Short Session Takeaways: NCGA Leaders punt on life-affirming measures, choose politics over people.
The North Carolina General Assembly concluded their regularly scheduled short session at the end of last week similarly to how they’ve done their business over the last decade: back room deals, late-night shenanigans, playing politics, all on the public’s dime. These tactics should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the governing body under Phil Berger and Tim Moore’s leadership. However, this year, in the shadow of a global pandemic and recession that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and uprooted millions more, their maneuvering felt especially cruel. Here are a few lowlights:
The General assembly sent a total of six bills to Gov. Cooper in attempt to reopen gyms, bars, amusement parks, and playgrounds. An additional bar reopening bill was filed shortly before 2:00am in the Senate before the House removed it from the calendar.
H536 "Temp Outdoor Restaurants for Outdoor Seating"
H594 "Temp Open Gyms/Health Clubs/Fitness Ctrs."
S599 "Open Skating Rinks/Bowling Alleys."
H686 "Freedom to Celebrate the Fourth of July"
H258 "Open Amusement Parks/Arcades/Venues"
H806 "Open Exercise & Fitness Facilities"
In totality, these bills demonstrate that leaders in the General Assembly would rather cater to right-wing extreme #Reopen groups than legislate in alignment with the opinion of majority of North Carolinians.
Moreover, the legislature passed a bill that would limit Gov. Cooper’s power to act quickly during an…emergency. Republicans supported the measure under the guise of depoliticizing the pandemic, yet the bill requires Cooper to get consent from a majority of Council of State members before passing any emergency declaration. The Council of State currently has six Republicans and four Democrats.
Additionally, in the middle of the night, the General Assembly passed S168 almost unanimously, which included a provision, originally requested by NCDHHS, that would make death investigation records confidential. The Chief Medical Examiner said that the provision would “help make law enforcement feel more comfortable giving her office information.” However, in light of national uprisings over police violence, this provision takes an unnecessary step away from accountability.
Other lowlights include:
- Passing a $350.00 annual “bonus” for public school teachers which amounts to a dollar a day.
- Passing a “2nd Amendment Protection Act” which would make it legal to conceal carry a weapon to a place of worship that also serves as a school .
- Stripping an amendment that would have extended an exemption legalizing mask-wearing past August 1 from a bill in the middle of the night. It will now technically be illegal to wear a mask in public in August due to an old law on the books originally written to target the KKK.
In addition to the passage of these unnecessary and harmful bills, one of the most difficult aspects of the end of session was watching – through the available video stream in the House (and Senate committees) – Republican leaders’ refuse to wear masks on political principle. This move ignores overwhelming evidence that that widespread mask use saves lives and protects the most vulnerable from asymptomatic spread. Of course, their individual stance is a perfect analogue for their collective unwillingness to expand Medicaid, a policy that comes at no personal (or state) cost and would benefit all North Carolinians but would especially benefit the most marginalized populations in the state. Additionally, they did not extend or raise unemployment benefits, which would have directly aided those most impacted by this public health crisis or protect frontline workers. As a result, workers must choose their health or their livelihood.
Meanwhile, cases of COVID-19 continue to climb in North Carolina. Unsurprisingly, Republican leaders in the General Assembly abdicated responsibility and chose politics over people. This year, however, the stakes are literally life and death.