The worst proposals thus far in the 2015 legislative session
North Carolina lawmakers treated themselves and everyone else to a spring break this week. Committee meetings and floor votes were suspended and most lawmakers stayed away from the capital city.
In many ways, it was kind of a fitting dead spot in what has been a strange, start-and-stop session. As lawmakers near the midway point of the legislative year, the list of significant accomplishments is a very short one. And while this is a fact that many will see as a great improvement over recent years in which the flood of radically regressive proposals came on like a torrent, the overall lack of purpose that afflicts the General Assembly speaks volumes about what government looks like when many of the people in charge reject the idea of intentional, public solutions to the problems and challenges that confront society.
Just because there’s been a relative shortage of new laws thus far, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of terrible and regressive ideas under consideration on Jones Street. The deadline for state House members to introduce bills won’t arrive until next week (a fact that guarantees the arrival of hundreds of more bills) and already, the list of backward-looking and even downright frightening proposals is a long one. Here is a far-from-exhaustive list featuring a dozen of the worst we’ve seen thus far:
Promoting LGBT discrimination – As has been widely reported, the nation’s rapid progress in moving toward providing legal equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people has provoked an ugly backlash in some places. Sadly, North Carolina makes that list with multiple bills under consideration to allow discrimination by businesses that serve the public and government officials who perform marriages under the guise of “religious freedom.”
Reversing the results of local elections – As Chris Fitzsimon noted last week , the very lawmakers who constantly rail about the supposed mad consolidation of power in Washington with respect to the states have been only too happy to practice what they preach against when it comes to the relationship between the state and local governments. Witness, among many other such examples, the bald-faced power grabs against Wake County and the City of Greensboro wherein state lawmakers have moved to reverse recent elections by redrawing electoral maps against the will of local communities.
Another disastrous tax proposal from the Senate – If there’s a most irresponsible proposal of the 2015 session at this point, it’s probably the one advanced by Senate leaders  to further slash state income taxes. Despite the state’s persistent budget shortfalls that have resulted from the Robin Hood-in-reverse 2013 tax cuts, the Senate recently proposed slashing another billion dollars in state revenue by cutting personal and corporate income taxes. When Senator Bob Rucho, one of the plan’s chief authors, was asked how he planned to pay for the additional billion dollar tax cut, his response was: “that’s not the issue.”
Raising taxes on people struggling to stay in their homes – And speaking of regressive tax proposals, one of the more outrageous and least-well reported acts of the 2015 session has been the enactment of a new law – buried in the much-ballyhooed gas tax legislation  – that removes a tax break for homeowners who have managed to hold onto their homes by obtaining debt relief assistance. Under the new law, the debt relief will be taxed as income – thus undermining the purpose of the relief in the first place: keeping struggling families in their homes.
New assaults on reproductive freedom – Will Pat McCrory get another chance to equivocate and waffle on his seemingly iron clad 2012 campaign promise to support no further restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain a safe, legal abortion? He will, if lawmakers move forward with recently introduced legislation to radically alter state law in a way that would make abortions almost completely inaccessible. Click here  to read the list of “horribles” in the new legislation.
Further degrading the environment – On the “regulatory reform” front, there’s the “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.”  As the good folks at the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters  point out, this 34-page measure includes provisions:
“…abolishing the Sedimentation Control Commission; requiring the Coastal Resources Commission to relax its rules on those huge beachfront “sandbag” walls; repealing university energy audit requirements; creating a new loophole for polluters to get out of paying penalties by reporting their own violations; and other creative tools for fun, pollution, and profit.”
Reversing a 150-year-old ban on garnishing wages – Quick: What’s the best way to dramatically increase the number of North Carolinians who file bankruptcy each year? If you answered “allow credit card companies and predatory national ‘debt buyer’ outfits to garnish the wages of average people” give yourself a gold star. As veteran Raleigh bankruptcy lawyer William Brewer explained in this essay  yesterday, a huge spike in bankruptcies is exactly what will happen if state lawmakers repeal a 150-year-old law that allows North Carolina families to avoid garnishment by run-of-the-mill creditors if the money in their bank accounts is necessary to meet basic family needs.
Jacking up rates yet again on small, high interest loans – And speaking of vulnerable consumers who stand to fall even further behind if some in the General Assembly get their way, don’t forget the recent Senate proposal described in this Raleigh News & Observer article  that would send already absurd interest rates on small loans into the stratosphere. The proposal – which would drive the effective interest rates on some loans to 60% or more – is enough to make a body wonder how the bottom-feeding usurers behind it find the courage to look in the mirror each morning.
Rewriting the U.S. Constitution – Every time you start to think that the state’s Tea Partying far right has been tamed by the corporate-funded politicos calling the shots in Raleigh, you’re brought back to reality by proposals like the one detailed in this recent Greensboro News & Record editorial . As the paper explained earlier this week:
“We thought the state legislature convened in Raleigh.
Last week, it apparently met in Fantasy Land.
How else to explain the House Judiciary I committee debating for an hour whether North Carolina should join the call for a ‘Convention of the States’ to discuss amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would limit the federal government’s power?”
Meddling in U.S. foreign policy – And speaking of extreme, fringe ideas, one can always count on Lt. Governor Dan Forest and his friends to weigh in to keep things interesting. Two weeks ago, Forest co-announced the introduction of legislation in the Senate  (along with Senator Rick Gunn) that is billed as the “Iran Divestment Act.” The proposal was clearly pushed forward as part of the far right’s ongoing and often improper national resistance to the President’s authority to conduct foreign policy in dealings with Iran. It’s good to know that local conservative pols are still taking their marching orders from Fox News.
Guns, guns and more guns! – And in case you thought state leaders had succeeded in putting killing machines into every conceivable nook and cranny of the state, think again. A House proposal  would make sure that guns could be lawfully brought to host of new places by numerous people currently barred from doing so.
Denying health care to hundreds of thousands of people – And finally, no list of dreadful General Assembly actions and proposals would be close to complete without the year’s most obvious and destructive policy omission – the ongoing failure to close the Medicaid gap that is preventing hundreds of thousands of working people from securing decent and affordable health coverage. As was explained in this excellent article last weekend , North Carolina’s stubborn and ideologically-based decision to turn down billions of federal dollars is literally costing us tens of thousands of jobs and bringing on the early deaths of thousands of people each year.
Send us your suggestions for ideas and proposals that should have been included in this list. We’ll publish a supplemental list on The Progressive Pulse blog  in the near future.