Silence is encouraged

Published 4:11 pm Monday, February 1, 2016

From the beaches to the mountains, from the fields of the coastal plain to the foothills, universities to museums, there is so much to admire in North Carolina’s land in people.

North Carolinians — both native born and those who’ve adopted the state as their own — are a loyal lot. Many can recite from memory the North Carolina State Toast,: “Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine/The summer land where the sun doth shine/ Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great/Here’s to ‘Down Home,’ the Old North State.”

If one has ever experienced a room full of people reciting the verse together, it’s loud; the volume born of pride in the “Tar Heel State.”

But there’s an interesting phenomena happening here, in the General Assembly that adopted that toast as the official State Toast in 1957 and in the courts. It could be seen as an attempt to silence those proud voices.

On Jan. 1, a new law went into effect in North Carolina that silences whistle-blowers. An employee in the workplace is no longer allowed report any bad business practices or abuses to anyone but their bosses or state authorities. Anyone who violates the new law can be sued for bad publicity and might be required to pay a $5,000 fine per day for the period of time the abuses were documented. Initially, this bill was aimed at agricultural facilities and those who would video, document and share violations of state law and/or animal abuse. Animal rights activists had enough sway to ensure it did not pass, however, when it was broadened to encompass all workplaces, it passed. Now, abuses at schools, daycare centers, funeral homes, nursing homes, veterans’ facilities fall under the same law. Those abuses will not be exposed to the public because it’s now against the law.

Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill, saying his concern is that employees would not be able to report illegal activity. He was right. But the General Assembly overrode his veto last June.

On another front — this one close to home — the Environmental Protection Agency recently warned the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality that North Carolina courts are coming dangerously close to violating federal law. Two ongoing court cases and recent decisions were cited in the warning. One involves an air quality permit issued by the state to a cement factory in Wilmington; the other, a discharge permit issued by the state to a limestone mining company in Blounts Creek, a tributary of the Pamlico River. In both cases, the court ruled that North Carolina residents and environmental advocacy organizations had no legal standing to question the state’s permitting, even when the results of those permits could cause lasting harm to the air, the water and the people of North Carolina.

The Carolina Panthers head to the Super Bowl and all will cheer loudly for the home team. The State Toast is recited and all who know it chime in, with pride.

But document abuse of elderly patients in a nursing home, children in a daycare center, and share it with the media so authorities are forced to act? Ask the courts to protect the land, the water and the health of North Carolina residents?

Silence is encouraged.