THE RALEIGH REPORT
October 6, 2017
The General Assembly held another special session this week that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Here is a report on what we did and what we should have done.
Judicial Gerrymandering (HB 717)
Racial and political gerrymandering for state legislative districts is a bad idea. It's an even worse idea for judges. People elect judges to act independently, to administer justice fairly and impartially. We need to do all we can to keep it that way. That is why I opposed making judicial elections in North Carolina partisan, shrinking the NC Court of Appeals, eliminating emergency judges, and changing how we fill judicial vacancies.
HB 717 threatens judicial independence by gerrymandering the lines by which the voters elect judges. Gerrymandering means the politicians pick the judges for the people, rather than the people picking the judges. We do not need partisan judges, but that is what this bill gives us. That’s a scary thought considering the judges are the public officials who can act as a check on the politicians.
I voted against HB 717. The Senate has not yet taken up the bill, but may in January. The partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts is now being debated by the US Supreme Court justices. Their decision will impact our challenge to the partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts and what happens to HB 717 in January.
House Votes to Cancel Judicial Primaries (SB 656)
The North Carolina Constitution provides that the voters elect our judges. This week the General Assembly passed SB 656. I liked some of the provisions in SB 656: It lowers the threshold to avoid a runoff primary to 30% and makes it easier for unaffiliated citizen to run for office. Yet I voted against SB 656 because of a last-minute, secret provision that eliminates the 2018 judicial primaries. The reasons to eliminate the primaries are political.
1. Eliminating the primaries makes it harder for the courts to stop the judicial gerrymandering plan (see HB 717 above).
2. Without primaries every candidate who files will be on the November ballot. That means a really long ballot, lots of candidates, and tremendous voter confusion.
3. A candidate can win a judicial race with a very small percentage of the vote if there are a lot of candidates.
Water Quality Veto Override (HB 56)
When it comes to drinking water, legislators should put politics aside and listen to experts. HB 56 does not solve the problem with GenX contamination in southeastern North Carolina and the growing statewide problem with contaminants.
Year after year of statewide water quality cuts have taken their toll. We need to fund the agencies responsible for protecting drinking water and holding polluters accountable.
Protecting drinking water should not be a political issue. The state agencies responsible for protecting drinking made a reasonable request for experts and resources to get the job done. Legislative leaders failed to include the necessary resources in HB 56 and that is why I voted No on the motion to override the Governor's veto.
Public Safety Cuts
You may remember that last November the voters of North Carolina elected Josh Stein to be our Attorney General. He is the top law enforcement official in our state. He also happens to be a Democrat. Earlier this year the General Assembly cut the budget of the state's top public safety and consumer protection official by $10 million.
The Attorney General's Office is very important, but also pretty small in size. A $10 million cut is devastating. Attorney General Stein responded as best he can by cutting 45 positions and shifting much of his office’s work to other state agencies. That amounts to $7 million in cuts. The final $3 million he cannot do responsibly.
We missed another opportunity this week to roll back these partisan public safety cuts. Instead, we doubled down by passing SB 582 which mandates the Attorney General continue doing work he does not have the resources or positions to do.
Class Size Chaos
Lower class size is important, but you have to pay for it. We have state laws that require lower class size in early grades. What we do not have is the money to pay for low class size in early grades AND fund art, PE, music, and specialty teachers.
Local schools have struggled to manage the lack of funding, but the General Assembly has taken that management flexibility away from them.
Earlier this year, the House restored the flexibility; Senate Republicans refused to go along. This week we had another opportunity to do the right thing, but House leadership backed down again to the Senate Republicans.
It appears "class size chaos" is here to stay. That means higher class sizes in older grades and some STEM/art/music/PE teachers losing those jobs so that we can hire more teachers for the lower grades.
The simple solution is to invest more in our public school.
What Could Have Been
I have lost track of the number of special sessions we have had this year. But I know this: each one costs you and other taxpayers a lot of money.
So what did you get for your money? The special session just concluded gave you judicial gerrymandering, further cuts to public safety and consumer protection, elimination of judicial primaries, a continuation of water quality cuts, and continued class size chaos as our local schools deal with unfunded mandates from the State.
House Democrats held a press conference where we put forward another approach for what could have been done this week:
1. Fund schools properly so we can invest in the kindergarten teacher and the art teacher down the hall.
2. Enact a principal pay plan that pays principals more given that North Carolina is last in the country in principal pay.
3. Begin a conversation about the gun safety and gun violence bills that have been introduced, but never allowed debate by Republican leaders.
4. Invest in statewide water quality programs to address the contamination problems threatening the whole state, but, particularly, southeastern North Carolina.
There are a lot more issues deserving of attention, of course. But these were four issues demanding immediate action that we could had made progress on this week.
How to Engage
It's tough to keep track of what is happening. Here are some ways to stay involved.
1. Call me or my legislative assistant Gina Insko at 919-733-7208 or email me at Inskola@ncleg.net with How can I get involved in the subject line.
2. Follow us on Twitter at @verlainsko and Facebook at Verla Insko.
3. Visit ncleg.net where you can see bills, listen to session, and see daily calendars.
4. Help us spread the word on social media or by forwarding this newsletter and other alerts or key news items.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.