Let local decisions be local

Plastic shopping bags litter an Outer Banks beach.
Plastic shopping bags litter an Outer Banks beach. Outer Banks Centennial

You would think that the General Assembly, under the leadership for several years now of Republicans, would be looking to push governmental decisions down to the lowest possible unit of government. These are folks with a deeply held commitment to circumscribing government power.

Except, of course, when they don’t.

Time and again, this legislature and its immediate predecessors have been quick to usurp local decisions — most recently and egregiously on LGBT protection from discrimination. And, as site-preparation work on the 751 South site in Durham reminds us, in overruling the Durham City Council on providing all-important utility service to that planned mixed-use mega-development.

The latest incarnation of Raleigh-knows-best is targeting a ban on plastic shopping bags on Outer Banks beaches. The state Senate approved a bill repealing that ban on Monday, voting mostly along party lines, and sent it to the state House.

Opposition to lifting the ban includes the local Chamber of Commerce, five town governments and Dare County — people who are in tune with and accountable to the folks who live on the Outer Banks. But the N. C. Retail Merchants Association, which we suspect has far more lobbying clout on Jones Street than those OBXers, says the ban is bad for business.

“There’s a lot of anti-business wrapped up in that ban on plastic bags,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said in a committee meeting Monday.

There’s a lot of interest in protecting beaches from litter that basically decomposes slowly if at all, and can be a threat to coastal birds. Ban opponents argue that its effectiveness is hard to prove, but again, that seems like a question best pondered by the Dare County governments, not the legislature.

Business interests, too, figure heavily in a legislative override of local decision-making that has troubled us for the dozen or more years it has been in effect. North Carolina is one of only two states (Maryland is the other) that mandates the earliest start public school terms can begin at summer’s end, and the latest they are allowed to close for summer vacation. The vacation/resort lobbies are big proponents of that mandate.

But it curtails decision-making that takes into account local factors and interests and enforces a lengthy period for the “summer slide” -- the tendency of students to lose ground in subjects over that vacation period, a tendency that impacts socioeconomically disadvantaged youth the most.

A number of bills in the current legislative session would loosen or end that mandated vacation period, but legislative leadership remains opposed. The law "is working well for the economy as a whole,” Senate leader Phil Berger told the Associated Press. “It is working well for families. I see no reason to change it."

That makes it unlikely we’ll see school calendar decisions returned to local school districts, where it belongs.