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One would be forgiven if one were to compare the legislative session that just ended to a shambling zombie. This past Friday, the NCGA wrapped up the second-longest session in its history– for real this time. The session lasted 156 days over 11 months and cost North Carolina taxpayers approximately $6.5 million. But hey, at least that money was well-spent, right? At least we got a budget out of it, right? And medicaid expansion? Legislative and Congressional districts redrawn fairly, with lots public input, by a nonpartisan citizens' committee? Substantial raises for teachers and other state employees? Right?
All joking aside, it's time to set some limits. We're the only state in the south with no limits on how long our legislative sessions can last. Alabama's legislative session is 30 days, maximum.
Setting limits on sessions would save us taxpayers money and it would make the legislature more efficient by eliminating any spare time lawmakers have to introduce "frivolous bills that don’t produce laws". It would also "allow a wider range of people to serve because they would have more time to earn a living – something that's nearly impossible now...[lawmakers] are permanent residents of Raleigh, which is not good for them. It’s not good for the functioning of government."
What Professor David McLennan is talking about is a citizen legislature; that is, when being a lawmaker is only a part-time job, thereby allowing constituents to be served by lawmakers who are more representative of them, instead of being mostly wealthy or retired or both.
You might be most familiar with Rep. David Lewis from his appearance as the defendant in the two gerrymandering cases in our recent memory: Common Cause v Lewis (state districts) and Harper v Lewis (Congressional ones). But he can't seem to keep his name out of the courtroom. He's being sued again, this time by agricultural supply company Nutrien, who filed the suit on the claim that it has tried and failed to collect a $1 million debt from Lewis' farming company and its partners.
What was that about a citizen legislature again?
Last week we learned that Sen. Berger has been using his campaign fund to pay rent to a company he owns for a townhouse he also owns, and is then using this rent money to pay the mortgage on the townhouse. Berger maintains that this is not against the law, however it's pretty clear to me-- and to Bob Hall, who filed a complaint against him-- that a lawmaker profiting personally from campaign contributions is doing something very wrong. Though there's technically nothing about this fiasco to update you on, the Winston-Salem Journal's op-ed is worth your time to read.
The Lumbee Tribe, the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River but not recognized by the federal government (North Carolina recognizes them), has been in the news twice this week, beset on one side by a natural gas storage proposed to be built on their land, and on the other by the decision to revoke the charter of a school for wanting to teach indigenous history. This past weekend people protested the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility, “a $250 million project of Piedmont Natural Gas”, because “at least one farm and other properties could be taken under eminent domain to construct a 4-mile pipeline [through Lumbee land] from an existing Duke Energy/Piedmont Gas pipeline to the LNG site.”
The issue of the revoked charter is a thorny one. North Carolina public schools, especially in rural areas, are being decimated by abysmal budget allowances and the explosion of charter schools, which are contributing to both the defunding of public education and the resegregation of schools. With little other choice, the Lumbee had developed their own charter school to teach a Native-first curriculum. But the North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board reversed their decision to grant the Robeson County school its character because “the proposed curriculum was too Indigenous.”
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
The most I can muster for levity this week is a borrowed pun: the UNC Board of Governors (BoG) is “wallowing in the mire” of continued scandal and bad leadership. The UNC system is a large part of North Carolina itself, and its governing body has unfortunately become a microcosm of North Carolina's legislative leadership: contrarian and conservative; ignorant of the wills and wants of the people it leads and serves; selfish, mistrustful and untrustworthy. Billy Ball at NC Policy Watch says it best: “It is not North Carolina or its campuses that need to change to resolve the humiliation that’s torched Spellings and former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, leaders who managed to flee with their integrity intact. It is this board.”
The NCGA chooses the UNC BoG; this is yet one more reason to show up and vote in 2020. Keep that (Carolina) blue tide rolling!
Make sure to check in tomorrow for Patti's update on the two (three?!) redistricting cases percolating through the courts and the legislature. The long session may be over, but that doesn't mean there isn't news!
Tags: (ICYMI, NCGA, Lumbee tribe, UNC)
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