Today marks the beginning of the 2006 Short Session in the NC General Assembly. Yesterday marked the beginning of ostrich mating season (yes, seriously). We'll just have to wait and see whether the two are in any way connected.
In addition to a bill that would prevent illegal immigrants from winning the lottery (yes, seriously), there are some big issues up for discussion: ethics reform, the gas tax, the minimum wage, and reforms to health care.
Ethics: This tops the list because it's most likely to produce some classic head-in-the-sand moments. Still, it's possible that this session will end after limiting lobbyist gifts to $10 per legislator per day, putting a stop to lobbyist meals (except at public events), and preventing lobbyists from serving on a state board if that board regulates a client's activities. Also look for discussion of a ban on corporate donations to issues groups.
Gas Tax: Easley says cap it, they'll probably cap it. The issue is a potential winner for Republicans, and Dems won't want to be seen as standing in the way of lower gas prices. Still, that doesn't address whether a cap is a good idea, but that's an area you shouldn't expect to see too much discussion on.
Minimum Wage: There are people making dire predictions about the potential for harm in a minimum wage increase; these warnings are, predictably, coming from the people who will be giving the raises (like the the N.C. chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses). Interested parties aside, there's fairly broad support for an increase from $5.15 to $6.00 an hour, and the bill has already cleared the house. Watch this one in the Senate—if it makes it through, Gov. Easley will have a great opportunity to do something for North Carolina's working poor.
Health Care: There are some great proposals going to the House this session—taking some of the Medicaid burden off of counties, encouraging businesses to offer insurance and creating a high risk pool, to fully fund the Statewide Program on Infection Control and Epidemiology, strengthen the public health safety net, and fix a failing State Employees health plan. Watch for Republicans to whine that protecting the health and welfare of North Carolinians is soooooo expeeeeeensive!!!