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New session highlights second chance for previous ideas

 “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Yesterday kicked off the new two-year state legislative session, and many politicos have stars in their eyes at the possibilities inherent with the new beginning.

We should keep in mind, however, that the biblical wisdom cited above is certainly applicable to the legislative session. Some of the best ideas for North Carolina have been introduced or even significantly progressed through past legislative sessions.

By the same token, some of the worst ideas have also had their time in the spotlight – such as expanding the state’s Medicaid program, throwing money at the state’s education system with no other substantive reforms, and a general reliance on government instead of freedom and innovation.

For the sake of maintaining the optimism of new beginnings, though, let’s highlight some of the most promising legislation from past sessions that may warrant a second look in the new session.

Worker freedom initiative – North Carolina has been a right to work state since 1947. However, recent threats from unionization, especially of public sector employees, may prompt the legislature to consider adding the protection of worker freedom to the state constitution.

The North Carolina House passed a bill in 2017 that would’ve put a constitutional amendment on worker freedom on the ballot for North Carolina voter approval. It never got past the state Senate, but 2021 could be the year that legislators take this important step to protecting North Carolina workers.

Expand energy solutions – North Carolina law requires public utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their energy portfolio from renewable energy sources, which are defined in state law. Current law does not classify nuclear energy as a renewable source, and thus companies are not allowed to count their nuclear energy usage towards meeting the state mandate.

While a larger conversation about the value of such a mandate in the first place could also be in order, expanding the requirements could go a long way towards the state’s energy affordability and security.

A 2013 House bill, which did not pass either chamber, would’ve allowed nuclear energy to count towards the state’s renewable requirement. If North Carolina wants to take an “all of the above” market approach to energy policy, this 2013 bill could be a good one to revisit.

Increase healthcare supply – The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for reform in many areas, with healthcare supply being arguably at the top of that list. North Carolina has burdensome Certificate of Need laws requiring healthcare providers to obtain government permission to open or expand certain services in the state. How much of the healthcare shortage threat from the COVID-19 pandemic could’ve been mitigated had CON not been the law of the land for decades leading up to it? Even in the best of times, government artificially limiting the supply of healthcare can drive up prices for healthcare consumers.

CON reform has been proposed many times over the years, with an example from the most recent 2019-2020 legislative session coming from the Senate in Senate Bill 646 (note: some of the language did pass the Senate in the form of House Bill 126, but the CON reform was removed from the final version of the bill).

There will likely be many bills filed this session. Some will deal with new problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. But others will be a new chance to take advantage of a previously missed opportunity. The state has made significant progress towards increasing freedom in the past 10 years; the next decade’s best ideas for continuing that work may be right in front of us already.

Leah Byers / Government Affairs Associate