A to-do list for legislators

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In this New Year, there is a widespread assumption among North Carolina politicos that state policymakers will do little of consequence. Instead, they will position themselves for the pivotal 2020 elections. They will strive primarily to commit no errors. They will stand pat.

Here’s hoping that the Cooper administration and the General Assembly rise above such limited expectations in 2020. While the governor and legislative leaders have profound disagreements, and will undeniably choose to take their case to the voters on such issues as tax reform and Medicaid expansion, there are other opportunities for cooperation. For the good of the state, they should act on them.

In no particular order, here are 10 such opportunities for reforming North Carolina government. None seeks to cross an unbridgeable ideological divide. All will require creative legislating and prudent accommodations on details.

First, let’s make it easier for North Carolinians to try out a new form of medical practice called direct primary care. Instead of paying or filing claims when you visit your doctor, you pay a membership fee. This reduces the “back office” cost that doctors end up passing along to patients, among other things. For direct primary care to fulfill its promise, we need a law clarifying that such membership fees aren’t insurance premiums.

Second, let’s expand apprenticeship programs. In recent years, North Carolina has made significant progress in diversifying our education and training options for teenagers and young adults. Many high-schoolers now take courses at community colleges or elsewhere that give them rewarding experiences and a head start on college credits. Some schools are rediscovering and expanding on the promise of career and technical education. Let’s involve employers more in formal apprenticeships.

Third, in the wake of court-ordered redrawing of legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 cycle, let’s make the improvements in our redistricting process permanent by enacting the Fair Act, House Bill 140, which includes a public vote on a constitutional amendment to combat abusive gerrymandering.

Fourth, let’s curtail the participation of North Carolina’s law enforcement agencies with the federal government’s “equitable sharing” program, which in effect allows governments to confiscate the property of people who have been accused but not convicted of an offense. Being tough on crime does not require being soft on property rights.

Fifth, also on the subject of criminal justice, let’s make it a default rule in North Carolina that if you violate the law without knowing it, you lack criminal intent (known as mens rea) and should not receive criminal penalties.

Sixth, let’s make it easier for nurse practitioners to provide critical services, especially in rural areas, by modifying the rule requiring that they work under the (often only theoretical) supervision of physicians, who take a cut of the nurses’ revenue.

Seventh, let’s submit a constitutional amendment to the voters that would limit the abuse of eminent domain in North Carolina. Governments should be able to condemn and take property only for a public use, not to convey to another private party for the purposes of “economic development.” Both Virginia and Florida have enacted such amendments.

Eighth, let’s begin the process of switching the accountability system for North Carolina’s public schools to a truly independent, nationally normed test for all relevant grades (the state already administers a national test, the ACT, to high-schoolers). An appropriate step in 2020 would be to authorize the Department of Public Instruction to study suitable, off-the-shelf national tests and make a recommendation by the end of the year.

Ninth, let’s make North Carolina’s budget more transparent by providing transaction-level detail on state expenditures and revenues on state websites, updated daily.

Finally, let’s make it easier for North Carolinians to change careers, and more enticing for people with special skills to move to our state, by reforming occupational licensing. That means both fewer licensing boards in general and lower costs to acquire professional licenses.

I think some version of each of these ideas could attract bipartisan support. Never know until you try.

John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation. Follow him @JohnHoodNC.

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