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Bills are laughable so N.C. is butt of jokes

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor

This week some N.C. lawmakers are putting an exclamation point on the line from Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.” A bill proposed by two of them that says North Carolina and its counties and towns have the right to establish an official religion is getting the loudest national heehaws at the moment, and deservedly so. This crackpot bill states boldly that though the U.S. Constitution prevents Congress from creating an official religion, that ban does not apply to the states.

Even conservative N.C. religious leaders don’t buy that interpretation. But there’s one thing for sure, if those two lawmakers attended N.C. public schools they made the most compelling argument yet for overhauling the state’s education system.

But wait. There’s more.

Another bill filed this week exempts “a personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition” manufactured in North Carolina and “that remains exclusively within the borders of North Carolina” from federal law. I’m not joking.

Crime for enforcing federal law

Further, HB518 makes it a state crime for any N.C. public servant – that includes police and judges – or any agent of the U.S. government “or dealer selling any firearm” in the state to enforce or try to enforce any federal law regarding such firearms and ammunition made in the state and that stays within its borders. To do so would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Not only that, the legislation calls on the N.C. attorney general to “defend a citizen of North Carolina who is prosecuted” by the U.S. government for violating the federal law that lawmakers state in the bill citizens must violate to adhere to state law.

Really? Let’s just take a match and burn taxpayer dollars.

A similar bill was introduced in 2011 by former Rep. Glen Bradley, a tea party activist who lasted only one term in the N.C. House. The bill went nowhere, and this one deserves the same fate despite its attempt to give a boost to N.C.-made goods by requiring “made in North Carolina be clearly stamped, inscribed, or otherwise marked on a central part of the firearm” on all firearms in the state.

Here’s another laugh.

Senate Bill 667 was filed Tuesday. That bill continues the state’s assault on voting rights with this gem: Parents would face a tax penalty if their children register to vote at their college address. The bill with the moniker, “Equalize Voter Rights,” states that “if the voter is a dependent of the voter’s parent or legal guardian, is 18 years of age or older and the voter has registered at an address other than that of the parent or legal guardian, the parent or legal guardian will not be allowed to claim the voter as a dependent for state income tax purposes.”

The bill would also require voters to have their vehicles registered at the same address as their voter registration. That also could cut down on college student registration, since many students maintain their vehicle registration in their home counties.

This bill is clearly aimed at limiting the voting participation of college students who want to exercise their right to vote in the college communities where they live. Among college-age students in the last elections, Democrats have had an advantage, so the measure seems to target potential Democratic voters. To that, House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, had this retort that should give tax-conscious GOP lawmakers some pause: The bill “would raise taxes on middle-class families who are trying to put their children through college … I refuse to believe the Republican leadership has become so desperate to limit voting for partisan gain that they would be willing to support tax increases to achieve that goal. It is the definition of arrogance to penalize parents with new taxes just because their children want to exercise their right to vote in the community they live in,” Hall told WRAL.

Don’t stop laughing or crying yet. There also was this crazy item this week. The state Senate Education Committee approved S337, a bill that not only creates a separate governing board for state charter schools but drops the requirement that those schools have licensed teachers and that they have to run criminal background checks on employees. Bill supporters say charter schools should individually decide how many, if any, certified teachers they should have.

That bill got filed last week so there’s already been time for some national snorting at North Carolina’s expense. A Washington Post blog last Thursday dubbed the bill “scary” and lamented that “the North Carolina legislation may … be in a class by itself when it comes to removing any notion of accountability from charter schools.” Given that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the principal trade group for charters, says there’s a need for “tougher laws” governing charters and told USA Today that “it’s time to rein in growth and focus on quality,” N.C. lawmakers should let common sense take the lead on this one.

I’m not done.

Bill aims to restrict divorce

Another bill that was introduced last week but passed a first reading this week is called the “Healthy Marriage Act.” The bill would make married couples who want to get divorced stay together two years before they can legally go their separate ways. The theory is, according to sponsor Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, that the longer wait (there’s already a one-year wait) will get people to stay together.

I guess if the state can tell gay people they can’t get married – an N.C. constitutional amendment passed last year reinforced state law on that score – some lawmakers feel it’s only fair to force straight married couples to stay in a dysfunctional union. After all, it’s hard to use the sacredness of marriage as a defense to keep homosexuals out of it if heterosexuals keep destroying the image by divorcing.

Back off, lawmakers. Whether a person marries or divorces is not the state’s business. It’s ironic that Republicans who are so bent on keeping the government out of affairs in so many other ways keep trying to insert government into people’s bedrooms and relationships. This wrongheaded idea endangers the lives of people in abusive marriages.

Republican lawmakers don’t own the market on crazy ideas. But this year with GOP policymakers in control of both the legislature and the executive branch, some lawmakers are brazenly pushing through bills that are illegal, insensitive, unwise and just plain wacky. The state can survive being the butt of jokes, but its residents will struggle to survive the problems some of these proposals will bring.

Lawmakers, stop, take a deep breath and think. Please.

Email: fflono@charlotteobserver.com.
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