June 23rd Legislative Update
After two relatively slow weeks when most of the action was behind the scenes, the legislative pace is becoming hurried as leadership pushes languishing bills forward in hopes we will adjourn this year’s session next Friday or Saturday.
Of course, the biggest news this week was the final passage of the state budget for the next two years. I voted “no” on the final product, knowing full well that the next election (2017 or 2018 or whenever) will bring fake attacks about how I voted “against” teacher raises, state employee COLAs, the “largest tax cut in state history,” etc., etc. In truth, I voted against incomprehensible cuts and omissions and a tendency to take half strides or less, such as reducing the Pre-K wait list by 75% instead of the full 100%, when complete steps were possible without raising taxes.
In a NC Policy Watch article, Chris Fitzsimon points to perhaps the most egregious provision in the budget—a recurring $10 million cut each fiscal year to the Department of Justice (the Attorney General’s Office) budget which will result in 123 attorneys being sent home permanently next Friday—an extraordinarily heartless move implicating families on a personal, human level even without mentioning the implications for our state’s criminal justice system.
The affected attorneys primarily represent the State in the appeal of criminal cases, numbering approximately 650 each year. That responsibility will now be shifted to local District Attorney’s offices, neither trained nor staffed to handle hundreds of appeals which, ironically, are pursued in many instances by State-paid appointed counsel. The inability of DAs to handle the appeals will result in plea bargains and dismissals of cases involving convicted criminals.
This thoughtless, spiteful provision will be devastating to public safety and to the cause of justice in our courts.
Also, I have received literally thousands of e-mails pleading that the General Assembly “fully fund specials.” This refers to the conflict between legislatively mandated reduced class sizes and those art, music, and PE teachers whose positions have temporarily been preserved by HB 13. Sadly, the budget does not speak to this issue. Consequently, these teachers will have to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind,” waiting to see if the General Assembly majority leadership allows this issue to be addressed when we reconvene next May! Again, personal family financial issues are disregarded, as is the necessity for local school administrators to effectuate planning for the next school year well before May 2018.
Further, funding for legal aid services has been wiped out, defying the Biblical admonition in the Book of Exodus, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” Continuing the funding of free legal services in civil matters, such as foreclosure or domestic abuse, would not even have required a new appropriation, but simply resumption of the existing practice of applying $1.50 from the courts costs assessed in each criminal case.
I could go on and on: the mind-boggling “pork” appropriations—over 100 specific earmarks totaling more than $70 million primarily to Republican districts but also to some represented by Democrats; the failure to invest in critically needed broadband expansion to rural and economically struggling areas of North Carolina; the reduction of the UNC law school budget by $500,000 (many believe due to legislative hostility towards a particularly vocal liberal law professor); the number of emergency judges slashed to 10 Superior Court and 25 District Court Judges; ignoring a meritorious proposal for need-based community college scholarships (NC Grow); and, yes, even turning a blind eye to modest proposals to assist our teachers with out-of-pocket expenses.
In short, you will read about some “good” things in this budget; to be fair, like all budgets, this one has both good and bad. For me, items like those above weighed far too heavily on the “bad” side, and this budget did not earn my “yes” vote.
This week, I sponsored a page from my district, Margaret Deng. When I asked her what her impressions were of the work we do here, she said she thought we didn’t spend enough time debating the budget. Given the result, she may well have a point!
I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
I enjoy hearing from constituents. You help me do my job well and make sure I keep in touch with the needs of the people I was elected to serve. I am always available to help you address concerns with state government. Here are several ways to contact me and keep tabs on legislative activity:
- Call me or my legislative assistant Dustin Ingalls at 919-733-5530, or email me at email@example.com.
- Track the bills I have sponsored, committees on which I serve, and votes I have taken here.
- Follow me on Twitter and Facebook @JoeJohnNC40.
- Visit ncleg.net, where you can read bills, listen to session and some committee hearings live, and see daily calendars.
- Help me spread the word on social media or by forwarding this newsletter to friends.