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Last week was Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Today the sun seems to have gone into hiding here in Raleigh.

During House Education Week last month, Speaker Thom Tillis tapped several school superintendents to serve in “education working groups” with legislators, with the intent of seeking superintendents’ expertise and input on policies and legislation related to education reform.

Last week, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that lawmakers had already met informally in these education working groups to look at regulatory reform and identify state restrictions that can be eliminated to give schools more flexibility. Future meetings are said to include superintendents.

The word on the street is that there will be an education working group meeting of lawmakers and superintendents tomorrow, Tuesday March 19, 9am-noon in room 306B of the Legislative Office Building. Multiple calls to Speaker Tillis’ office, however, went unreturned when asked to confirm whether or not this meeting is open to the public. Calls to various lawmakers’ offices about this meeting went unreturned; however, one legislator’s office did confirm that the meeting will take place tomorrow.

The open meetings law states that “Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.”

A public body is defined as: “any elected or appointed authority, board, commission, committee, council, or other body of the State, or of one or more counties, cities, school administrative units, constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina, or other political subdivisions or public corporations in the State that (i) is composed of two or more members and (ii) exercises or is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function.”

NC Policy Watch plans to try to attend the meeting tomorrow.

Thom Tillis 2In case you missed it over the weekend, even North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis now admits that the problem of voter fraud is illusory. According to Tillis, the reason we need to implement his controversial proposal to mandate photo ID for voting (and thereby threaten the franchise of thousands of citizens) is comfort.

Tillis told an MSNBC host that a voter ID law  “would make nearly three-quarters of the population more comfortable and more confident when they go to the polls.” 

Well, bless their hearts. We certainly wouldn’t want people to be uncomfortable while they’re casting an absentee ballot from their yacht in Monte Carlo — even if it means an 85 year-old in small town North Carolina has to catch a bus and pay money from her meager food budget to get a new birth certificate and state ID so that she can convince the people whe’s been voting with for decades that she is who she says she is.

In today’s “Friday Follies” edition of his column Chris Fitzsimon reminds us of how remarkably prescient House Speaker Thom Tillis was in his October 2011 speech to Madison County Republicans in which spelled out his plan for dividing and conquering people “on assistance” in our state. Now, as Chris notes, the dividing and conquering has moved on to outright punishment.

In case you’ve forgotten the specifics of Tillis’ offensive remarks, we’re happy to offer an encore presentation below. 

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Just in case the question occurred to you in recent days as you pondered the plan of conservative legislators to slash the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefit to $350 (and the average benefit to around $250), these amounts aount to about one-third and one-quarter, respectively, of what the lowest paid state legislator takes home.

Right now, a freshman member of the General Assembly with no special status gets paid around $996 per week when the legislature is in session ($268 in salary and $728 ($104/day) in per diem). Along with the salary, lawmakers also receive an additional year-round allotment of $129 per week in “expenses” and free health insurance.

For Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the totals are significantly higher: each receives $1,461 per week in salary and per diem plus another $326 in expenses and health insurance.

None of this is to say that the lawmakers are overpaid. There’s a strong argument that we ought to pay legislators significantly more so that more average folks without additional income would seek office. Again, the per diem allotment only runs while the legislature is in session.

Still, there’s something rather striking about men and women who are currently bringing home much larger amounts in public funds and benefits for what is supposedly part-time work (many of them hold down other jobs while serving), begrudging average unemployed people the already rather pitiful sums that they get. Remember, in addition to slashing the maximum weekly benefit to $350, the bill in question would cut the average benefit from the $29o range to the $250-$260 range.  Perhaps even more importantly, the bill also dramatically cuts the length of time an unemployed person can remain eligible and makes it harder to obtain benefits in the first place.

The bottom line: I guess we know why none of the legislators behind the bill (or Governor McCrory) is willing to take the $350 challenge.

 

Pat McCrory 4Any notion folks may have had that North Carolina’s new governor would be playing a leading role in crafting the state’s policy agenda this year seems to have already been partially dispelled on the first day of the 2013 legislative session.

Right out of the box, without any apparent involvement of Governor McCrory (or even a nod in his direction), Senate and House leaders have seized the initiative by introducing major, hard right proposals on such subjects as Read More