RALEIGH With the start of the 2017 legislative session mere days away, North State Journal sat down with N.C. House majority leader Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne County) to discuss the Republican caucus policy plans and their expectations for working with the new Democratic governor.Reacting to Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent announcement that he intends to work around the legislature to expand Medicaid, Bell indicated he thinks the governor may be picking a fight he cannot win.”I don’t believe the governor has the authority to do that and I think he knows that,” said Bell. “If the governor wants to push to expand Obamacare and try to ram that down the North Carolina citizens’ throats through a tax increase whichever way he determines to pursue that, that will be met with staunch opposition here in the General Assembly.”I think it’s politics,” he added. “I also think he’s trying to position himself as a strong leader for the state. I just think it’s a bad direction to go. We don’t think that expanding Obamacare and a tax increase are the right things for the citizens of the state.”On lawmakers’ list of priorities is the budget process, an area Bell believes the majority can find common ground with Cooper as they make funding decisions.”I think we can find some common ground in education on working together to properly fund our public schools along with having the ability for parents to choose what’s best for their children,” said Bell. “If we want to look at infrastructure, and transportation and our roads and bridges and rail and port system we can find common ground there.”But Bell said Republicans would stand firm on their ideals.”If the objective is going to be to raise taxes and push for more burdensome regulations on our businesses, we’re not going to find common ground,” cautioned Bell. “We’re willing to work with anybody who wants to put North Carolina first and move North Carolina forward.”Bell also thinks further regulatory reform will be an area of focus for Republicans intent on reducing barriers for business and education, with economic growth and development in mind.”We didn’t get a regulatory reform bill last session and it weighs on a lot of our minds very heavy,” lamented Bell. “So we’ve got to come in to push to get a regulatory reform bill this session and I think we’ll be successful.”One focus area for reforms could be in telecommunications and internet access for rural parts of the state.”Access to broadband internet and Wi-Fi is a major issue in rural North Carolina,” said Bell. “So we need to be able to open the doors of competition to allow the private sector to come in, also working with government agencies to move forward with this so we can provide internet and Wi-Fi access to those areas that need it.”When asked what role state government should play in funding access to such services, the Wayne County Republican indicated their best move is to get out of the way.”I think that we can help facilitate the conversation,” said Bell. “I think that we can look at loosening the regulatory burden that prevents these companies from coming in. At the end of the day, for me personally, the private sector does it better. Any time the government gets involved we tend to mess it up. So, really I like to see our role as being able to open the door and letting these companies do what they do best and not put roadblocks in the way.”The General Assembly will also face a court-mandated March 15 redistricting deadline and possible elections in the fall of this year.”We had districts that were upheld by President [Barack] Obama’s justice department, they were approved by [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder, and a politically driven radical Fourth Circuit court is the one that has caused all this chaos,” said Bell. “You have people that citizens have elected to serve a two-year term, which is under our constitution, so now you’ve got a court order really defying what our state constitution says.”Bell said he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will honor their request for a stay in the case, and thus avoid what he deems expensive and burdensome special elections.”We need to handle the business of the state of North Carolina,” said Bell “We need to put a responsible budget in place; we need to work on regulatory reform; we need to work on tax reform; we need to work on funding education. Not spend our time up here trying to redraw districts because of political reasons.”The General Assembly returns Wednesday under the new governor with an already full plate for 2017.
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