The people have spoken, now it's the General Assembly's turn. And we're thinking that maybe with margins not so evenly split, there are a few things on our long-term wish list that will come out of this year's session.
Tops is the death penalty moratorium, which passed the Senate last go 'round but didn't come up for a vote in the House. It'll be close, we're told, but unlike last time, it looks like at least there will be a vote. There will be plenty of pressure from prosecutors and victim's rights advocates, but now is the time. And if any of you would like another visit from Alan Gell and Darryl Hunt--one man the state almost mistakenly executed and another who sat wrongfully in prison for nearly two decades--they would be happy to stop by Jones Street, look you in the eye and remind you the system is often arbitrary, sometimes corrupt and rife with misconduct.
Also high up on the list is an honest, lasting commitment to fund mental health reform. There's no doubt a community-based system is the best for families and patients, but without enough money to make the transition we risk seeing scores of our most vulnerable citizens fall through the cracks.
Money--lack of, sources of and spending of--is again the pivot point for a number of issues key to progressives. The lack of it--perpetual, it seems--is one of the reasons the legislature may be ready to finally raise the state's tobacco tax from "near last" among the 50 states to, say, "in the bottom tier." Such an act would be monumental given the efforts over the past few years, when lobbyists would rally 'round the price of a carton of cigarettes as if mom had rolled them herself. One lobbyist a couple years back even testified to a committee that he worried that young people would turn to "inferior" cigarettes if the price went too high. Health advocates will want to see the tax high enough to act as a deterrent to new smokers. With big buyout checks on the way and even Kentucky raising its tax, it's an easier sell than it has been, but don't expect a slam-dunk.
Speaking of lobbyists, reforming how they do their job is another important task ahead. Every night in Raleigh, the food and wine flows for the legislators, paid for by someone pushing a bill or two.
On the first day of the session, Orange County Democrat Joe Hackney introduced a reform bill that would effectively ban the practice for legislators and the executive branch. We'll drink to that.