Legislative News by Nelda Holder –
I have been covering the North Carolina General Assembly for 10 years or more on behalf of The Urban News.
My column began as a way to delve into legislation that, it seemed, needed public notice and clarification, along with identifying sponsors and party attitudes.
Over the past few years, it has been increasingly alarming to find that the legislature—currently dominated by the Republican Party that holds a majority in both the Senate and House—is failing repeatedly to focus on the needs of the residents of this state, and the quality of the state’s environmental health. It doesn’t come much more basic than that, really—the people who live here and the health of the state’s physical environment.
What’s that? The business environment, you say? Believe me, there has been significant accommodation to that piece of the jurisdiction puzzle—at least to big-money business investments in the state. But the everyday lives of the state’s more than ten-and-a-half million people have not, in the opinion of this observer, been the priority of the state’s leadership. And neither has robust and necessary environmental protection.
For example, the Medicaid expansion option—which became available following a 2012 Supreme Court ruling—would increase the availability of health care for the eligible population to 19- to 64-year-olds with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Translated, that means health care expansion to single individuals making less than $20,000 a year—or a family of three earning under $34,000.
That became a possibility in 2012. And we are now more than halfway through 2023.
This increase in coverage for some of the state’s neediest has been an option for over 10 years. And finally there is action through HB 76 to provide this potentially life-saving benefit. But this still comes with a catch. The more than 600,000 North Carolinians eligible for this health-affirming care will have to wait AGAIN because the Republican majority tied Medicaid expansion to the passage of the new state budget.
And guess exactly who has not yet passed a state budget, even though the fiscal year ended June 30, 2023. Yes, we are more than a month overdue for a budget (we’ve been here before!), and the word is that we, the humble citizens, should not expect agreement on such a thing until at least September. Wouldn’t you think the leaders of this state could manage to take care of this over the course of a session which convened back in the cold winds of January—January 11, to be exact.
Meanwhile, the NC Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it is moving forward with Medicaid expansion under an anticipated start date of October 1 as part of a compromise agreement with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. This will allow required public notices for beneficiaries, counties, and providers while still awaiting authority from the NC General Assembly. An October launch still requires the GA’s action though either decoupling the expansion from the budget itself, or by passing the budget by September 1.
And yet, as this column goes to press, Gov. Roy Cooper is calling on the legislative leadership to quell the internal Republican squabbles that now threaten to take the budget approval well into September or later—meaning Medicaid expansion goes on hold until December.
Come on, leaders! Surely in your infinite power you can manage to help a mere 600,000 low-income North Carolinians gain healthcare. Right? Exactly how many months would you want to wait for medical care, especially in a life-threatening situation.
Enter The Poor People’s Campaign
It’s not just healthcare, though, that needs the attention of the legislature—and the public. A familiar figure is stepping forward to address the bottleneck of vetos the back-in-town legislature must sort through after Gov. Roy Cooper used a lot of “just-say-no” ink in their absence from Raleigh.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who inspired and helped pilot the numerous Moral Monday protests that 10 years ago began to take place outside and then inside the state legislative building—and for doing so was jailed several times (along with numerous citizen protestors, including this writer)—is expected to return to the General Assembly on August 14 to speak to the “culture wars” he calls a “political strategy of distraction.”
His intention is to sign and deliver a letter to the General Assembly demanding that legislators cease and desist from “their extensive agenda of policy murder and instead focus on passing laws that lift North Carolina’s 4.2 million poor and low wealth people out of poverty.”
Karen Ziegler, in a newsletter written on behalf of the statewide organization Democracy Out Loud, notes that Barber’s return to the scene is coupled to the “ugly and cruel bills” awaiting an override vote after the governor’s veto action. “Rev. Barber reminds us that these ‘culture wars’ are a political strategy of distraction … that poverty is the 4th leading cause of death, 40% of North Carolinians are poor or low-income … (and) the purveyors of distraction are poised to destroy our voting rights once again.”
What’s lurking in the back room
You’ve read about these bills before in this column, but we’ll refresh your memory. The NCGA now must decide whether or not to override Gov. Cooper’s veto of legislation that would radically shift the tenor of a state that has carried a traditionally moderate and at times even progressive ethic into its legislative chambers.
We’re talking about excruciatingly anti-family bills that would interfere with parent-doctor decisions regarding health care for sexual-identity/gender-transition treatment (HB 808); the fair treatment of women in school athletics (HB 574); and the gnarly issues of parents’ rights and children’s private communication within school settings (SB 49).
Cooper’s statement when issuing these three vetoes: “For campaign purposes only, Republicans are serving up a triple threat of political culture wars using government to invade the rights and responsibilities of parents and doctors, hurting vulnerable children, and damaging our state’s reputation and economy like they did with the harmful bathroom bill. Instead of scheming for the next election, Republicans should get to work investing in our public schools and teachers, lowering the cost of living, and creating more stability for middle class families.”
And now, about those voting rights
As has been widely reported, changes in NC voting laws that have been approved by this legislature must be recognized and complied with, in order to maintain your democratic right to vote in the coming election.
It’s important to let people know—family, friends, co-workers, neighbors—that photo ID will now be required in order to vote. That can be as simple as showing your driver’s license or obtaining a free ID from the NC Division of Motor Vehicles. For more information you can go to “No-Fee ID Cards” at State IDs/NCDMV. Or for this and other voter information including the new absentee ballot provisions, contact Buncombe County Election Services at (828) 250-4200.
Rob Schofield, editor of the crackerjack (how many of you remember that term?) NC Newsline, which delves so cogently into state politics, has a particularly clear overview of this legislative session’s attitude toward our money. His report, “The NC legislature’s irresponsibly undisciplined budgeting,” is just out. Here’s your teaser:
“Imagine yourself in the following situation: Your children lack decent clothing and shoes and depend on reduced-price school meals to meet their weekly nutrition requirements.
Your house has become dilapidated … the power company is threatening to turn off your electricity for nonpayment. The sole family car spews smoke, has bald tires and is on its last legs.
Now add in the following incongruous additional circumstances: You have a steadily growing bank account with a current balance of a million dollars, no debt to speak of, a good job, and an offer for an even better one at a handsome salary.
What would you do?
For most sane and responsible people, such a situation is unimaginable as they would have long since used some of their available resources to address pressing family needs….
If, however, you’re among the tiny and bizarrely penurious smattering of individuals whose answer would be to leave the money sitting there, turn down the job, quit the one you have, and tell the kids to fend for themselves, you’d be right in step with the crazy and confounding approach of North Carolina Republican legislative leaders.
This is really not an exaggeration.”
I highly recommend reading the rest of the article to catch the stark evidence Schofield wields. I don’t happen to think this is “representative government.” And accountability would seem to be the answer. I agree with Schofield’s conclusion:
And that’s why North Carolina’s present course of action in fiscal policy—in which a collection of comfortably well-off lawmakers repeatedly enact tax and spending cuts that chiefly benefit themselves and their well-off friends, while depriving common good institutions of the basic resources they need to operate properly for everyone’s benefit—is the very definition of self-interested and undisciplined hypocrisy.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts.