Despite a nationwide underperformance by Republicans, North Carolina Republicans made meaningful gains, picking up two seats in both the state Senate and House. The change in legislative composition presents additional opportunities for lawmakers to continue their decade-long record of successful governing and increasing freedom for all North Carolinians.
As is the case every two years, the John Locke Foundation produces a legislative agenda featuring the most critical issues legislators need to focus on to keep North Carolina on its prosperous track. Backed by research and careful consideration, these policy recommendations would help make our state the freest in the union.
Locke’s 2023-2024 policy agenda comprises many issues we have championed in the past. Regarding fiscal policy and taxes, the General Assembly should continue keeping the growth of government in line with inflation and population growth, as well as look to repeal unnecessary taxes, such as the privilege tax. In education, lawmakers should protect and expand school choice programs and pass a parental bill of rights that prioritizes transparency and accountability. To support a growing economy and workforce, lawmakers should look for ways to make it easier for workers to utilize their skills free from undue burden and protect against occupational coercion. Finally, in healthcare, lawmakers should resist expanding Medicaid and instead focus on supply-side reforms to increase available services.
In addition to these core free-market issues, what follows are several others that Locke will promote.
A Responsible Energy Future
Following the passage of transformative energy policy last session, lawmakers need to carefully oversee the process by which the North Carolina Utilities Commission complies with the new law. This will be a multistep process with input from the legislature, NCUC, and private stakeholders. The new law sets goals for carbon reduction. However, carbon reduction shouldn’t come at the expense of ratepayers. The law stipulates that energy plans must be least-cost and most reliable. Parties in this process, most notably NCUC, should carefully adhere to the law, providing a responsible energy future for North Carolina that prioritizes innovation and choice.
As North Carolina has seen over the past decade, sustained economic growth is the product of sound fiscal policies. Yet there is still more to be done. One way to reduce unnecessary business regulations is by reforming the rules-review process. Executive agencies are given wide latitude to implement rules to carry out duties delegated to them by the legislature. However, the rules act as law when the Rules Review Commission approves them. Lawmakers can reform the rules-review process to curtail the expansive authority executive agencies have to unilaterally implement expensive rules or rules that run afoul of legislative intent. One reform is to require that all rules with a specific economic impact go to the General Assembly for final approval. Another way is to ensure policy documents, guidelines, and interpretive statements go through the rules-review process before becoming rules. Limiting the authority of the administrative state will better balance public interests with those of executive agencies.
Keep Housing Affordable
Another crucial issue for state lawmakers is housing supply. A state named No. 1 for business, and which also gained a congressional seat due to population increase, needs to pay careful attention to the housing market. To prevent a void of starter homes and allow for the middle class to afford homes, the state needs to focus on zoning reform to increase the supply of houses. Legalizing middle housing — such as duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units — can help improve the housing supply. In addition, local governments can be preempted from implementing arbitrary land-use restrictions — such as parking minimums, lot-size minimums, aesthetic requirements, and setbacks — which carry unnecessary costs and limit new construction.
Despite unfounded claims of rampant fraud in elections, the truth is that North Carolina’s electoral system functioned properly in the pandemic election, with only minor hiccups. Yet there are still reforms to increase trust through transparency in elections. First, lawmakers need to ban any private funding of election administration. Second, we need to ensure all ballots and registrations are legal. Third, election observers should have more access to voting process throughout election time. Elections are a core part of self-government. Modest reforms can boost trust among the public.
Bolster Second Amendment Rights
Lastly, lawmakers could improve Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens by repealing the Jim Crow-era pistol purchase permit. This policy was implemented across the South to limit the ability of black people to purchase firearms. The law is also burdensome and duplicative. Every other former Confederate state has repealed this law, and it’s time for North Carolina to join them. Doing so would ensure Second Amendment rights of North Carolinians are protected no matter what is going on in the world.
We offer our public policy agenda to lawmakers and the public to show what we believe should be legislative priorities this session. Each piece of our legislative agenda deals with individual liberty, free markets, and limited constitutional government. We look forward to promoting these ideals in the new year to increase freedom for all North Carolinians.
Jordan Roberts serves as the Director of Government Affairs at John Locke Foundation.