As expected, Republican members of the North Carolina House Finance Committee quickly approved a massive overhaul of state unemployment insurance law this morning. In just over an hour and half, the Committee explained, debated, considered amendments to and received limited public comment on a 68-page measure that imposes the most draconian cuts to unemployment insurance that experts believe has ever happened in the United States. Gluttons for punishment can watch a video the whole embarrassing show at WRAL.com.
There were so many errors, untruths and offensive moments during the meeting that it’s hard to know where to begin in describing it. Here are just a few:
- Committee chair, Rep. Mitchell Setzer, ruled multiple Democratic amendments out-of-order under the absurd notion that they would have changed the bottom line impact of the bill. Isn’t that what committee meetings are for in the first place? This excuse, which has made barely any sense in the past when Republicans have used it repeatedly on the House and Senate floors during debates over the state budget, made zero sense in a Finance Committee meeting on a bill like this. The obvious reason for its use was to avoid rollcall votes on legitimate issues that the Democrats had raised.
- Multiple members — perhaps most notably, Rep. Jeff Collins — argued repeatedly that the main problem with North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system was that lazy people were milking the system. Collins shamelessly alleged that during the height of the recession large numbers of good manufacturing jobs were going begging because no workers would take them.
- As expected, the time allotted for input from workers and worker advocates was a joke. The committee, which had excluded these advocates from discussion of the measure for weeks, allotted a total of four minutes to two speakers immediately prior to the vote. As one advocate — the Justice Center’s Bill Rowe — noted wryly, however, the two minutes he was given amounted to one more than he was given during the debate in the study committee that developed the gist of the proposal last fall.
In sum, the meeting was, as many had feared, a sad and embarrassing kangaroo session. It was also, in all likelihood, a preview of the kind of legislative “process” North Carolinians can look forward to over the coming months.