Environmental concerns are real and warranted, particularly when it comes to public health. The GenX chemical produced by Chemours has been found in water supplies and the impact on human health is still being explored. The company has installed carbon absorption units and promises a $100-million pollution reduction project. In the end, overall fluorochemical pollution will drop by 99 percent, when compared to 2017 levels, company officials report.
But now there are concerns GenX is found in a Teflon-like coating on solar panels. Carolina Journal reported in July that GenX and its family of unregulated emerging contaminants are present in some of the solar panels increasingly dotting the landscape. North Carolina ranks second to California in solar production, thanks to lucrative state subsides. There are 249 solar companies operating in the state with hundreds of thousands of solar panels on farm land, on big box stores and on houses. There are concerns about pollution leaching into the ground, long-term effects on productive farmland and threats to public health. With a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, what happens as the panels wear out? How are they disposed of and whose responsible? What are the long-term health and environmental problems? Are they polluting now?
Are our privacy rights in danger? We saw a bill this session that would regulate digital communications in elections with broad disclosure requirements. It didn’t pass, but it raised important questions about regulating political engagement and free speech on the internet. Whether it’s mining personal data to use in electioneering, microtargeting voters or requiring public disclosure for engaging in political speech, privacy and free speech rights must be protected. Another bill to address the opioid crisis would give law enforcement access to a tracking system of people’s pharmacy records, if part of a drug investigation, without a warrant. Small steps to erode privacy rights, no matter how well intended, are a large step in the wrong direction.
A proposed constitutional amendment would give the legislature appointment powers over state boards and commissions, shifting that power away from the governor. North Carolina has close to 400 boards overseeing a variety of state government functions. Legitimate arguments and even lawsuits have resulted from these separation of powers questions, and rightfully so. But the bigger question is why do we have so many boards and commissions of unelected and unaccountable individuals making decisions, passing rules, and imposing criminal penalties? Instead of worrying about who makes the appointments, we should be asking whether we even need these boards and commissions.
A constitutional amendment would cap the personal income tax rate at 7 percent, down from the current cap of 10 percent. The rate is now 5.25 percent. Again, I think they missed the point. If the goal is to restrain government overreach, the better place to do that is a cap on spending. Without restraint on government growth, a cap on one taxing mechanism puts pressure on other taxing options. Cap the personal income rate and, when the big spenders are back in charge, they’ll raise the sales tax or corporate tax or property tax. Or they’ll invent new ways to tax. Cap spending, and there’s no need to scramble for additional revenue.
The General Assembly has made many changes to election laws — placed partisan labels on judicial candidates, expanded early voting hours, rearranged the Boards of Elections, and made new judicial districts. Democrats accused Republicans of making changes for their benefit. After 140 of Democrats having the power and structuring election laws to their advantage, any changes from Republicans would in fact be for their benefit. Republicans would be wise to remember the pendulum will swing back, and they would be wise to structure any changes to make elections fair, accessible, and equitable, and not to garner advantage for the party in charge.
Budgets passed as conference reports, hastily called special sessions and behind-closed-doors decisions aren’t good government. Transparency, fair process, and open government matter. The more debate and thoughtful consideration of a wide array of views results in better outcomes. This is true in legislative committees, on the floor of the General Assembly, throughout the governor’s administration, and within city and county meetings. Everyone deserves to be heard, and we are all better for it.
People want to work so let them. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Leave it alone. Ideas matter.
They’ll be back, probably a few times — beginning with a special session starting Friday — between now and Nov 27, the next scheduled date for the 2017-18 General Assembly to convene. Let’s keep talking. Before you know it, it will be Jan. 9, and time to start over.