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Less is more in legislative session


The Senate chambers at the N.C. General Assembly will be full when the 2017 session begins today.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There’s sure to be some turbulence as state lawmakers settle in for the 2017 session, but with the possibility of special legislative elections this year, we could be in for a relatively smooth flight.

A federal three-judge panel last week refused to stay its ruling that some state districts are illegally gerrymandered by race. Judges have ordered new maps to be made by March and called for elections in the redrawn districts by November. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in, campaigning could begin in mere months.

It shouldn’t take the threat of defeat at the ballot box for legislators to be on their best behavior, but after the antics Jones Street spawned in 2016, we’re grateful for anything that will tamp down the partisan bickering.

Lawmakers will take their oaths of office and vote on procedural rules when the House and Senate gavel in at noon today for the ceremonial start of session, but the heavy lifting won’t start until they return to Raleigh later this month.

If Republican leadership can broker a compromise to repeal House Bill 2, look for a respite from polarizing social issues this year. That will be a welcome change for moderates on the right and left who agree the “bathroom bill” has been a costly distraction from education reform and economic development.

There are two possible paths to repeal — Democrats can learn to live with a moratorium GOP leaders wish to place on cities or the Republican supermajority can pass the legislation unilaterally if caucus bosses convince their members to fall in line.

As budget architects shape the state spending plan, expect robust debate over how best to improve public education. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper wants further increases in teacher pay. Republican lawmakers say rewarding principals, the local executives who influence school success, is a top priority.

While there’s always the potential for surprise legislation, we expect the real fireworks in state politics this year to come from the courts. Cooper has challenged two laws limiting the governor’s power rushed into office last year as a parting gift from Republican leadership and former Gov. Pat McCrory.

Cooper’s bid to singlehandedly expand the state’s Medicaid rolls could also wind up in front of a judge if President Barack Obama’s administration approves the plan on its way out of the White House.

Beyond adopting a state budget and making nips, tucks and tweaks to existing policy, we hope legislators have an uneventful session in 2017. North Carolina’s statute books are already bursting at the seams. Some new laws may be prudent, but we definitely don’t need more laws.

The N.C. General Statutes’ 168 chapters comprise 21 softbound volumes, enough legalese to challenge even the most studious scholar. Ignorance of the law may be no excuse for breaking it, but how can any conscientious citizen commit this monstrosity to memory?

When the people don’t know the law and can’t be assured their conduct is lawful, confusion reigns, selective enforcement is likely and liberty is limited.

For each law our elected representatives see fit to enact, we challenge them to strike two outdated, unclear or unnecessary ones from the books. It’s addition through subtraction.

The Wilson Times