Opinion: Daily Journal

Lawmakers’ work is ongoing, and there’s nothing secret about it 

State government is a $50 billion operation, the work never ends — and the public is welcome to witness much of it

Members of the state House of Representatives jointly take the oath of office in January as the 2017 General Assembly session opened. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
Members of the state House of Representatives jointly take the oath of office in January as the 2017 General Assembly session opened. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

The state legislature adjourned the 2017 long session June 29. They were done, right? Expected back all afresh and new in spring of 2018 after a long break of doing nothing? Not exactly.  

They’ve held special sessions in August, October, and January, when they passed a technical corrections bill, confirmed appointments to state boards, overrode five of the governor’s vetoes, including two regulatory reform bills, and dealt with ongoing redistricting questions. Are these special sessions a devious plan by Republicans to hold secret sessions, as sometimes claimed by the left?  

Hardly. Since 1985, special sessions have been held after regular sessions in 17 years — three under Republican control and 14 under Democrats. Overall, including years with more than one special session, Republicans called nine special sessions, and Democrats called 16.  

This is how the General Assembly does its business. 

In the interim, numerous joint oversight committees, study committees, and task forces are held. They look more closely at issues introduced in the short session, make adjustments to keep state agencies working, review reports, ask questions, consider new ideas and review old ones. The interim committees are a good way to track legislative priorities, get more in-depth information and get an idea of what to expect in the short session.  

A new legislative research commission is looking at access to health care in rural North Carolina. Beginning with the (correct) assumption about a lack of access to health care in rural areas, experts and opinion leaders will discuss expanding the scope of practice for providers, such as nurse practitioners and optometrists. Other proven ways to increase access to care include telemedicine, direct primary care, and repealing outdated Certificate of Need laws.  

The Joint Legislative Education Finance Reform Committee is looking at alternative ways fund K-12 education, to which North Carolina appropriates about $9 billion annually. The current system allocates that money per student based on a convoluted, outdated, overly complicated and non-transparent funding formula. The committee will spend about two years studying and hearing from experts on how to simplify the funding formula and determine a system that’s open, fair, and focused on better outcomes. 

The Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee meets regularly and has spent a good deal of time looking at reforms to occupational licensing regulations. Research indicates the state regulates more occupations than most states, requiring burdensome educational requirements, costly entrance fees and are a real barrier to entrepreneurs, particularly for trade professions. The committee will look at requiring additional scrutiny on agency rules that impose significant financial costs. 

A new study committee plans to look at deconstructing school districts. Wake County, with 159,549 students in 171 schools, is 15th largest district in the U.S., for example, with Mecklenburg County close behind. Has Wake and Mecklenburg become too big to most effectively serve students? Would breaking them into smaller, more manageable and accountable districts produce more opportunity and better outcomes?  

The Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy is following up on the implementation of the 2017 energy bill, ensuring provisions are implemented as the law intended, including mapping to ensure there’s no interference from wind turbines on military operations. They also are looking at the impact of electric vehicles on infrastructure and the grid.   

The Joint Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting and Reform is looking at a House proposed redistricting map updating statewide judicial and prosecutorial districts for the first time since the 1960s. There’s also discussion about how we elect judges, whether our current system of popularly election with partisan designation is the best way to elect judges, or if some kind of merit selection with a retention popular election would result in a better judiciary.

Any changes to the maps could be enacted by the General Assembly. The governor’s approval isn’t required, while changes to the way we elect judges would be by constitutional amendment requiring a vote of the people.

It may seem lawmakers never leave Raleigh, because they don’t. State government is a $50 billion operation, and the work never ends. All of the meetings are open to the public, in many cases audio is available, and Carolina Journal and the John Locke Foundation report on many of these interim meetings. My friends on the left make accusations of secret meetings conducted behind closed doors on issues pulled out of nowhere. But they just aren’t paying attention. 

Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.