Waiting on an agenda

Waiting on an agenda

- in Fitzsimon File


The next General Assembly special session is set for Thursday, February 16. The current Senate calendar that is available for that day has nothing on it.

The House calendar list two items. Both are adjournment resolutions left over from last week’s middle of the night debacle.

That may be all we know about what the lawmakers who are supposed to represent us will discuss when they convene next month in the building we own and collect their salary and per diem that we pay for.

Attempts at overriding more gubernatorial vetoes are possible, though it is almost certain that legislative leaders won’t tell us which ones, if any, they will bring up. They have to see first how many Democrats are in the hospital or are otherwise too ill to attend.

There’s also the chance that a bill that passed one chamber last summer might be brought up. The Senate first passed the Racial Justice Act that way, in a special session in November.

A legislative staff member sent out a reminder Wednesday of the bills that are technically eligible for consideration in the short session that convenes in May. Don’t spend too much time looking it over.

Lawmakers could consider legislation that hasn’t even passed a committee, much less the full House or Senate, bills that have remained dormant since they were introduced last year.

House and Senate leaders might emerge from their corner offices next month and bring up something that was never introduced at all and simply gut an existing bill and replace its contents with the latest request from their ideological base or their political consultants looking for an issue they can use to their advantage in the November election.

In other words, Republican legislative leaders can and are likely to bring up anything they want any time they want without telling anybody in advance. If the legislative rules are a problem, they can simply vote to change them on the spot.

If that proves too cumbersome, they can merely begin another session in the middle of the night. Somebody probably ought to check and see if they met early this morning.

It shouldn’t be this way of course and doesn’t have to be. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger could announce the agenda for February 16 in the next couple of weeks.

And they don’t have to keep playing games with vetoes either. There are far more pressing issues that deserve their attention.

Lawmakers could finally consider a Superior Court judge’s order and Governor Perdue’s request months ago to shift money from the state’s savings account to the state’s preschool program formerly known as More at Four.

Thousands are at-risk four year olds are being turned away from a program that the court says is part of the sound, basic education guaranteed in the state constitution.

They could live up to their word and identify funds to address the $150 million shortfall in the state’s Medicaid program that threatens vital services for children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

They could consider the recommendation made this week by a governor’s task force to give $50,000 to each living survivor of the state’s horrific forced sterilization program.

There are plenty of important things for lawmakers to discuss in February. But we deserve to know the plan before they get to town.

It’s a democracy after all.

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.
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