2011 Legislative Session Recap

So far, not good

This weekend, the General Assembly will adjourn and the legislators will go home … for now.

As you know, it was a new world at the legislature – the first time in over a century that the Republicans were in control of both chambers, and they were in control by comfortable margins in each.  And as one newspaper put it: “The GOP leadership [was] on an ideological search-and-destroy mission to erase years of progress in education, elections, public health, the courts, environmental protections, consumer protections, and, well, you name it.” One of those “you name its, ” of course, were bills aimed to reduce or eliminate protection for workers and their families.

We were inundated with bills, large and small, aimed both directly and indirectly at working families.  As just a few examples, we saw introduced:

  • a workers’ compensation bill aimed at – and as has been achieved in other states – drastically reducing benefit levels, eligibility for benefits, and employee privacy rights, among other things;
  • in the area of unemployment benefits, a bill to eliminate the Employment Security Commission as an independent entity and put its functions into the Department of Commerce; a bill that held extended benefits hostage to partisan politics; and bills requiring drug testing and voluntary  community service as a condition to receiving unemployment;
  • a bill to allow garnishment of paychecks for commercial debts;
  • a bill to outlaw “card-check” recognition under the NLRA;
  • a bill to greatly expand the authority  of company police;
  • a bill to allow predatory lenders to charge even more in interest and fees;
  • countless bills aimed at depressing the vote in elections, such as requiring photo IDs and shortening the early voting period.
  • a mean-spirited budget that moves us years backwards in education and many other important areas.

We worked on these and many other bills, including bills of special interest to particular affiliates. We were able to help kill some of these bills and to improve others; some we could not stop. A number of bills to improve conditions for workers also were introduced, such as bills to stop the misclassification of workers, to stop employer wage theft, to allow for collective bargaining for public employees, and to improve conditions for farm workers.  None passed. In the not too distant future, we will prepare a report to explain what happened in these and other areas.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of these issues or others, do not hesitate to give us a call.

The General Assembly is not entirely done for the year.  There will be one special session in July to consider redistricting, any gubernatorial vetoes and a few other issues, and another session shortly thereafter to consider constitutional amendments that can be used to rally the Republican voter base.  One of these could be the ban on card check recognition.  A number of bills about which we are concerned have been continued until next year’s short session, and we will need to be ever vigilant and active each time the General Assembly reconvenes.

Finally we want to thank you for all your work and support.  We in Raleigh – James, MaryBe, and Mike (and Mike’s law partner, Hank Patterson, who volunteered countless hours for us at the legislature in the workers’ comp fight) worked as long and hard on legislative issues this session as any time in recent memory.  Whatever strength and influence we have comes largely from the work you do, both when specifically called upon and also in so many different ways throughout the year.  Thank you again.