Whose agenda is this?

Watching the N.C. General Assembly's 2011-12 session thus far has been like sitting through a civics lesson on steroids.

There’s been the high drama of the Republican Party's complete takeover of the Statehouse for the first time since 1870; the crisis of looming budget deficits in the wake of a national economic tidal wave; the top-level friction of gubernatorial vetoes of both the state budget and controversial legislation; and earnest disagreement over procedure and policy — now on high boil as the proposed state redistricting maps are released.

I’ve been tracking this session's legislation for Mountain Xpress, focusing on the impact on Western North Carolina. This has included monitoring individual WNC legislators — the initiatives they’ve sponsored, the legislation they’ve helped (or failed to help) along.

In the course of all this, however, certain generalizations about the overall process and demeanor in the Statehouse have continued to nag at me. One development I find particularly perplexing has been the generous introduction of what I would term boilerplate legislation: bills whose language and focus were generated outside of North Carolina. These so-called "model bills," which are being introduced in state legislatures nationwide, can be traced to think tanks or other sources with a nonlocal agenda.

The bills don’t seem to stem from the particular needs of this state, nor from the minds of individual legislators seeking to represent the needs of their constituents. And ironically, given these bills’ generic nature, there’s an odd sort of reverse federalism afoot in the attempt to achieve such uniform legislation on a state-by-state basis.

North Carolina's legislative season began, for example, with a generically anti-federal proposal titled the N.C. Health Care Protection Act. The second bill out of the gate, its mission was to blunt the mandates of the federal Affordable Care Act. It passed both houses but was vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, North Carolina was one of 43 states with proposed legislation to restrict or oppose health-care mandates.

In the same vein was HB 301, which proposed a study committee on an alternative currency for North Carolina in case the Federal Reserve System breaks down. In the past two years, similar legislation has been introduced in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Idaho, New Hampshire, Vermont, Missouri, Montana, Washington and Utah (where gold and silver coins are now legal tender).

Another model bill that cropped up this session was HB 241, an attempt to exempt from federal regulation firearms and ammunition manufactured and maintained instate. Known nationally as "firearms freedom acts" or "10th Amendment" laws, they were proposed in some 23 states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona and Texas, according to the website http://firearmsfreedomact.com.

The North Carolina bill didn’t make it out of committee by the crossover deadline, so it’s theoretically dead for the remainder of this session.

Voter-related legislation was another prime topic. “Restore Confidence in Government,” requiring voters to show a photo ID, put North Carolina in league with Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin. This bill, too, was vetoed by the governor, but state legislators will have a chance to override the veto when they re-convene later this month.

Another national-model issue is restricting early voting: SB 47 calls for shortening the state's early-voting period and eliminating same-day registration, among other changes. Georgia and Florida recently passed similar legislation, and at this writing, an Ohio bill was on its way to the governor’s desk.

The General Assembly passed the controversial Abortion-Woman's Right to Know Act requiring a pre-abortion ultrasound procedure, but it was vetoed by the governor (an override vote is possible this month). Charlie Christ, then the governor of Florida, vetoed a similar bill last year, but his successor, Rick Scott, has since signed the requirement into law. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states now have some form of ultrasound regulation for abortion providers.

Tort reform has been yet another hot topic for national legislation. This session's Tort Reform for Citizens and Business (HB 542), addressing proof of medical expenses and the awarding of attorney fees, was passed and signed by the governor. The more sweeping Medical Liability Reforms (SB 33), dealing with malpractice claims, was vetoed, but it too is subject to an override later this summer.

Other model bills were also introduced, though some of them went nowhere. But given the abundant high-profile examples, one could begin to wonder if this Legislature has subscribed to an agenda dictated from beyond our borders. At the same time, Western North Carolina residents may wonder why our region's delegation produced so few collaborative bills this session.

Like other areas of the state, WNC is a microcosm with specific needs. Are they being appropriately addressed in Raleigh, or are state lawmakers arrogantly placing nationally generated political agendas above local concerns and local consensus?

I don't have the answers to those questions. But time — and future elections — will probably tell.

— Nelda Holder can be reached at nfholder@gmail.com.

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15 thoughts on “Whose agenda is this?

  1. Funded by the Koch Bros. Organized attack on women, workers and immigrents.

    “Ever wonder how the anti-worker, anti-immigrant, anti-woman legislation sweeping through states like Arizona, Wisconsin, Alabama, Minnesota, Ohio and Florida ended up in front of legislatures all around the same time and with strikingly similar language? Thank ALEC.

    ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with approximately $6.5 million in annual revenue. ALEC members include corporations, trade groups, think tanks and nearly one-third of the nation’s state legislators (almost all Republican) who share a common mission: to “advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty.”

    Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/meet-alec-the-group-taking-over-your-state-legislatures.html#ixzz1S04hWJrr

  2. Barry Summers

    LA Times article yesterday, on ALEC:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-epa-states-20110714,0,5030269.story

    Truthout story about ALEC, including Florida legislator who apparently lied to reporters about using ALEC materials in writing union-busting legislation:

    http://www.truth-out.org/publicopoly-exposed/1310660473

    Also, new effort by the Center for Media and Democracy, called ALEC Exposed, where they reveal hundreds of pages of documents including “model bills” voted on by corporations and legislators to be introduced as legislation (scrubbed of any reference to ALEC) in statehouses all over the US:

    http://www.alecexposed.org/

    (As of the posting of this comment, this website was down – it’s only been up for a day; it could be crashed because so many people want to read these documents, or maybe…)

  3. Bill Miller

    I am grateful that Rep Moffitt and other local residents are cleaning up the “progressive” mess created in Asheville by outsiders. Thank you republicans.

  4. Gordon Smith

    Bill,

    Which mess do you mean? The one that’s kept our real estate market from diving precipitously the way it has in nearly every other market in America? The one that’s held the line on property taxes while reinvesting in an aging water system? The one that’s made Asheville: Happiest Place, Best Place to Retire, Top Place to Visit in Fodor’s Guide, Best Place to Live, Best Arts Destination, Global Dining Destination, etc.?

    Which of these designations do you find problematic, and do progressives get some credit for them? I sure hope so!

    The bad mouthing of Asheville by conservatives is disturbing. We’re all Buncombe County residents, and we depend upon one another for our success. Attacking Asheville is attacking the successes we’ve all worked to hard to achieve despite a constant drumbeat of negativity from folks who have yet to articulate a vision.

  5. Bill Miller

    Gordon, far from “badmouthing” Asheville, I am happy Rep Moffitt is SAVING Asheville from more outsider meddling. You and your ilk have made Asheville into a liberal, boozy, hippy place.

    We have been a number one retirement area way before you transplanted here. Asheville was doing just fine before northern transplants starting trying to change us into what they left behind up north. You’ve run up our taxes to build parks we don’t need. You have taxed mom and pop businesses out of downtown so that only Manhattan transplanted trust fund baby “hobby” businesses can survive. Preachers in Pritchard Park have been replaced by pot smoking hippies, drunkards and bums.

    Asheville is one of the happiest places on earth STILL in spite of the influx of “progressives” like yourself.

    Thank God and thank Rep Moffitt that we will be putting the governance of our dear Asheville and WNC back into the hands of conservative locals.

  6. Ashevegasjoe

    Yes, Mr Miller, far be it from Repulitards to mess up everything. If only they controlled the entire country. We wouldn’t have to deal with messes like the EPA, FDA, OSHA, Social Security, Meidcare, Medicaid, and the Department of Education. Your insights are truly Bachlovian (Bachman/Pavlov).

  7. Barry Summers

    Attacking Asheville is all they got. There’s a pathological love/hate thing between the City and the County – they love the extra revenue that Asheville generates & is distributed countywide, but they resent that they are dependent on us. Check out the sales taxes raised in the various municipalities (esp. Asheville), and how that money gets distributed (esp. to the unincorporated parts of the County):

    http://freepdfhosting.com/a7d98cf9c4.pdf

  8. Gordon Smith

    Property tax rates since 2003, when Brownie Newman became a member of Council and it began trending more progressive. There have been no increases to this tax rate at all, and the 2006 property tax rate decrease was enormous.

    2003 0.53

    2004 0.53

    2005 0.53

    2006 0.4238

    2007 0.42

    2008 0.42

    2009 0.42

    2010 0.42

    2011 0.42

  9. RHS

    Mom and pop businesses were being driven out of downtown by the Asheville Mall nearly 40 years ago and the area was a ghost town during musch of the 70′s and 80′s. It was revitalized, not entirely but in large part by “northern transplants.”

    I would imagine that Henderson County has at least a high a proportion of “outsiders” in its population as Asheville, but that it never gets the criticism that Asheville does simply because they are more likely to be right wing Republicans.

    All of the above is spoken from an 8th generation Asheville native who appreciates the contributions “outsdiers” have made to Asheville knowing that my ancestors were viewed as such by the Cherokee.

  10. trav-on-hiatus

    Gordon Smith,
    The mil rate doesn’t tell the whole story and it is deceptive to attribute the drop in that rate to “progressive politicians”. Re-assessments are required every 8 years and the county does them every four years (or at least did). Wouldn’t be more accurate to reveal the change in assessments that allowed the drop in mil rate to keep tax bills “revenue neutral” (or at least claimed)? It should also be pointed out that Asheville has the highest mil rate in the county while the “less progressive” communities elsewhere have considerably lower mil rates e.g. Woodfin with it’s $0.265 rate.

    Perhaps you are just being the politician and not telling the real story here.

  11. Politics Watcher

    How do the property tax rate declines that Councilman Smith cites relate to the inflated real estate values driven up during those years by the real estate bubble? Weren’t the drops mandated so the so-called rise in real estate values would not in itself generate additional revenues. Don’t reevaluations have to be “revenue neutral?” I may not understand the terms.
    That raises the question as to why, now that property values have declined to more realistic levels, property taxes have not declined accordingly? Older home owners, who do not in North Carolina get any kind of homestead exemption except at poverty levels of income, find their taxes as high as the inflated values of their homes, making it difficult to stay in them on fixed incomes. Is there any relief for them?

  12. trav-on-hiatus

    politics watcher,
    That is the missing reality in Gordon’s assertion. Actual property tax bills i.e. the amount of money property owners pay the city each year have not fallen 20% from 6 years ago despite his touting of the drop in mil rates.

  13. Politics Watcher

    Thank you to Trav-on-Hiatus for further clarification. Perhaps Councilman Smith will respond to my concern about our senior citizens who find their property taxes artificially inflated by the housing bubble.

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