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If there’s been one area in which the current leadership of the General Assembly has been at its most cynical when it comes to directly contradicting past promises and rhetoric, it’s almost certainly in the area of legislative process. It’s gotten to the point at which it seems that scarcely an important piece of legislation advances on Jones Street without some kind of abuse of legislative rules (or, at least, the spirit thereof). Whether they’re crafting budgets in secret,  holding unannounced, middle-of-the-night sessions, providing lack of time and opportunity for public comment or just springing entirely new legislation out of thin air as last-minute  amendments, both the House and the Senate have frequently seemed intent of bending every guideline of fair play and open government.

And, of course, the amazing thing about all of this is that it’s not even necessary even from a crass, down-to-brass-tacks political perspective. The leaders in both Houses have huge, rubber-stamp majorities that make such shenanigans utterly unnecessary.  Sometimes it feels as if leaders are engaging in such exercises just because they can.  See for example, last week’s decision by House leaders to spring a last-minute, out-of-nowhere amendment on Senate Education Committee chairman Jerry Tillman on Common Core legislation.

So, with the final days of the 2014 session apparently upon us, observers of the General Assembly will do well to pay very close attention over the next week or two. Indeed, the House Finance Committee meets at 5:00 pm today to take up a bill that’s been sitting on its calendar since last summer and that will almost certainly be gutted and entirely rewritten with a “committee substitute.”

The bottom line: Notwithstanding the Senate’s just-for-show talk of making budget negotiations open, it’s almost a certainty that the upcoming days will  feature loads of secrecy and bad, behind-closed-doors lawmaking. Stay tuned and watch closely if your stomach can take it.

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Golf ball on teeState lawmakers are rushing through a bevy of important and destructive bills during the 2014 short session — often with remarkably little process or debate.  The Senate is even going so far as to take the most important bill of the session — the 274-page budget bill — from its moment of unveiling to final passage in just 48 hours. Meanwhile, House Speaker Thom Tillis threatened his chamber with a rare Friday session if they didn’t speed along a bill to legalize fracking.

Ah, but happily, the mad rush doesn’t apply to all matters. According to an announcement emailed out early this afternoon by the House Commerce and Jobs Development Committee, that august body will be devoting two full hours of precious short session time next Thursday to the subject of golf. This is from the announcement:

“NORTH CAROLINA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JOINT COMMITTEE MEETING NOTICE AND BILL SPONSOR NOTIFICATION
2013-2014 SESSION

You are hereby notified that the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development will meet as follows:

DAY & DATE: Thursday, June 5, 2014
TIME: 10:00 AM
LOCATION: 544 LOB
COMMENTS: This is an informational meeting. The objective of the NC Golf Economic Impact meeting is to review the historic and ongoing economic contributions golf has made to the state. When examined in a historic context one reaches a simple conclusion: NC has been very good for golf and golf has returned the favor in kind. Read More

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This morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it just about exactly right with a full-length  editorial on the return of Moral Monday protesters to the state capital and the conservative legislature’s heavy-handed attempt to muzzle them:

“Tuesday, the marchers will return, following Memorial Day. And Republicans may be sure they’ll be back, Monday after Monday. More enlightened leaders might talk to the protesters (who include blue collar workers, teachers, lawyers and doctors) to at least hear their viewpoints.

Alas, the Republicans now in charge on Jones Street prefer ignorance of the opposition, the better to do their damage to average North Carolinians without facts and conscience getting in the way. They’ll stumble on, wreaking legislative havoc as they seek to destroy what’s left of environmental regulation and to cut taxes even more for the wealthy, who benefit most from their actions.

Meanwhile, a movement grows, literally across the country, thanks to the hearty souls who have dared to go to the considerable trouble of arriving at the Legislative Building knowing they’ll face only disrespect from those who are supposed to serve them….

These protesters have done a public service, pure and simple. They have spoken eloquently and loudly, even when they do not speak at all.”

Today’s protest start at 12:00 noon on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building. Read the entire N&O editorial by clicking here.

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An editorial in this morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record rightfully echoes many of the themes in Tuesday’s edition of the N.C. Policy Watch Weekly Briefing in its critique of new rules governing access to the state Legislative Building entitled “Protests muzzled.” As the N&R notes:

“Demonstrators took a practical precaution when they entered the legislative building Monday evening. They taped their mouths shut.

How else could they make sure they didn’t ‘act in a manner that will imminently disturb the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties,’ as prohibited by the new rules approved last week?

….the overly sensitive definition of disturbance and the reference to an ‘imminent’ disturbance leave too much to personal whim. Interpretation can be as strict as someone in authority wants it to be. When it comes to dealing with people who convey dissatisfaction with the authorities, the rules might be applied very strictly indeed.

These rules tell the public there will be little tolerance for verbal expression by visitors. They had better just remain silent from the time they enter until they leave — and the sooner they leave, the better….

Of course demonstrators should not be allowed to create a real disturbance in the legislative building. They should not make so much noise that committee meetings or floor sessions are disrupted. They should not block anyone’s way.

That kind of real trouble occurred rarely, if at all, last year. But it bothered lawmakers just the same to have people come into their building and protest their policies.

Except, of course, it’s not their building. It belongs to the people, who have a right to express themselves about policies that affect them. When they come in, they shouldn’t have to tape their mouths — not even figuratively.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

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N.C. Rep. Larry HallNorth Carolina Democrats have been gerrymandered into a small minority for the upcoming session of the North Carolina General Assembly, but they sent a strong signal yesterday with their selection of a new House Minority Leader that they will not be rolling over in front of the expected conservative onslaught.

Rep. Larry Hall of Durham was an obvious and encouraging choice (though colleagues like Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville and Deborah Ross of Raleigh would have been eminently capable as well). Hall is a decorated Marine Corps vet, a smart lawyer, a gifted public speaker, and a committed progressive. While he and his colleagues will have few inside-the-General Assembly tools at their disposal to combat the conservative majority, his selection spurs hope that progressives will be developing principled and creative ways to shift the debate outside of the Legislative Building. Hall is a leader that progressive North Carolinians should watch closely and get to know.