The General Assembly reconvened Friday for another special session, primarily designated for redistricting business. There will be proposed legislative maps, public hearings, lots of debate and, I predict, an almost straight party-line vote on newly drawn — per court order — legislative districts. These maps and the expected discussion will take up most of the news cycle. There will be debates peppered with accusations of partisanship — from both sides.
Many North Carolinians will ask, Why is everything political? Can’t these guys agree on anything? Why can’t they focus on issues that make our government work better? With the very political nature of redistricting, it may be difficult for either side to break through the negative reporting that is sure to follow, especially with the national distaste for politics and politicians right now. It looks to be a rough ride for this special session.
I have an idea: Find some good policies that garner wide agreement and pubic support. Set an example for politicians in Washington and other states. Champion good ideas, find areas for agreement, and move things forward together for North Carolina.
House Joint Resolution 926, the adjournment resolution lays out what can be considered during the special session, including bills now in conference. Three are — Senate Bill 114, Annual Report/Prop Tax/Recodification Commission; House Bill 56, Amend Environmental Laws; and House Bill 162, Amend Administrative Procedure Laws. All three include provisions that are good ideas and move state government toward more reasonable regulations.
Senate Bill 114 includes a provision — Section 10 — that would authorize a commission to rectify the state’s convoluted and complicated criminal code. It would add a mens rea — you had to know it was a crime — clause and require unelected boards and commissions to report what criminal violations are part of their requirements for a license or participation. There’s a troublesome provision in this bill that would allow a huge tax carveout for the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Knights. It’s not a good idea and needs to be removed from the bill to allow the other good ideas in SB 114 to become law. Authorizing a commission to organize, review and recodifiy our criminal code is a good idea.
House Bill 56 includes a provision to remove a 2009 plastic bag ban in a few coastal communities. The ban is a burden on local businesses while ineffective in its environmental protection intent. As thousands of vacationers to our coast will attest, plastic bags are useful for many uses. Studies show the ban has had little to no impact on its original intent. Businesses know the ban has unnecessarily increased costs. Some legal experts question the constitutionality of the ban. Repealing the plastic bag ban is a good idea.
House Bill 162 includes two important regulatory provisions.
One, found in Section 3 of the bill, would increase the scrutiny for the rules review process, making it even more rigorous. Since the rules review process was implemented in 2013, 11,361 of North Carolina’s 22,500 rules have been reviewed. Also, 1,428 have been deemed unnecessary, unneeded and removed from the books. Further scrutiny in reviewing rules is a good idea.
The other provision found in Section 4 of HB 162, reining in regulations, would require a legislative review for any rules carrying a significant financial cost of $100 million or more. It makes sense to allow agencies to make rules to carry out legislative intent but to circle back to the legislature before a rule with significant cost is imposed on job creators and families.
Be prepared for partisan bickering, heated debate and acrimonious accusations. It’s all part of the very political nature of redistricting. But rather than leave North Carolinians shaking their heads and wondering why politicians can’t come together, the General Assembly would be wise to deliver a few good government reforms.
Under the current toxic national political environment and the likely contentious North Carolina redistricting fight expected over the next couple of weeks, we could all use some good ideas for better government to rally around. Agreed?
Becki Gray is senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation.