I missed this protest because of pneumonia, but I'll drag my sorry, coughing ass to Raleigh on Monday, June 10, to celebrate my 53rd birthday with songs of protest, some plastic wrist ties, and a bus to the local correctional facility.
I've been a citizen lobbyist traipsing through the halls of the General Assembly two or three days a week since March. I've met with scores of legislators and their assistants, and I've gabbed with the conservative lobbyists who themselves drafted the bills that are being voted on. One representative called me a "baby murderer" when I delivered information to his office about the potential effects of reproductive-rights restrictions. I was called a terrorist when I told one senator that a bill to introduce a state religion would trample the rights of those of us who aren't Christian.
So it's not for lack of trying to engage in civil discussion that those of us opposing this odious slate of legislation are brought to the point of reclaiming "The People's House" by coming inside to sing songs of peace and refusing to leave.
We are overwhelmed and overcome by the sheer volume and head-scratchingly regressive content of the more than 2,000 bills that have been produced during this legislative session. The number of bills is so high that Speaker Thom Tillis' own policy aide said that trying to interject such craziness as objective needs assessments and impact studies is impossible: "It would be like trying to drink from a fire hose," he told me and a colleague in May.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, here are just a few of the odious bills that survived crossover. Yes, this is an exhaustive list. In less than 12 weeks (from January lawmaker installation to bill submittal deadlines late in March and early in April), nearly 1,000 bills were submitted in the N.C. Senate and more than 1,000 in the N.C. House.
- House Bill 146 and Senate Bill 243 require the instruction of cursive writing and that students learn memorize multiplication tables. This bill effectively strips the N.C. Department of Education of its authority to establish curriculum guidelines and hijacks instructional time from addressing testing measures that schools must meet to retain public funding.
- House Bill 935 tightens income eligibility requirements to 100 percent of federal poverty level. If passed, thousands of children in Wake County Public Schools alone will no longer qualify for pre-K services.
- Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 230 broaden the definition of home schools. Parents or guardians would no longer have to provide instruction; having parental determination of the course of instruction and additional sources of education would meet the definition.
- Senate Bill 337 creates an independent board to manage charter schools and removes requirements that instructors hold teaching certificates. Teachers of core courses at charter schools would not even be required to have a college degree of any kind.
- Senate Bill 236 allows the boards of commissioners in nine specific counties, including Wake, to take control of school construction and ownership away from school boards.
LOCAL GOVERNANCE, REGULATION, AND OVERSIGHT
- Senate Bill 334 sends the city of Raleigh back to the negotiating table with state leaders as it tries to turn the state-owned Dorothea Dix property (formerly a hospital treating the mentally ill that was closed due to state budget decisions) into a city park. This bill nullifies an agreement that the state and the city of Raleigh spent years negotiating.
- House Bill 150 limit local governments’ ability to set design and building standards for houses.
- House Bill 120 restricts local authorities from imposing additional inspections on home builders and delays state building code upgrades to every six years instead of three years.
- Senate Bill 325 redraws the Wake County school board districts in a way that critics say will politicize the seats and benefit Republicans. This bill sets aside current school board district boundaries that were established after the latest census; effectively, the newly elected school board members could see their terms cut by two years, while other school board members could see their terms extended by two years without reelection.
- Cities can’t ban the selling of large, sugary drinks under House Bill 683. It also prohibits lawsuits against food makers for obesity or health issues.
- House Bill 1011 would replace more than 100 incumbents on regulatory boards with Republican-appointed members. In just two instances, this bill eviscerates the power of the public utilities commission to have a public advocate and the state geologist sitting on the regulatory board overseeing utility issues.
- Voters will be required to show photo identification at the polls under House Bill 589. There is no similar requirement for absentee balloting.
- House Bill 311 puts it to voters to remove a literacy test to vote from the state constitution.
- State-mandated energy efficiency standards for new commercial construction would be rolled back by 30 percent under House Bill 201.
- Senate Bill 76 lifts the state’s fracking moratorium in 2015, allowing deep-well injection of fracking waste and ceding control over public transparency of chemicals and processes used to drill gas wells in North Carolina to the fracking industry. This bill is expected to change substantially after crossover, due to industry pressure to eliminate oversight panels and commissions and offer more control to fracking giant Halliburton.
TRANSPORTATION [AND RACISM]
- House Bill 786 (The RECLAIM NC Act) offers "special driving permits" for immigrants who are in the United States illegally. Along the way, the bill establishes tough new immigration enforcement measures for police and the courts.
- House Bill 628 promotes the use of North Carolina-grown timber in state buildings, which would keep them from receiving LEED green building certification.
- Senate Bill 515 repeals rules that have been in place for several years to improve water quality at Jordan Lake. It would require new rules be written that restrict efforts to solely cleaning up the lake itself rather than examining and addressing sources of upstream pollution.
- Senate Bill 151 allows the building of terminal groins or jetties in all 14 of the state’s inlets despite warnings that the state’s beaches would end up looking like New Jersey’s.
- See FRACKING information in SB 76, outlined above.
- Senate Bill 306 repeals the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to appeal their sentences on the grounds of racial bias in the court system. If a judge agreed, the inmate's sentence could be commuted to life without the possibility of parole.
- Senate Bill 327 prohibits the sale of cars in North Carolina by unlicensed out-of-state dealers online or by phone. It is aimed specifically at Tesla.
- Senate Bill 489 raises the rate on many consumer finance loans. Previous N.C. law prohibited interest rates higher than 36%; SB489 eliminates any maximum interest rat and also strikes down the clause that prohibits penalties for early payment of principal and interest.
- House Bill 829 allows restaurants and grocery stores to fill 64-oz. "growlers" of beer.
- House Bill 834 enables a massive government restructuring, creates more political appointee positions and weakens civil service protections for state employees.
- House Bill 872 prohibits state contracts that require contractors or subcontractors hire union labor.
- House Bill 937 allows people with permits to carry concealed weapons to bring their firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, onto college campuses, and on public greenways.
- House Bill 17 makes confidential the records of permits issued to purchase handguns and to carry concealed weapons.
- House Bill 716 makes it illegal to perform abortions based on the gender of the fetus.
- House Bill 730 expands to all health-care workers legal protections for refusing to participate in abortions, and prohibit the state’s health insurance exchange and cities and counties from providing coverage for abortions.
- Senate Bill 132 requires schools teach that abortion is a “preventable cause” of premature birth in subsequent pregnancies. [N.C. state law already requires the teaching of "abstinence-based" sex education. Current law is an improvement of a pre-2010 law that required "abstinence-only" education.]
- House Bill 695, aka Anti-Sharia Law, prohibits judges, mediators and agencies from applying foreign law to divorce, child custody, alimony and other similar domestic cases. This comes from the same pro-Christian Republican legislators that put forward bills to establish a state religion, strictly regulate abortion, require divorcing couples to pay for mandatory counseling for two years, and create all sorts of other Sharia-like laws in North Carolina.
- Senate Bill 648 would make undercover investigations by anyone other than law enforcement at any business illegal in two different ways. Nicknamed the "ag-gag law," it is meant halt to investigations of animal cruelty or food-safety violations by animal-welfare groups and the news media. The bill would prohibit lying or failing to disclose information on a job application to gain access to a business for the purpose of taking photographs, videos or audio, or to remove records from a business. The second part of the law would require someone who obtains those recordings or records under that guise to give them to police within 24 hours or face additional charges under the same law.
Even this abbreviated list is exhausting, isn't it? But this is what we're up against in North Carolina. This is why we fight. We're faced with a well-funded Republican and/or Tea Party supermajority in the N.C. General Assembly that is throwing everything it can find at us and affording us no opportunity for public input. None.
Not even pointing out arithmetic errors in budget-impact estimates attached to the bills slows them down. The voter ID bill, for instance, comes with a fiscal note that estimates $6.3 million in spending over four years -- and fails to add figures from some of its own columns properly, thereby underestimating the actual projections. When I pointed this out and asked Rep. David Lewis and Speaker Tillis' offices to slow down processing on the bill before passing it on to the N.C. Senate, staff just scoffed and told me to send the notes to my own Democratic senator for review. They know, of course, that Democrats have virtually no opportunity to even attach amendments to these bills; several times, Democratic amendments have failed to be voted on or have been voted on in a mass voice vote with no opportunity for challenge.
So. Yeah. I'm sick. But this raft of legislation making its way down the river of repression is sicker. And if it's all passed, we are facing a pandemic of voter suppression, elimination of reproductive healthcare rights, decimation of public education, the shutdown of decades of civil-rights progress, and much, much more.
On Monday afternoon, join me and thousands of North Carolinians in chanting our promise, "Forward together. Not one step back!"