The curtain seems close to falling on Act 1 of the 2011 session of the General Assembly, also known as The Great Undoing.
"Great" as in widespread. Throughout government, this session has shuttered programs, altered missions, rearranged agency departments and jettisoned thousands of state workers.
"Undoing" because what's been done through the budget and other legislation isn't just for the sake of belt-tightening or efficiency. The GOP leadership is on an ideological search-and-destroy mission to erase years of progress in education, elections, public health, the courts, environmental protections, consumer protections and, well, you name it.
This is a Legislature not content with turning back the clock (now the most overused metaphor in the history of state politics). They are ensuring that once we get to the past, we're stuck there.
Last week, the pace quickened. Debates turned sloppy as House and Senate leaders whipped their chambers to pass dozens of bills before the crossover deadline: the cutoff for legislation to be passed by one chamber and still be viable.
Hammered through were sweeping new restrictions on abortion and abortion providers, including a 24-hour waiting period and mandatory sonograms, a ban on state and federal services for undocumented aliens that probably won't survive a constitutional challenge, a return to 1970s-era rules on regulations and a Voter ID bill that The New York Times recently described as having "a whiff of Jim Crow."
Even the sponsors acknowledged the flaws in their bills and promised to fix them when they get to the other chamber. However, some bills were passed with limited review and little debate. A new department created to oversee ethics rules and enforcement of lobbying and campaign finance reporting received cursory review in committee; the House voted on it the same day. The crucial vote on the Voter ID bill came at 10 minutes to midnight on Wednesday.
This act of the 2011 session is ending with the governor's veto of the budget and the effort to override it (a vote could happen as early as today) highlights the acting ability of the Party of Five: Democratic Reps. William Owens, William Brisson, Jim Crawford, Tim Spear and Dewey Hill, who so far have sided with Republicans on the budget.
Then the Legislature blows town until mid-July for Act 2: The Redistricting and Act 3: Constitutional Amendments to Rally the Base and Piss Off the Left.
Here's a survey of the Super Bad bills:
It's easy to find something to dislike in any session, but the past month has contained truly awful legislative efforts. Most, if not all, of these bills are lawsuits waiting to happen.
No benefits for you! Last week, during a debate on Senate Bill 205, which requires that you prove you're in the U.S. legally before you can receive benefits, sponsor Austin Allran couldn't say for sure whether the legislation would apply to the public schools. Later that night as the bill passed the Senate, he still didn't know. Didn't matter, it passed anyway. The bill, openly acknowledged as having campaign advantages, is unlikely to survive a court challenge. In 1982 the Supreme Court stated pretty clearly in Plyler v. Doe that such rules violate the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
The assault on Planned Parenthood: No single organization has been more attacked this session. Its list of bills of concern, dubbed the "Dirty Dozen," reads like a misogynist's to-do list, including measures aimed at eliminating all state and federal dollars to Planned Parenthood, even though by law, the money supports reproductive health services other than abortion.
Paige Johnson, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina's vice-president of public affairs, called this a "fighting moment."
"They won't close us. They won't close Planned Parenthood," she says. The organization plans to legally challenge the attempt to revoke $8 million in federal Title X funds. "The state cannot ban a particular health care provider," Johnson says.
The ghost of Harold Hardison: Actually, the man responsible for the Hardison Amendments (a set of rules passed in the 1970s that prohibited the state from enacting environmental rules that are stricter than federal requirements) is very much alive. His support for the new regulatory reform act, which resuscitates those rules, was noted during Senate debate. The argument against them then and now is the same: Protecting this state's natural resources requires more than a one-size-fits-all federal policy. Specific safeguards for water and air, including the Clean Smokestacks Act, which reduced air pollution in the Great Smoky Mountains, are two examples of what couldn't be enforced if the proposal becomes law.
This tax break is for you: For the businesses looking for love from the Legislature, it's the little things that make a big difference, like a truly "special" special provision, or sly language that says, "This tax break is just for you, honey."
There's still plenty of footsie going on under the table, but this year's session includes some big, big love that blatantly favors big business.
The oil and gas industry stands to be the biggest winner since it will dominate the Energy Jobs Council, formerly known as the Energy Policy Council, signaling a sharp turn away from clean energy and toward drilling and fossil fuels.
Scammers and loan sharks also can thank the Republican leadership. Consumer protections aimed at preventing shady real estate transactions were loosened and, despite the objections of military leaders, payday lenders were granted an increase in interest rates to 36 percent, the highest allowable by law.
And darn if those mountain developers didn't catch a lucky break when the Legislature decided to save money by firing all the hydrogeologists in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' landslide hazard mapping program. The program, started after hurricane rains led to deadly landslides in 2004, had run afoul of mountain developers and real estate companies after it started producing maps that by federal law had to be shared with prospective home buyers.
Lastly, the private water company Aqua, which, thanks to the recent acquisition of some North Carolina competitors, has become the state's largest nonpublic water company, will get a chance to compete with public systems for low-cost water infrastructure loans offered by the Division of Water Quality. A special provision tucked into the Senate version of the budget adds the phrase "investor-owned" to the types of water systems eligible for the program, which offers loans at half the market rate.
File under class warfare: The environment, immigrants and women haven't been the only targets of the right—so have the poor. For example, Lenoir County Rep. Stephen LaRoque insisted during an email exchange with an unemployed North Carolinian that anyone who can pass a drug test and is able-bodied can get a job if he or she wants want one. He then offered the woman $8 an hour to do a little yard work around his place. But LaRoque, who in a separate incident called the NAACP a racist organization rife with thugs, is not alone in his callousness.
During the budget debate, after hearing concerns from a Democratic lawmaker that parents waiting on the extension of unemployment benefits needed them restored to pay bills, buy food and possibly send a child to a summer camp, Sen. Tom Apodaca, chair of the Senate Rules Committee, replied coldly that families with unemployed members shouldn't consider sending a kid to camp.
And during debate on a petty bill to eliminate a program that waives the fee for subsistence fishing licenses—poor people who fish so they can eat—Sen. Andrew Brock expressed outrage that some poor people have cellphones and wide-screen TVs.
Funny how that shit never comes up when the fat cats are getting a tax break.