Over the summer, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a series of controversial legislative measures. In response, large numbers of North Carolinians gathered to protest these decisions, prompting a protest movement known as Moral Mondays. This editorial will outline some of the most controversial legislative changes and consider what we stand to gain from the new wave of political activism in the state.
The legislature passed a voter ID law that includes, among other provisions, a measure that prohibits the use of student IDs when registering to vote. As we have written in a previous editorial, this provision will make it much harder for out-of-state Duke students to register to vote in North Carolina, and other sections of the law erect barriers to voting for low-income and minority residents. It is difficult to believe that the benefits of tightening voter ID laws outweigh the threat of disenfranchising some voters.
On July 3, the legislature also passed new restrictions on abortions. Some measures, like expanding protection for healthcare workers who refuse to perform abortions on ethical grounds and banning abortions based on the gender of the fetus, may be reasonable. Provisions that arbitrarily raise building standards for abortion clinics to cost-prohibitive levels, however, are unjustified attempts to restrict access to abortion. Proponents of the bill claim that it is in the interest of women’s safety, but critics see the measure as a political move designed to prevent women from having abortions.
The legislature also imposed major cuts to social programs, including unemployment benefits and Medicaid. Gov. Pat McCrory has asserted that these cuts will bring the unemployment fund out of debt by 2015. Regardless, slashing benefits for 170,000 unemployed people in North Carolina—which has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation—is unjust. It is unfair to punish people who are already unemployed, especially when few job opportunities exist.
We also question the General Assembly’s decision to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion—which would have provided coverage for 500,000 residents—on the grounds of fiscal unsustainability.
Although we cannot completely flesh out the aforementioned issues, we are perturbed by what unfolded this summer. North Carolina has budget concerns, and some of the summer’s legislation sought to allay them. Many of the new laws, however, fail to address the budget, and the pieces of legislation that attempt to reign in spending do so at an unreasonable expense. They unjustly harm parts of the population already struggling and often conceal a more sinister political motive.
On the bright side, it is exciting to see the passionate response from opponents of the Republican Summer. The state has a rich history of political engagement, and it is heartening to witness North Carolinians protesting the new laws. Many Duke students and professors have been involved in the Moral Monday demonstrations, and they have captured the attention of the media and many citizens not typically involved in political action. The actions of members of the Duke community are inspiring, and we hope both Duke and the wider North Carolina community continue to hold politicians accountable for their words and deeds.