Editorial: 1-day legislative session -- more missed opportunities
Posted August 8
CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017; Editorial # 8195
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
Anyone who might look back on last week’s one-day session of the North Carolina General Assembly will remember it for what wasn’t accomplished. Several key items that could have been addressed were ignored.
First, it didn’t address the primary reason for coming back to Raleigh – dealing with four bills Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed. Those matters were quickly shuffled off to legislative committees to delay action because the Republican leadership still hadn’t corralled the votes to override the Democratic governor’s actions.
Still, other legislators seemed to see the agenda as so insignificant that a fifth of the Senate – 10 members – were absent (one, Andrew Brock, R-Davie, has resigned to take a state government job awarded to him by Senate leader Phil Berger). In the House, as many as 16 of the 120 members were away.
Legislators did manage to hang around much of the day, addressing a series of minor items that could have waited until their next scheduled gathering (moved up to Friday, Aug. 18 from Sept. 6).
But the state had some critical needs that should have commanded legislators’ immediate attention and action. Instead, these urgent matters were hardly mentioned.
RESTORE $10 MILLION IN JUSTICE DEPT. CUTS
Just before the session started, Attorney General Josh Stein implored legislators to restore $10 million to the Department of Justice that was inexplicably cut from the state budget at the last minute. Many chalked it up to another of the GOP legislative leadership’s efforts to weaken any agencies led by Democrats.
The impact is far more significant than an intramural political skirmish. Gerald Robbins, a lawyer with 23 years’ experience assisting the state’s child support collections program and others at the state Department of Health and Human Services, is losing his job to the cuts.
“They’ll get less service and the timeliness of those services, I would anticipate, would be even less,” he said. “You didn’t worry about who was a Republican, who was a Democrat. You worried about the facts of the case.”
District attorneys, the state sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ associations have all asked the legislature to reverse the cuts. “As we continue to see new threats, new crimes, new dangers across North Carolina, we’re in a situation where we need more help and not less,” said Brandon Zuidema, Garner’s police chief.
FULLY FUND OPIOID ADDICTION PROGRAM
Every county in North Carolina has seen the death and ravages of the opioid addiction epidemic. Legislators weren’t shy about patting themselves on the back after they passed the “Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.”
But when it came time to back the program with funding, legislators fell short by half. The program’s advocates say the effort needs $20 million to properly fund community addiction intervention and treatment efforts. But the legislature approved just $10 million.
This problem needs immediate attention. Adding $10 million should have been a priority last week and must be acted upon when legislators meet again on Aug. 18.
SCHOOL FUNDING, MEDICAID AND MORE
There’s plenty more that was ignored or passed over. Here are a few where action now would make our state a better place to live for all its citizens:
- Fully fund the legislative mandate to cut public school class size in the lower grades. Local schools remain in limbo and should not have to wait until next spring to know how to handle their budgets and whether teachers will need to be dismissed or rehired.
- Expand Medicaid. Politicians in Washington now know it is wrong to repeal Obamacare. Denying health services to half-a-million needy North Carolinians is cruel and unnecessary.
- Restore the $1.8 million cut from the state’s legal aid funding. This action hurts poor people struggling with mortgage foreclosures, evictions, disability cases, veterans’ benefits and disaster relief as well as victims of domestic abuse who are trying to get restraining orders against abusers.
These aren’t tough issues. Legislators can to do the right things when they get together again on Aug. 18. They need to seize the opportunity.