Chris Fitzsimon: Arrogant power-grabbing continues on Jones Street
The General Assembly is always chaotic during the week of the crossover deadline and this session is no exception with rushed committee meetings, late night sessions, and supplemental calendars issued for the House and Senate floor listing what will be debated and voted on.
Even for legislative insiders like lobbyists, reporters and staff members, it’s difficult to keep up. For the general public, the people lawmakers are supposed to be working for, it’s impossible.
But you don’t have to be an insider or understand the mechanics of parliamentary procedure to get one clear message from the lawmakers this week.
The folks in the majority in the General Assembly think they know better than anyone else about what should be happening in North Carolina, better than city councils and school boards, better then public health experts and law enforcement officials, better than scientists in the executive branch of state government, even better than the businesses leaders they claim they are trying to help create jobs.
And since the lawmakers apparently think they know better, they are insisting on being in control of as many things as they can.
It is not a new theme for this General Assembly. The unprecedented legislative power grab has been happening all session, but the crossover deadline has brought forward a blizzard of examples of legislative arrogance and overreach.
A proposal in the Senate would nullify any local regulations banning smoking in outdoor areas, including community college campuses, beaches and parks. The legislation specifically says that no local anti-smoking ordinance could be stricter than state law and there is no state law.
Local community colleges that want to keep smokers away from classroom buildings would be out of luck. City officials would not only be forbidden from banning smoking at parks and local concerts, the legislation would not even allow local governments to set up smoking and non-smoking sections.
Senator Buck Newton, the bill’s primary sponsor, wants more power over the public health policies at your community college campus and local parks than the folks who run them. He knows better.
A proposal that passed the House Monday night would no longer allow local government workers like police officers and firefighters to have their union dues voluntarily deducted from their pay.
No one is required to do anything. It is completely voluntary and the public safety workers and other local employees who have chosen to do it have been granted that right by their local city council. But that doesn’t matter to Rep. Bill Brawley, a key sponsor of the bill. He will decide what police officers and firefighters can have deducted from their paychecks.
The folks in the majority especially think they know better about how to protect the state’s natural resources, or more correctly, how not to protect them. A Senate bill would remove regulations that govern the construction of hardened structures or jetties off the coast.
That comes just two years after the General Assembly voted to allow the construction of just four jetties with key restrictions in place. The structures had long been banned in North Carolina because of compelling evidence that while they may delay beach erosion in one targeted area, they increase erosion in nearby areas.
Sen. Bill Rabon knows better and wants to remove all restrictions and regulations.
Many law enforcement officials believe there are too many guns on the street and often support buyback programs that purchase guns that are then destroyed by local police departments. A House bill would not only prevent that happening, it would also ban judges from ordering weapons seized in a criminal case destroyed.
There are plenty of other well publicized examples: a Senate plan to take control of school buildings away from school boards, a push to repeal rules protecting Jordan Lake, and a weakening of energy efficiency standards for new buildings.
Lawmakers have already advanced proposals to take airports and water systems away from local governments, tell doctors when they are allowed to perform legal medical procedures, prohibit cities from banning guns in parks and greenways, and abolish renewable energy standards that business leaders support.
The folks running Raleigh now, the ones who claim to be for small, less intrusive government, want more control over your lives, your health and your city and county. They simply know better.
Chris Fitzsimon is the executive director of NC Policy Watch.