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Watchdogs

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Did you know that the legislature is considering making it harder for workers to get workers' comp? Or that some legislators are angry that the State Health Director supports a 50 cent increase in the cigarette tax? Or that the state isn't funding a federal mandate to evaluate children under 3 who've suffered abuse or neglect to see if they're having developmental problems?

You would if you subscribed to a couple of outstanding e-mail reports put out by two of the state's most valuable public interest groups--the Common Sense Foundation and NC Policy Watch. They're doing what newspapers are doing less and less of and television doesn't do at all--digging into what's really happening at the General Assembly and reporting how special interests are getting their way at our expense.

The most recent report from Common Sense is a prime example of both. It looked into who's lobbying whom in the legislature and found that some of the most effective lobbyists are ones who used to be legislators themselves. "Eight out of the 25 current registered lobbyists who were former legislators are ranked in the top 50 most influential lobbyists, and there are three former legislators who rank in the top five lobbyists," Common Sense reports in its e-mail alert called "Consider This." But unlike a number of other states, North Carolina has no "cooling off" period between the time a legislator leaves office and he or she can become a registered lobbyist.

NC Policy Watch's alert is called the Fitzsimon File, written by Chris Fitzsimon, the former executive director of the Common Sense Foundation. Fitzsimon is does a remarkable job turning up outrages that the press often glosses over. In his latest missive, he points out that in addition to more publicized cuts in education and human services, the Senate's budget proposal hits hard at the criminal justice system.

"The Senate wants to eliminate drug courts that divert nonviolent offenders to treatment programs instead of prison," he writes. "The proposal would eliminate family court, end the funding for Communities in Schools and funding for sentencing services, a successful prison alternative program. Funding would be cut for juvenile justice crime prevention initiatives and even the victim assistance network ... In short, the criminal justice budget is a disaster."

You can stay up with what these watchdogs are doing by going to their Web sites-- www.common-sense.org and www.ncpolicywatch.com --and signing up to receive their reports. And while you're at it, you can contribute a few bucks to help offset the work of some of those legislator-lobbyists.

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