NC BARS CAN NOW SERVE PATRONS INDOORS, AT 30% CAPACITY: For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic nearly one year ago, bars will be able to serve drinks indoors. Starting Friday, Feb. 26, bars can open up inside at 30% capacity. Patrons will still need to stay socially distanced, remaining seated at a table or counter, and will need to wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking. Technically, bars have been open since October 2020, but that only allowed outdoor service and limited capacity to 30%, which in some cases meant only one or two tables. With those limits, many bars remained closed through winter. Bar owners have lobbied for months to reopen and even filed multiple lawsuits against the state, each one unsuccessful. The new alcohol curfew is 11 p.m., pushed back from 9 p.m., where it’s been since December.
REPUBLICANS PUSH GUN BILLS THROUGH GENERAL ASSEMBLY: One bill would add emergency medical technicians to the list of people who could carry concealed permits during times in which they're providing medical assistance to officers, like when on a SWAT team. The EMTs would need proper training. Another measure approved by the panel would make it easier for a concealed permit holder whose license has lapsed recently to avoid taking another comprehensive firearms safety and training course before a sheriff can renew the permit. The bill says they would only have to complete a “refresher” course. Cooper's veto message in 2020 focused on another portion of last year's bill that would let concealed permit holders be armed in a church even when the church is located on a campus with a private school. Such weapons are otherwise barred from being carried on educational property. Cooper wrote last year the provision threatened the safety of students and teachers. A bill containing only a church property provision cleared through another Senate committee on Wednesday.
NAACP PUSHES TO STOP SUSPENSIONS OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN IN NEW HANOVER COUNTY: Only a few miles separate the Rachel Freeman School of Engineering from Wrightsville Beach Elementary, yet these two New Hanover Count elementary schools suspend students at drastically different rates. The latest state data shows Wrightsville Beach issued about three suspensions for every 1,000 students. Suspension levels at Freeman were more than 100 times higher. To many, the racial composition of these public schools won’t come as a surprise: Wrightsville Beach’s enrollment is more than 85% white; Freeman’s student body is more than 80% Black. Districtwide, a Black student in New Hanover is nearly eight times more likely to be suspended than their white counterpart. In recent years, New Hanover County Schools has taken steps to address these lopsided disparities, but some local residents demand more action. The county chapter of the NAACP is lobbying the local school board to pass an outright ban on suspending students between kindergarten and the fifth grade. An increasing body of research agrees, said Janna Robertson, a professor of education at UNC Wilmington. “Rejecting children does not teach them how to behave,” she said. “It just gets rid of them. A powerplay from an adult has never taught a kid good coping strategies.”
SENATE REPUBLICANS ARE PROVING THEIR SEXISM AND RACISM WITH TREATMENT OF BIDEN APPOINTEES: Controversy has centered on endangered nominee Neera Tanden, who would be the first Indian American to lead the Office of Management and Budget, typically a low-profile post. Her detractors, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have seized on scores of pointed attacks that Tanden has made via social media in recent years — a line of criticism that women’s groups say is unfair because it focuses on her tone rather than her qualifications or policies. Activists say the concerns raised over Tanden are part of a broader pattern imperiling many of Biden’s nominees of color, making their confirmation process rougher and meaner than in previous years and when compared with their White counterparts. Many of these nominees are still likely to go forward along mostly partisan lines, but with their qualifications scrutinized more closely and their reputations attacked more forcefully than their White counterparts, activists say. “We are concerned with what seems like foot-dragging and an effort to slow down the confirmation process of eminently qualified individuals and the fact that these nominees are women, people of color, sons or daughters of immigrants and there seems to be a pattern that is very troubling,” said Janet Murguía, the president of UnidosUS, a Latino-focused group. “It seems like this treatment is a double standard because we’re seeing that historically other administrations have been able to move much more quickly.” Biden made a point of elevating a record number of officials of color to top posts, putting the majority-White Senate in a position where it is potentially more likely that candidates of color will be rejected or scrutinized.
CPAC 2021 IS SHAPING UP TO BE A DISGUSTING TRUMP-FEST: Starting on Friday, a medley of conservative politicians, commentators and activists will descend on Orlando, Fla., for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC. In years past, the event has been a reliable barometer for the base of the Republican Party, clarifying how its most devout members define the institution now, and what they want it to look like in the future. The party has hardened over the past four years into one animated by rage, grievance and — above all — fealty to Mr. Trump. The days ahead will help illuminate whether it’s likely to stay that way. The former president is scheduled to deliver the culminating speech of the conference at 3:40 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, but his presence will be felt throughout the event. Recent polls show that a majority of Republicans falsely believe the election was stolen from Mr. Trump, and the agenda this year indicates that subjects like voter fraud will be top of mind. On Friday morning, panelists including Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who has enthusiastically backed Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud, will gather onstage for a 35-minute segment called “Protecting Elections: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence.” That theme picks up again on Sunday morning, when speakers will discuss what they call the “Failed States” of Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada — states that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won in November, and where Mr. Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the results sputtered. The most notable absence from the lineup is former Vice President Mike Pence. He has kept a low profile since Jan. 6, when some rioters called for his execution and Mr. Trump declined to take action to stop the mob. Politico first reported that Mr. Pence had declined an invitation to speak at CPAC. Also absent from the agenda is Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who served under Mr. Trump as ambassador to the United Nations. Ms. Haley is another rumored contender for 2024, and her absence from the conservative conference may signal an attempt to occupy a more moderate lane in the party in the years ahead.