The undemocratic chaos of the crossover deadline

The undemocratic chaos of the crossover deadline

- in Fitzsimon File

If you are interested in following the people who represent you in the General Assembly in Raleigh as they debate legislation that affects virtually aspect of your lives, from access to legal medical services to your ability to cast a ballot in the next election, you are pretty much out of luck.

For the last few days state lawmakers have been holding marathon floor sessions and rushed committee meetings around legislators’ desks to pass as many bills as they can before Thursday’s crossover deadline.

Any bill not passed by midnight Thursday is technically not eligible for consideration the rest of the two year session, though bills affecting the state budget are not covered by that restriction and creative legislators often manage to use that exception broadly.

The crossover deadlines always create confusion, but the chaos this year is worse than usual. And so are the abuses of the legislative process that not only make it impossible to follow, but also deny many legislators and members of the public the chance to speak on proposals that affect their families and their communities.

Just before midnight Wednesday, House leaders cut off debate on a highly controversial voter ID bill before it started, denying opponents a chance to argue against it. House Speaker Thom Tillis said that debate would be allowed Wednesday but most controversial bills normally receive two full days of debate and amendments, not one.

Legislative calendars are meaningless. Bills appear and disappear with little notice, committee meetings are announced 15 minutes before they begin, bills are stripped and replaced with completely unrelated contents and rushed to the House or Senate floor before many lawmakers even know what is in them or what they do.

Legislative leaders know though, and so do the powerful special interest lobbyists. A bill passed the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday night that will make it much more difficult for the N.C. Department of Revenue to pursue corporations who try to avoid paying their taxes.

The bill was scheduled for Senate floor debate Thursday afternoon. That’s a proposal that deserves more than a late night meeting and a rushed floor vote.

Another late night Senate vote was a gift to the oil companies responsible for leaking underground storage tanks. That’s another issue that deserves more scrutiny, not a late night vote amid confusion of the last few days.

One Senator who works at a community college filled in blank local bill at the last minute that sold an abandoned prison to his college for a dollar. Maybe that’s a good idea, but who knows except the Senator and the folks he works for.

There are more plenty examples of troubling bills that have slid through the House and Senate without adequate debate and scrutiny, and surely some that almost nobody has noticed that give a tax break or weaken a law to benefit an industry or corporation.

Speed is the point of the day, not thoughtful consideration of important issues. Lawmakers handled more than 200 bills Wednesday with broad implications for health care, taxes, education, and voting rights, among other things.

There’s no way most lawmakers can even understand what they are doing and that is part of the plan. Cutting off debate speeds things up too. House leaders did it repeatedly this week, worried more about rushing their legislation through the House or Senate than allowing the legislative process to work.

That’s not what Republicans promised during the campaign. They pledged the opposite, to open up the legislative process to let the public participate and let all legislators have their say.

But that would mean more scrutiny, more attention to the giveaways to corporations, more light shined on their radical right-wing social agenda.

It would mean democracy, and goodness knows we can’t have that, not this year.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.