If you are looking for a way to understand the General Assembly session that began three months ago and the priorities of people running it, the plight of the 37,000 unemployed workers in North Carolina whose unemployment benefits ran out 10 days ago is a good place to start.
First, legislative leaders ignored calls a few weeks ago to pass simple legislation introduced in the House that would extend the benefits for the workers for another 20 weeks as long as they continue looking for a job.
It wouldn’t cost the state anything. The federal government is picking up the entire tab. All the workers needed was authorizing legislation from the General Assembly.
Then just a few days before the workers’ benefits ran out, Republican House and Senate leaders cooked up a scheme to tie the extension of the benefits to a continuing budget resolution that would force Governor Beverly Perdue to run the state on 13 percent less funding than she has recommended if lawmakers and the governor could not reach a final budget agreement by the end of the state’s fiscal year June 30th.
They knew Perdue would veto the bill, but they passed it anyway after defeating amendments that would have separated the two issues and allowed an up or down vote on the extension of the unemployment benefits.
The Republicans even scheduled held a skeletal session of the House and Senate on Saturday, April 16 for final ratification of the bill, the day the benefits ran out for the 37,000 workers, hoping that Perdue would be blamed for denying the benefits.
Perdue vetoed the bill as the Republicans knew she would. The workers lost their benefits, and House and Senate leaders were roundly criticized for their callous political stunt.
Now ten days later, the workers still have no benefits as their rent is coming due and there’s no money for food and gas. Lawmakers could still help at any time by passing the simple legislation to extend the benefits which workers would receive retroactively to April 16th.
But it’s apparently not going to happen this week. Not because legislative leaders don’t care, they tell us, rather they are just too busy to get to it.
The Senate is tied up debating a resolution on the Senate floor honoring the North Carolina Family and Consumer Services on the 100th anniversary of its founding and talking about changes to hunting laws in a Senate committee meeting. No way to fit any time in to help 37,000 workers.
It is true that the House is rolling out its budget in committee this week, but only in committees. The afternoons would be available, but that would mean no time for the scheduled debate on the House floor on inspection requirements for salvaged vehicles.
And House leaders are managing to hold other committee meetings this week despite the debate on the budget. The House Transportation Committee is taking up the pressing issue of medians on Highway 70. The workers will have to wait.
Two weeks ago the Senate passed its combination unemployment extension/ budget stunt bill through committee and the Senate floor in a day. And that was with Democrats objecting at every stage of the process. It could happen in a few hours this week since presumably there would be no objections.
But that would mean workers struggling to make ends meet would have to become a priority of the folks who run the House and Senate.
That seems unlikely. Unemployed workers only matter when they can be used for cynical political reasons.