand Medicaid. Gov. Pat McCrory has voiced tentative interest in the possibility of a North Carolina-specific expansion plan, but hasn't put any such plan forward.
About 377,000 North Carolinians would gain coverage if legislators in Raleigh would begin to accept that perhaps, just perhaps, they are as wrong on Medicaid expansion as they were on the Affordable Care Act.
But that doesn't seem likely. McCrory has said he's waiting on the Supreme Court's expected ruling on the subsidies that drive the Affordable Care Act.
About 560,000 people in North Carolina got coverage this year through the federal marketplace - 92 percent with subsidies. Burwell said she remains confident the subsidies will survive. With all those North Carolinians depending on them, let's pray she's right.
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