Not much to celebrate about the legislative session’s final days

By Chris Fitzsimon - N.C. Policy Watch

The 2015 session of the General Assembly adjourned just after 4:00 Wednesday morning, ending several days of frenzied activity that left many observers scrambling to figure out exactly what happened, much like surveying the damage in a neighborhood the morning after a ferocious overnight storm. And it may take a while.

Many of the news accounts of the session’s tumultuous last days left many progressive advocates breathing a sigh of relief that several especially regressive proposals ultimately failed, abandoned because lawmakers ran out of time or simply couldn’t muster enough support.

The Senate passed legislation Monday night that would divert more funding from traditional public schools to charters—even federal money that pays for school lunches that charters are not required to provide—but the proposal stalled in the House.

A push by Rep. Paul Stam to increase funding for the unaccountable private school voucher scheme failed, though it’s worth remembering that the final budget had already included an increase in funding for the program.

And maybe most importantly, a last minute push by Stam and others to strip local governments of the authority to ban discrimination in housing and employment and raise the local minimum wage failed too in a surprising vote in the House Rules Committee.

The fact that those efforts all failed—at least for now—is good news, but shouldn’t obscure the damage that was done by legislation that did pass in the final flurry before adjournment.

Three pieces of legislation especially stand out. The so-called “regulatory reform” bill will remove vital protections for our water, air, and land, and allow polluters to escape responsibility for cleaning up the damage they cause.

There are a lot of ways to describe what amounts to a polluters protection act. Reform is not one of them.

Another bill that passed in the middle of the night will make work and daily life harder for undocumented immigrants in the state and their families by invalidating many of their ID’s and making it easier for employers to exploit them.

The same bill will kick roughly 100,000 low-income adults of the federal food stamp program next year by forbidding the state to continue to apply for federal waivers so people out of work in counties with high unemployment can afford to feed their families.

And lawmakers also expanded legislation passed recently that would create political slush funds for legislative leaders by creating a similar fund for candidates for the Council of State, which includes the governor. The committees will allow, among other things, politicians to skirt contribution limits, ushering in a new phase of pay to play politics.

There’s plenty more that passed in the last 48 hours, including a thinly-veiled attack on Planned Parenthood and an expansion of deer farms. Important legislation to protect workers misclassified as independent contractors was not approved.

Overall, the last few days of the General Assembly and the reaction to them are a microcosm of the nine month session itself, with lawmakers earning praise for not doing more bad things, not cutting more teacher assistants or slashing the university budget less than they slashed it last year.

Sorry, that’s no reason for celebration. And neither is failing to divert more money from traditional public schools or allowing local governments to keep their authority to respond to their own constituents and protect people from discrimination.

Moving the state backwards less than expected is still moving the state backwards. And move it backwards they did, for the last nine months and for the last 48 hours.

By Chris Fitzsimon

N.C. Policy Watch

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