Session After Session, Our Legislature Ignores the Kids
The never-ending General Assembly session resumes in a few weeks, with the House reconvening the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Senate getting together the next day.
There's no indication of what lawmakers who are supposed to represent us will be discussing, though the adjournment resolution passed in the recent redistricting session mentions legislation related to redistricting, election laws, casinos, veto overrides, and "concurrence in any committee substitute or amendment," which means they will take up whatever the legislative leaders want to consider.
There are rumors about certificate of need regulation, economic development legislation and adjustments to a Medicaid budget that is now $139 million short because of the unrealistic savings the Republicans built into the spending they approved this summer.
The continuing stop-start sessions with secret agendas are the exact opposite of the open, transparent legislative process the Republicans promised to bring to Raleigh.
The vague agenda for the post Thanksgiving session is also noteworthy for what it doesn't include: a judge's order to provide access to pre-kindergarten programs to at-risk kids as part of their constitutionally guaranteed sound, basic education.
Superior Court Judge Howard Manning issued the order in July and rejected lawmakers' appeal in early September. A few weeks later, Gov. Beverly Perdue presented legislative leaders with a plan to enroll 6,300 more at-risk 4-year-olds in NC PreK on Jan. 1, 2012.
Perdue proposed using unspent funds to offset most of the $30 million cost of enrolling roughly the same number of kids the Republican budget cut off from the program. She also outlined a plan to phase in enrollment of all at-risk kids in the next few years.
The response by legislative leaders to Manning's order and Perdue's commonsense proposal to address it was first derision, with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger saying Manning was trying to create a "massive new welfare program from the bench."
Rep. Nelson Dollar, who has been busy lately defending the Republicans' woefully inadequate Medicaid budget, said at the time Perdue's plan was "careless."
Now Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis have adopted another strategy: Just ignore a judge's order and a governor's request and all the at-risk 4-year-olds they are turning away from a program that has proven to help them start school with a far better chance to succeed.
NC PreK, which is the new name for More at Four, has not appeared on any list of possible topics for lawmakers to consider when they come back this month or when they convene the next few scheduled stop-start session in 2012.
And nobody mentioned the kids when the General Assembly met in September to debate the ridiculous gay marriage amendment that will be on the ballot in May.
That's prompted talk of thousands of children on a waiting list, an idea that's absurd on its face. Putting a 4-year-old on the waiting list for a program that only serves 4-year-olds doesn't make much sense when the kids turn 5 and start school. There's no time to wait.
That doesn't seem to bother Tillis and Berger and company. They just keep ignoring a judge and a governor and thousands of children who need help.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at email@example.com.
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