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N.C. General Assembly on a roll: Crumbling traditions or brave new GOP world

Lawmakers are altering the fabric of North Carolina and drawing sometimes unfavorable attention to the state with a flood of proposals, ranging from bills that would overhaul voting laws to a resolution that would allow for an official state religion.

After national ridicule, the “Defense of Religion Act” was tabled last week in the N.C. General Assembly. But other far-reaching proposals are proceeding.

Love it or hate it, change is coming.

“You know in Hollywood disaster movies there is always some lone person – usually ignored – who senses the early tremors of the earthquake or the distant sighting of the meteor or the readouts of the soon-to-be erupting volcano or the first wave of a tsunami?” blogged John Robinson, former editor of Greensboro’s News & Record. (johnlrobinson.com).

“ ... With the GOP takeover of the legislature and the governor’s office, the world as we North Carolinians know it is up for grabs.”

To understand the wide-ranging implications of bills pouring forth day by day, headline by headline, it helps to gather together a few of the more controversial proposals. In no particular order:

Voting: Not only would voters have to show a government-issued photo at the polls, college students would have to go home to vote or vote absentee. If they register to vote from their college address, their parents would be barred from claiming the students as dependents on their state income tax. Early voting would be shortened. Sunday voting, straight-ticket voting and same-day registration would be eliminated. Nonpartisan judicial elections would become partisan.

Fracking: The state could issue permits for hydraulic fracturing for new energy as soon as March 2015. There is now a ban on fracking to allow a newly created commission to write regulations that would govern such potential hazards as groundwater contamination.

Marriage: Couples would have to wait two years rather than one to divorce. They would have to take courses on communications skills and conflict resolution and – if they have children – courses on the impact of divorce on children.

Helmets: Anyone 18 years or older could ride a motorcycle without a helmet if the driver meets certain requirements, including having had a motorcycle license for more than a year.

Charter schools: Teachers would not have to have a college degree to teach core subjects. Criminal background checks and teacher certification would be optional. A separate governing authority would be created and would not answer to the State Board of Education.

Teacher tenure: Tenure in public schools would be replaced with contracts for one, two, three or four years.

Unemployment: This change, already signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, permanently cuts benefits for jobless people while temporarily taxing businesses until a state debt is paid off.

Executions: Executions could resume under a repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which provided a way for death-row inmates to challenge their sentences on racial bias grounds.

Sunday hunting: Hunting would be allowed on Sundays for the first time in 145 years – provided it’s on private land and with the landowners’ written permission.

Indecent exposure: Women could be sent to prison for going topless in public in legislation to amend the state’s indecent exposure law by including "the nipple, or any portion of the areola, or the female breast" in the definition of "private parts."

School bus speed: School buses could go as fast as 55 mph. Under current law, 45 mph is the top legal speed for buses with children aboard, and 55 mph for school activity buses. Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union, says slow buses are “a hazard.”

Building standards: Towns could no longer withhold building permits because of the type of materials used, architectural design or exterior color.

Bible study: High schools could offer Bible study as an elective course.

And that’s just for starters. Legislators have met for two-and-a-half months and have another month to introduce bills. They hope to eliminate personal and corporate income tax, reform the Medicaid system and provide for some type of school voucher. They might try to shut down campuses within the UNC system.

Rick Henderson, managing editor of Carolina Journal (carolinajournal.com), a publication of the conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation, said it’s been difficult to keep up. Henderson said legislators, buoyed by support from a Republican governor, are following the mantra Lee Iacocca adopted at Chrysler:

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

“I have heard someone describe the Senate ... as trying to go through the legislative session like Sherman’s army through Georgia,” Henderson said. “What they’re trying to do is help us rebuild the state’s economy. They feel they have a very limited amount of time to make the kind of reforms they want to make and put them in place before they get picked apart.”

But Chris Fitzsimmons, executive director of NC Policy Watch (ncpolicywatch.com), believes a “blizzard of reactionary legislation” is dismantling the state.

“Those loud rumbling sounds you hear are North Carolina’s progressive traditions and institutions quickly crumbling or more correctly, being leveled day by day by day by this wrecking ball of a General Assembly,” Fitzsimmons wrote. “If you have any inclination to speak up to stop it, now is the time. It won’t be long before you will not recognize the state you are living in.”

Leland: 704-358-5074
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