The North Carolina legislature, newly and completely dominated by agenda-wielding Republicans intent on solidifying their position and steam-rolling opposition, has wrapped up its 2013 session, successfully turning the Old North State into what should be a state of embarrassment.
The we-don’t-care-how-we-get-there legislators decreed ultra-restrictive abortion measures by slipping them into a motorcycle safety bill — after failing to get them in an “Anti-Sharia Law” measure. Governor Pat McCrory, who promised not to approve legislation that further restricted abortions, will almost certainly sign the bill, pretending that he’s only concerned with patient safety. The bill was lampooned by artwork comparing the female reproductive system to the head-on profile of a motorcycle.
As the session wound down, the legislators enacted the nation’s most restrictive voter ID laws, so obviously designed to suppress the Democratic vote that the measures will probably be — and should be — investigated by the U.S. Attorney General’s office as unconstitutional. North Carolina tags brag that we’re “First in Flight,” but the New York Times declared the state to be “First in Voter Suppression.”
Along the way, education took a beating, as legislators cut thousands of teaching positions, decreed that there be no raises this year (relegating NC teacher’s salaries to the nation’s bottom dwellers), and removed incentives for teachers to get further education to improve their teaching skills. Oh … and they also added measures to privatize education, offering vouchers for families to send their kids to private schools, which will be even more attractive now that they’ve put such a squeeze on public education.
If that were not enough, the Racial Justice Act was also repealed, making it more difficult for inmates on death row to appeal their sentences if they can show that race played a role in their trials.
Oh, and tons of federal money was turned down for unemployment benefits, reducing both the length and the amount of unemployment benefits and showing a callousness that defies belief — in a state with a high rate of unemployment. Another measure makes it much more difficult for the state’s poor to benefit from Medicaid, denying benefits to many residents. Meanwhile, income tax rates were cut (a much larger benefit for the wealthy) while sales taxes were added to many products and services that will dispropotionately impact the poor and make life harder for many small businesses.
Those are just a few of the measures that seem designed to transform the state from a beacon of moderate progressivism to a bastion of conservative plutocracy.
The good news is that we know the news, and remain free (more or less) to respond to it. The legislature’s draconian actions and no-care attitude led to a series of public demonstrations called “Moral Mondays,” which garnered only disdain and contempt from many legislators but helped the public to recognize just how immoral some of the lawmakers’ actions were. More than 900 people were arrested for peacefully demonstrating inside the legislative building. Polls showed that the Moral Monday protesters were far more popular than the Republican legislators’ plans.
We know the news, so at least we can celebrate that a free press has yet to be outlawed, and responsible reporters can shine needed light on the government’s work, whether it is in the interests of the people or the plutarchs.
That, according to a recent study, makes us happier: people who live in countries where there is a free press are markedly happier than those who live under restrictive regimes that suppress the press.
Even when the news is bad, we can be happy that the news is known.