Tis the season for frivolous legislation
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
With the budget nearly done, legislators are now turning their attention to the state's most pressing problems: Are teachers showing too many movies in class? Is it OK to drink alcohol on a golf course? And should the state designate an official fly fishing museum?
Yes, these are all real issues that have surfaced in legislation in recent weeks. You'd think state leaders would have bigger fish to fry, but many of them think their random whims should be addressed in the few weeks left before adjournment.
That's resulting in a breakneck schedule of committee debates that become full of distractions. Last week, I sat through a meeting in which lawmakers spent hours debating the appropriate penalty for prison inmates who expose themselves. Your elected leaders spent so much of their energy making sex jokes, they almost ran out of time for a complex bill designed to tackle the opioid crisis.
The opioid bill will probably pass, but it's competing for attention with odd or unnecessary proposals that become shiny objects for legislators, reporters and the public. Some teachers are upset with a bill from Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, that would force every school board to compile a list of “each movie shown during instructional time at each school.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Swain, wants to insert a shout-out in state law to a fly fishing museum in his district. The museum would get an official listing alongside North Carolina's official state trout (the Southern Appalachian strain of brook trout) and the official state marsupial (the Virginia opossum, because that totally makes sense).
Over in the Senate, alcohol policy guru Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, is making sure golfers have the cocktails necessary for the perfect stroke. His annual alcohol deregulation would -- among other things -- make it clear that alcoholic beverages purchased at the clubhouse bar can be legally enjoyed anywhere on the course.
While hardly necessary for the state, those bills at least have a chance at passage. Democrats are spending their time this session filling up GOP leaders' trash can with legislation that has zero chance of becoming law this year.
The minority party knows full well that gun control measures, legalized marijuana and an increase in the minimum wage won't get a hearing. But they also know the bills will garner some media coverage and help energize their base for this fall's election.
Between the oddball idea Republicans and the Don Quixote Democrats, the legislature could adjourn tomorrow and most of us wouldn't notice. Thankfully, a few lawmakers in both parties are working quietly on impactful legislation that most folks can agree on.
Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, proposed an amendment to a license plate-related bill last week that would automatically renew handicapped parking placards for people over age 80. He said the change was requested by an 86-year-old constituent who told him the renewal process was an unnecessary hassle. "I thought if you've had a handicapped placard and you're 86 years old, your body is not getting stronger and you should just get automatically renewed," Daniel said.
You can even find some bipartisanship in the Legislative Building if you look hard enough. One of the House's most liberal members, Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, teamed up with powerful conservative Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, on legislation addressing the power of social media and internet campaign ads. Their bill would create new disclosure requirements so we'll know who's paying for the ads on our screens.
Legislators should look to those proposals as models if they want make a real difference this session. Anything else can wait until next year.
Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.