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N.C. Legislature Off to Quick Start

By Brent Laurenz

RALEIGH - The N.C. General Assembly is off to a fast and furious start this session. After getting to work in earnest on Jan. 30, we have seen a flurry of major legislation and important debates already come to the floor and some be sent off to the governor for his approval.

While some of the big debates like education and tax reform have yet to come up, in just a few short weeks the Republicans in charge have already churned out some consequential issues that have the potential to leave a large impact on the state.

It seems like it wasn't all that long ago when a month into the session leadership in the General Assembly would still be discussing committee assignments and rules, leaving the big, important issues for later in the session. Republicans clearly have a different leadership style and seem intent on sticking to their plan to adjourn by May or June this year.

Some of the big ticket items to already get a hearing before the House and Senate include unemployment insurance reform, blocking Medicaid expansion and a bill that would overhaul several state commissions and dismiss about a dozen Superior Court judges. All of these bills were met with strong resistance by the Democratic minority, but with Republican super-majorities in both chambers, passage of the legislation was in little doubt.

In addition to these bigger topics, there have also been some moments of levity – at least for reporters – in the early days. Bills regarding possums and nipples have seen a fair amount of discussion around Raleigh in the first few weeks of session.

The possum legislation would allow Brasstown to continue its New Year's Eve tradition of the midnight "possum drop." And while legislation affecting topless women is not often a discussion in the halls of state government, a bill has been introduced to clarify the state's indecent exposure law in response to topless rallies in Asheville. Not exactly the most pressing issues facing the state, but garnering plenty of attention thanks to their unique subject matters.

An efficient state government is certainly praiseworthy, but it's important to ensure significant legislation is not rushed through the General Assembly in the name of efficiency without proper debate and public input. While this hasn't been a major issue yet in the 2013 session, it's important to remain vigilant so citizens and journalists have advance notice of what bills are being discussed on a given day. Full and open public debate is essential to our democracy, and hopefully leadership will abide by that principle during the remainder of the legislative session.

From the first few weeks of the legislature's work, it is clear that Republicans hope to create a huge and lasting impact on state government in North Carolina. After being out of power for so long, they plan to seize this opportunity to overhaul government in their mold. And with full control of the House and Senate, as well as the governorship, Republicans have the power to do just that.

Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education.