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Republican state lawmakers begin 2012 attacking workers' rights

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Vote to override veto, eliminate dues deduction for teachers

The New Year means new opportunities for our Republican-controlled state legislature to attack workers' rights, and the arrogant extremists in charge on Jones Street wasted little time in getting down to business.

Shortly after 1 o'clock in the morning on January 5, Republican lawmakers held a surprise vote to eliminate the ability of members of the North Carolina Association of Educators to have their dues deducted from their paychecks.

In the dead of night, without public notice or hearing or the opportunity for debate, Republicans voted to single out a group of North Carolinians for retribution because they had dared to organize and fight back against a destructive agenda of cuts to public education.

For the Republican regime in charge of the General Assembly, advocates for public school students and teachers are just political opponents to be crushed because opposition to their agenda will not be tolerated. Ending voluntary dues deduction for members of NCAE - and only NCAE - was retaliation pure-and-simple, said NCAE president Sheri Strickland:

“The message from the legislature is clear – if you stand against cuts to public education, we will teach you a lesson.

“If you point out that they have taken North Carolina to nearly dead last in per pupil funding, you will be bullied.

“If you say that we are short-changing our students, we will try and silence your voice."

NCAE has gone to court to stop implementation of the law and has won a temporary restraining order.

Midnight madness a show of contempt for people of North Carolina

The unconstitutional power grab orchestrated by House Speaker Thom Tillis has been widely criticized in the press. The Charlotte Observer said in an editorial that the move violated the public's trust:

"Republican leaders of North Carolina's legislature acted unethically - if not unconstitutionally - in the middle of the night Thursday.

"Aside from whether it's good policy to single out one organization for different treatment from all others, the dark-of-night vote was exactly the kind of disregard for transparency that fuels voters' disgust with politicians.

The abuse of power on display in the General Assembly during the early morning hours of January 5, 2012 revealed a new arrogance and disregard for the people of North Carolina, said Chris Fitzsimon at NC Policy Watch:

"And not just because the Republican leadership abused their power, went back on their word, cut off debate, and refused to disclose what would be discussed at a special session held at 12:45 in the morning when they announced it just 90 minutes before.

"And it is not just because they physically blocked a reporter from asking questions about their ridiculous manipulation of the legislative process [...]

"They have been routinely cutting off debate, holding hastily called meetings where no public input is allowed, refusing to disclose what will be considered in their endless special sessions.

"They have demonstrated time and time again their willingness to abuse the legislative process to serve their partisan and extreme ideological aims.

"As disturbing as it is, the arrogance inherent in all of that is not new among this group of legislative leaders. It just reached a new level this week."

Thom Tillis told reporters that they can conduct legislative affairs however they want because the people don't care, citing their absence during the surprise early morning session. The Charlotte Observer summed up Tillis' excuse this way:

He argued that the public should have known Republicans could force votes at 1 a.m. But unless you're tracking legislative doings at that hour, it's not clear how the public could have known. The Racial Justice Act bill was the only one on the agenda, and Republicans gave zero notice that they were calling a new special session that would start 90 minutes later.

Asked if he expected the public to be at the legislature at 1 a.m., Tillis paused and said: "They're welcome."

The whole affair should be "a learning experience," Tillis said.

What the voters have learned, said the Charlotte Observer, is "about how underhanded this particular crop of legislative leaders can be, and that they scoff at the notion of transparency."

As for what else these politicians will do to undermine democracy, workers' rights, and consumer protections for the rest of 2012, it's safe to say they are just getting started.