“We have to stop being the stupid party,” said Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. While Governor Jindal leads another state, he was speaking collectively about his Republican party. Ironically, he said that during a Republican retreat in North Carolina (NC), which has been home to some of most unwise legislation the past year. And, per Forrest Gump and echoing Governor Jindal’s comments, “stupid is as stupid does.”
Here are a few highlights, or lowlights, as the case may be.
- Over an extended period ending in 1972, the state of NC neutered residents who were hospitalized and measured with low IQs. Many of these folks lived lengthy, wholesome lives. Yet, this neutering of humans was done without informed consent (many of the parents did not know what they were agreeing to). A bill to provide restitution to the living victims totalled $20 million and had the support of the Governor and Speaker of the House, yet the Senate Pro Tem would not let it go through. This is $20 million out of a $21 billion budget.
- A study on rising sea levels was commissioned and completed. The legislature did not like the result and asked them to have it checked. The report said global warming would increase the sea levels on the NC coast by 39 inches (one meter) by 2100. This is very similar to the results found by studies in Virginia, Louisiana, and several other states. The legislature refused to accept the peer-reviewed report and would only accept one based on “backwards looking data” that said it would rise 8 inches. Stephen Colbert lampooned them on his show for holding back the tide with legal briefs.
- A legislator now referred to as Billboard Bob got a bill passed into law to permit billboard companies to remove more trees without the need to ask local permission. This made way for the new electronic billboards. So, we reduced oxygen producing trees to use electricity to power a changing message billboard whose purpose is to get the attention of drivers of cars going 70 mph. On top of that most of the messages are about the next strip club. Nice move.
- Since we are on the environment, a bill was passed to pave the way to study the merits of fracking in NC. This bill was vetoed by the Governor, but her veto was overturned by one vote, which was mis-entered and the change was denied by the Speaker (his favoring the restitution above was anomaly in a bad record of achievement). Now a bill has been passed through the Senate Commerce Committee to lift the moratorium on fracking and to incent the industry who would make a ton money without any incentives. To my knowledge there has been no such study and fracking is one of the worst things we could do to our air and water(see earlier posts on “The Perils of Fracking” and “Gasland – a View of the Real Fracking Story”).
- It is already illegal to marry the same gender in this state. Yet, the legislature put Amendment One on the ballot to make sure we all knew this and it passed. Unfortunately, this legislation is on the wrong side of history which will eventually overturn this law with long overdue national recognition of equal rights to the LGBT citizens. This is an embarrassing moment for our state in my mind. Fortunately, we have a President who agrees with much of the nation that it is time for equal rights.
- In a very Machiavellian move, the Speaker was very creative in getting a contentious budget passed after midnight. He sent everyone home, only to make an emergency come-back-to-the-hall plea after people had left town. Only those forewarned made it back and the budget passed. This was not a very classy move.
- The year opened with a new Governor and, in addition to the aforementioned fracking bill that could be passed, the Governor signed a bill to severely cut unemployment benefits since over $2.5 billion was owed to the Federal government. This was owed because previous legislators caved into business and reduced unemployment funding when times were good, so we ran out of money. Something had to be done, but they gutted the program when people need it the most. So, people who are let go and cannot find a job will be limited from 26 weeks to 20 weeks and the benefit maximum was reduced significantly. This also is harmful to the economy as it flows directly into purchases. Something needed to be done, but this was over the top, in many people’s minds.
- The final issue is to not accept the federal money to expand Medicaid to cover the 550,000 million uninsured in NC under the Affordable Care Act. George Mason University has done a non-partisan study that says taking the money and expanding Medicaid is good for the uninsured, the hospitals and economy. Seven Republican Governors now agree with this and have changed their minds. The Speaker and Senate Pro Tem want to defeat this expansion and have passed bills to do so. There is more to come on this, but I hate that people are pawns in a political game.
I am hopeful the Governor, who has a history of more moderate behavior, will change his mind and encourage the Medicaid expansion. Yet, I do not give too much credence to this legislative body and its leaders based on their public stances. If people do their homework with unbiased data and reach a conclusion, I can live with the outcome even if I do not agree with it. Yet, when it is based on industry fed and funded studies with committees populated by industry advocates, then I am more concerned about the veracity of lawmaking. Most of the above fit this category and the ones that don’t – the LGBT and restitution issues – are just short-sighted and inappropriate. Even Forrest Gump would have his concerns.