It’s as much a rite of spring as April showers, May flowers and puppy love: Legislators return to Raleigh for their “short session” and promise to adjourn quickly.
They say it every year; they’re saying it this year. They always have good reasons behind their prediction, but they never adjourn early. This year, however, those justifications have even veteran skeptics half-believing them.
Most North Carolinians probably don’t give two thoughts about the length of a short session. But session length has real-life implications, especially this year.
Why might they adjourn early this June?
Two reasons: politics and politics.
First, for most Republican legislators, opening day had to be unpleasant.
Public protests against the Republican agenda of 2011-13 surrounded the Legislative Building. Teachers, students, environmentalists and civil-rights activists were there, and those protests will only grow in coming weeks, especially the Moral Mondays.
The protests alone are bad enough. Then there are the news stories sent back to legislative districts. Some North Carolinians feel the pain of the GOP agenda directly – teachers and those who’ve lost benefits – others just read about it in the news. Many people aren’t happy. One recent poll gave legislators a favorable/unfavorable rating of 16 to 56 percent. The longer legislators stay in session, the longer their actions get negative attention at home.
Legislators want to get home to campaign, but they also want to be off of the newscasts and out of the papers.
The second level of political concern is the U.S. Senate race. House Speaker Thom Tillis, the GOP nominee, should be campaigning, raising money and moving toward the middle. The longer he stays in Raleigh, however, the harder all of that becomes, and the risk grows that some whack-a-doodle member will call for a state religion, state currency or the repeal of handicapped parking.
The national press has descended on Raleigh because of the Tillis race with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, and some North Carolinians may ask, “Who cares?”
Tillis cares because every story that The New York Times or American Prospect writes about the “radical right-wing agenda destroying North Carolina,” the more liberal money that flows into Hagan’s campaign treasury.
If the session is shorter, however, less legislation will get handled and that which does pass will likely get less serious consideration. Already, legislative leaders have told Gov. Pat McCrory they don’t want to handle his Medicaid “reform” proposal.
But time savers can make for bad public policy. Legislative leaders often agree on a budget and then load it up with special provisions. Some of those provisions are appropriate; they regulate spending. But others are substantive legislation that deserves full discussion in the public arena. Instead, it goes into a thick budget bill, and no one really sees it until it is voted into law.
The guess here is that legislators want to leave Raleigh early, before angry teachers by the hundreds finish school and have time to visit them.
Paul O’Connor wrote “Today in North Carolina” for many years. He’s filling in while the providers of this column find a permanent replacement for Scott Mooneyham.