Other Voices: Process raises doubts about policy

Published 5:50 pm Monday, June 11, 2018

Ramming legislation through with no debate may be convenient for those in power but it does a disservice to voters, be it in North Carolina in general or Asheville in particular.

The 2018 adjustments to the state budget are racing toward adoption under special rules that do not allow any amendments on the floor of either the House or the Senate. Democrats can either vote for the bill as is or vote against it; they cannot propose changes.

The Republicans who dominate both chambers like it this way. Democrats must either vote for a Republican budget or vote against a budget that contains a lot of good things. Thanks to an extra $600 million in revenue, the budget does a lot for state employees.

Teachers would get raises averaging 6.5 percent and thousands of low-income state employees would see their incomes rise to $31,200 a year, the equivalent of a $15 per hour “living wage.”

Other good provisions are $35 million for school safety, $15 million for prison safety, $12 million to address unregulated chemicals in rivers. One could quibble about the amounts, but not the intent. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to quibble, at least not as part of the legislative process.

The same rules apply to the budget’s questionable aspects. Republicans do not have to defend spending more than $1 million on anti-abortion clinics, $250,000 for an outdoors group that includes Bible studies, $100,000 to build a YMCA and $35,000 for a prison ministry group. They won’t have to say why they cut off money for the Suicide Prevention Hot Line.

Hard-ball politics can lead to frayed tempers, and this situation was no exception. “Today we have seen a rape of this budget,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Democrat from Durham. “And I’m having problems right now trying to reconcile whether I’m in North Carolina or North Korea.” His choice of words came under sharp attack online, as it should have.

We are under no illusion that Democrats would behave similarly if they were in power. They used to do so in Raleigh, and they did so last week in Asheville, when the City Council rammed through new restrictions on police searches, using a parliamentary maneuver to forestall discussion.

The council instructed Interim City Manager Cathy Ball to make police stop considering criminal history or suspicious behavior when deciding to initiate a consensual or “consent” search, meaning a search where a person must be asked and grant permission first. …

We have no quarrel with the substances of these rules. In fact, had the process been different, you’d likely be reading an editorial packed with praise.

But we do have a quarrel with enacting laws without debate. The matter should be brought back before the council to be discussed, with the opportunity of offering amendments.

“We talk about transparency and due process, but council violated every tenet of that,” said Vijay Kapoor, one of two members of the all-Democratic council to vote against the rules. He says he isn’t sure how he feels about the rules and wants to restart the process.

We would like to be able to shame politicians into better behavior, but that seems a hopeless task. Our best hope lies with the voters. They need to start challenging those who represent them and demanding that the process be opened up to proper debate.

— Asheville Citizen-Times