Documenting North Carolina’s screech to the right

Documenting North Carolina’s screech to the right

- in Fitzsimon File

It’s been almost 48 hours since the 2011-2012 General Assembly session came to an end and after the pause to observe the Independence Day holiday, the session looks even worse now than it did the day lawmakers adjourned their two-year reign of reactionary politics.

And that’s without knowing all the details of the damage this crowd of legislative leaders has done to North Carolina. The extent of the devastation will come out in the next few days and weeks as advocates and experts review and explain the attacks on education, environmental protections, the criminal justice system, reproductive rights, human services, and other important areas.

But here are 13 specific and undeniable ways that we know this General Assembly has shoved North Carolina far to the right and hurt our families, our communities, and our vital public institutions in the process. There are many more than 13. This is the just a first take at describing the legacy of the 2011-2012 session.

1) North Carolina public schools have $190 million less to operate next year than they do this year while 12,000 more students are showing up at schoolhouse doors. And 3,400 classroom jobs are on the line after last year’s budget fired more than 3,000 teachers and teacher assistants. Thanks to the deep budget cuts, classes are larger, textbooks are out of date and classroom supplies are woefully inadequate.

2) Thousands of students now face new struggles before they even start school and then again if they want to attend a university or community college. This General Assembly slashed funding for SmartStart and NC Pre-K while at the same time cutting funding for need-based scholarships to UNC campuses while tuition has increased. Community college students will be denied access to low-interest federal loans.

3) Local governments are now forbidden from granting any rights to same sex couples. Civil unions, as well as gay marriage, are now outlawed in the state constitution.

4) Dangerous horizontal drilling for natural gas, or fracking, is now legal in the state, despite many unanswered questions about its impact on drinking water, property rights, and the quality of life in local communities. Fracking is legal because of a mistaken vote by a House member that the House leadership refused to allow to be reconsidered.

5) Children and adults with asthma and other breathing problems will find it more difficult to breathe as the state’s Air Toxics program was severely curtailed. The program regulates chemical emissions that physicians say are harmful, especially to people with breathing issues.

6) Women seeking abortion services must undergo emotionally and physically invasive medical procedures and listen to anti-choice propaganda. That even includes teenagers who are victims of rape or incest.

7) Thousands of low-income women will now be forced onto waiting lists for mammograms and other preventive screenings as well as family planning services thanks to the ideological decision to deny any state funds to Planned Parenthood to provide the services and counseling.

8) Defendants facing a death sentence can no longer use even overwhelming statistical evidence that race played a role in their death sentence to have their sentence reconsidered.

9) Survivors of the state’s horrific eugenics program have once again been denied compensation for the abuse they suffered at the hands of the state.

10) Services for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities have been slashed, and nationally recognized programs like drug treatment courts and the N.C. Teaching Fellows have been abolished.

11) All that, while the state tax system has changed to give even more advantages to corporations and wealthy individuals. The state’ s richest lawyers , doctors and private equity partners will receive a $3,500 tax break this year that was originally only intended for small business owners.

The tax break will cost the state $336 million. Thanks to another bill, it will also be easier for out-of-state multi-national corporations operating in North Carolina to avoid paying the state taxes they owe, the taxes paid by North Carolina companies.

12) The next time you visit a state park, the next person you accidentally bump into at a picnic site may have a loaded handgun in their waistband. Concealed weapons are now legal at most parks and playgrounds.

13) Your ability to choose your next representative and member of Congress is now limited by the most gerrymandered district lines ever drawn by a General Assembly, with more split precincts than any redistricting plan in history.

There is nothing in place to prevent that from happening again in the future. Lawmakers refused to approve legislation turning over redistricting to an independent process in 2021, a proposal most Republicans endorsed when they were the minority party in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers also refused to act to free up $4 million in federal money to help the November election run more smoothly in North Carolina.

That’s a lot of damage in less than two years, quite a legacy indeed.