Membership test is a renewed attack on NC educators group

Republicans in the General Assembly are wasting their time, and in effect the public’s time, with a ridiculous crusade against a group that advocates for teachers.

In 2011, stung by criticism from the North Carolina Association of Educators, GOP leaders sought to hit the group financially. They passed a law saying that the NCAE dues could not be deducted from the paychecks of member teachers and other school employees.

No less than then-House Speaker Thom Tillis, now a U.S. senator, said of the maneuver in what he thought was a private meeting, “It’s just a little taste of what’s to come.”

When that comment exposed the motive behind the law, Republicans responded with an attitude of “so what, we’re in charge.” But legal principle outweighs partisan payback disguised as law. A Wake County judge declared the law unconstitutional because it unfairly targeted one group.

That, however, hasn’t ended the lawmakers’ effort to show what happens to groups that challenge their policies. Last year, the legislature passed a requirement that the NCAE annually show the state auditor that it has the 40,000 members required by statute before it can benefit from payroll deduction.

The annual requirement is nothing but an attempt to stop payroll deduction; a dozen other groups that use payroll deduction have a membership threshold of 2,000 members.

Now State Auditor Beth Wood says that although the NCEA claims 70,000, her office can’t confirm the enrollment and the NCEA won’t provide records that establish its paid membership. Wood can’t force the NCAE to do that, because the organization is private.

It would be easy to ask, and doubtless the GOP leaders hope the public will ask: What’s the problem with releasing the membership records? But the bigger question is: Why should an association representing educators have to demonstrate 40,000 members before its dues are eligible for payroll deduction? The membership requirement is not new, but the requirement that it be enforced annually is.

The NCAE can’t be blamed for not participating in this charade. It has clearly been singled out for a special kind of discrimination. A legal fight is certain to ensue and this law is likely to be found wanting for the same reason as the first version. Lawmakers should focus on helping educators, not smacking their association.