From Chris Fitzsimon, director of N.C. Policy Watch, a liberal think tank in Raleigh:
House Speaker Thom Tillis and his top lieutenants held a news conference last week to announce that a voter ID bill would be crafted deliberately with public hearings and input from outside groups and then discussed in a series of committee meetings, not just unveiled and voted on in the same hour.
Thats puzzling for a couple of reasons. Shouldnt every important piece of legislation be handled that way, with input from experts outside the legislative building and the chance for people actually affected by a proposal given the chance to address the lawmakers who are supposed to be representing them?
Tillis apparently thinks it is newsworthy to announce that the House will have an open process to develop key legislation. And under his leadership, especially this year, it is.
In the last few weeks, the House and Senate have both approved a complicated bill that would refuse Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and thereby deny health care to 500,000 people and cost hospitals in North Carolina more than $12 billion in revenues.
Surely that deserved more than the rushed committee meetings held to discuss it in the House and Senate. If Tillis thinks it is a good idea for lawmakers to hear from interested groups about voter ID, why for example werent experts with the Institute of Medicine invited to talk about the groups study showing how Medicaid expansion would create thousands of jobs?
Why were no rural hospital administrators given the chance to talk in public to committees about how the Affordable Care Act would help them by reducing the number of people showing up at their emergency rooms with no health coverage and no ability to pay for their care?
The House and Senate also approved a massive rewrite of the states unemployment insurance system that slashes benefits to workers and denies federal emergency help to 170,000 people who were laid off from their jobs through no fault of their own.
A few advocates for workers did get a minute each at a committee meeting to explain their concerns about a bill that was written in secret with business lobbyists, but that hardly meets the test of meaningful input.
Only now is Tillis willing to slow the legislative process down, for voter ID legislation. You dont have to be much of a cynic to think its because Tillis is reading the polls and believes that the majority of voters support a voter ID law.
Theres no need for more restrictions on voting of course. Theres no evidence of any significant voter impersonation fraud. All the law will do is make it harder for thousands of people to vote, especially seniors and people with a disability who are less likely to have a current government issued photo ID.
Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill to deny Medicaid expansion but neither the public nor the media were invited. McCrory signed the bill slashing unemployment benefits the same way, in private with no members of the media there to report it or ask questions.
Our state leaders apparently have interesting criteria for transparent government. They want to do things in the sunshine only when they believe they are reasonably popular.
Tillis and McCrory are missing something important here. If they dont want to sign a bill in public or listen to experts who might disagree with them, maybe they shouldnt be signing or passing the bills in the first place.
We need and deserve transparent government all the time, not just when politicians believe it is in their own best interests.