There are countless objectionable aspects to the new Senate budget proposal at the General Assembly. As Chris Fitzsimon explained yesterday afternoon, the proposal is highlighted by unwise tax breaks, petty partisan attacks, and inadequate investments. Perhaps most outrageous, however, was the utter lack of process. Once again, as they have done with partisan gerrymandering, the Republicans have taken the abuses employed by Democrats in the past and stretched them to a whole new level.
The bill is hundreds of pages long, was written in secret and released in the middle of the night. What’s more, Senate leaders have announced that in most important areas, amendments will simply not be allowed. What happens when you make law like this is that all sorts of ridiculous provisions emerge that have never been properly vetted or discussed.
Take, for instance, a law change buried on page 292 of the budget bill entitled “Fee Waiver.” Here’s what it says:
“No court may waive or remit all or part of any court fines or costs without providing notice and opportunity to be heard by all government entities affected. The court shall provide notice to the government entities affected of (i) the date and time of the hearing and (ii) the right to be heard and make an objection to the remission or waiver of all or part of the order of court costs at least 15 days prior to hearing. Notice shall be made to the government entities affected by first-class mail to the address provided for receipt of court costs paid pursuant to the order”
Under this provision, courts will find it almost impossible to waive fees for indigent criminal defendants. As Cristina Becker explained in a Progressive Voices essay earlier this week, courts fees and fines are already a huge problem for poor North Carolinians who can’t afford them. This change will make things dramatically worse.
Unfortunately, because this provision simply emerged out of thin air at the last minute, there was no opportunity to discuss it, hear from experts or even know who is behind it and why. It is truly, in other words, a Kafkaesque twist to a Kafkaesque bill prepared an enacted via a Kafkaesque process.