2013 legislative session reviewed
RALEIGH - The dust has finally settled on the 2013 long session of the North Carolina General Assembly and it’s fair to say that the Republican majorities in both chambers, along with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, have made an impression.
For the first time in more than 100 years Republicans controlled the state House, Senate and governor’s mansion, and it was clear from the outset that this year’s legislative session would produce significant changes to North Carolina’s state government.
Republicans in the General Assembly won sweeping victories in 2012, which, thanks in part to friendly legislative districts enacted during the 2011 redistricting process, left them with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. And they used those legislative supermajorities to carry through on many of their campaign promises.
The list of high-profile items tackled this year includes a massive overhaul of the state’s election system, new restrictions and regulations on abortion, cutting the personal and corporate income tax rates, expanding charter schools, changing gun laws, cutting unemployment insurance benefits, opting out of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, an effort to transfer control of the Charlotte airport and many other consequential pieces of legislation.
So far, leaders in the General Assembly have not had to worry about flexing their supermajority power since Gov. McCrory has not vetoed any legislation as of Aug. 12. He has until Sunday, Aug. 25, to decide whether to sign or veto the bills still pending on his desk, or he can let them become law without his signature.
Perhaps as a result of so many important issues being debated, this year’s legislative session was contentious at times as well, drawing weekly protests dubbed “Moral Mondays.” These demonstrations in opposition to the General Assembly’s actions attracted thousands of protesters each week and led to hundreds of arrests. The weekly protests and actions of the General Assembly also attracted an unusual amount of national attention this year, with coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, “The Daily Show” and many, many others.
Of course, the Republican majority had its own share of heated internal debates too, most notably on tax reform and the budget. It took several weeks and a one-month continuing resolution on the budget for GOP legislative leaders to agree on a tax-reform package and $20.6 billion spending plan for the state. At one point, House Speaker Thom Tillis projected they would adjourn by the Fourth of July, but the budget debate dragged on and they ultimately adjourned for the year on July 26. Internal strife is nothing new when a party controls the executive and legislative branches, but it was interesting to see the dynamics at play on such a high-profile issue.
The 2013 legislative session could go down as one of the most consequential of the past 50 years, if for no other reason than this was the first time in modern history that Republicans had full control of state government. That enabled the Republican leadership to enact any laws they chose without having to worry about opposition after decades of Democratic rule.
Time will tell how North Carolinians respond to the rightward shift, but for now we can expect to see more of the same for at least the next few years.
(Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping citizens fully participate in democracy.)