Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Voter Owned Elections Pilot

House Bill 1517, signed by the Governor on August 30, 2007, sets up a pilot program for publicly financed races for 3 of the 10 Council of State races. Beginning in 2008, candidates for Commissioner of Insurance, State Auditor, and Superintendent of Public Instruction will have the voluntary option of financing their campaigns using a publicly supported fund, but only if they can demonstrate adequate grassroots support, spelled out in the bill. The law contains rescue fund provisions similar to those in HB 1828. This pilot project, which will be reviewed regularly, is very important given that the candidates for those seats often have to raise money from communities they regulate. It should allow for more interested citizens to run, since the costs associated with a statewide race now exceed $1million. And it will free up the candidates to focus on the issues and to have more time to interact with the voting public. As a participant in two very expensive legislative races, I look forward to an alternative financing system for our legislative races as well.

Please remember that you can visit the General Assembly's website at to look up bills and access other information. Also, please continue to remain in touch regarding issues that affect you and your family, and our community.



Strengthen Judicial Fund

Representatives Luebke, Howard, and I sponsored House Bill 1828 which gives candidates participating in the judicial campaign public financing program more protection from bogus third-party "issue ads." The 2006 experience with exposed the weakness in our public financing system for judicial campaigns that prohibited access to matching funds for participating candidates if certain specific words were not used in the independent expenditure. The law, signed by the Governor on August 30, 2007, fixes the problem by providing wider access to rescue money and it helps improve the integrity of the judicial program. It also provides an important check on 527-financed "independent expenditures" in our state's judicial elections, although we are limited by the constitution in how much we can regulate these types of expenditures.

Electoral College

This session there were two bills introduced that would have reformed how the state allocates its votes in the electoral college. The first bill, Senate Bill 954 , would make North Carolina part of a compact of states that would agree to elect the president by a national popular vote. Each member state would conduct a statewide popular election to produce a national popular vote total. The presidential slate with the largest national popular vote total would be the national popular vote winner and would receive all of the electoral votes from the states that were members of the compact. The bill passed the Senate, but it is still in committee in the House and will be eligible for consideration during next year's session, although it is not likely to be heard.

The second bill, Senate Bill 353, would allow the state to divide its electoral college votes based on the winner of the popular vote in each of the state's 13 congressional districts. The remaining two electoral votes would be given to the winner of the statewide popular vote. The bill passed the Senate and can still be considered in the House during the 2008 session. This bill, too, is unlikely to be heard.

Same Day Registration

We approved a new law, House Bill 91, that allows residents to register and vote right away at one-stop voting sites during the last 2 ½ weeks before an election. Under the old law voters could vote early at one-stop voting sites, but registration ended 25 days before an election. Safeguards are in place to prevent voter fraud. The bill is intended to open up the voting process by eliminating some of the time barriers and by making it easy for people who want to vote to do so quickly and conveniently. This extended registration should help university students in particular, and in increase the number of young people voting.

Election Law Reform

This session the General Assembly made a few changes to election law. We ratified and Governor Easley signed into law a bill that makes it a felony to instruct or coerce non-citizens to vote. The bill, House Bill 1743, also establishes misdemeanor penalties for breaching ballot secrecy or trying to convince a person to select a party affiliation other than one of their own choosing. The bill also allows combined ballots and provides civil penalties for officials who are late reporting campaign contributions and expenditures. Penalties can be as high as three times the amount of funds concealed if the State Board of Elections finds that the officials deliberately concealed contributions or expenditures.

Greetings From Raleigh 09-12-07

This week's newsletter highlights changes made to our elections laws this past session, and begins with a summary of this week's special session.

Governor Mike Easley called the General Assembly back for a historic special session on Monday to consider whether to override his veto of a bill House Bill 1761 that would have provided $40 million in economic incentives to Goodyear to maintain its tire plant in Cumberland County. Legislative leaders and the Governor's office worked hard to devise a compromise that would avoid a first ever veto override. The compromise that was reached House Bill 4 expands available funds to $60 million and widens the pool of those companies that can access the money. In order to qualify, companies must employ at least 2000 in a Tier 1 county, and promise to spend at least $200 million in investments in the company. Governor Easley negotiated some wage and employment level standards tied to the grants, but the compromise otherwise is not much different from the bill he vetoed except that it spends more taxpayer money providing cash grants to existing companies. Recipients can reduce their workforce, although the grant amounts will be proportionately reduced. Rep. Paul Luebke tried to insert a "clawback" amendment that would require repayment of grants for laying off workers, but that failed. This bill sets a dangerous precedent by giving cash to existing companies to maintain jobs, and appears to have opened the floodgates to handouts of taxpayer money to multi billion dollar companies. The bill passed on a party line vote, with 3 Democrats (Reps. Luebke, Weiss, and me) voting no.

* * * * * * * *

One important goal of the House of Representatives during the recent regular session was to reform election laws to make the elections process more accessible, transparent, and effective. It is imperative that our citizens have every opportunity to participate in government at all levels and the ability to make informed decisions is fundamental. To do this, we tried to make voting simpler and passed laws to improve our electoral college system. In addition, we expanded voter-owned elections to include three Council of State races.

This week, I will review some of the efforts we have made in this area.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Miscellany 09/05/07

We appropriated nine and a half million dollars to buy and house 634,458 flu shots for flu season.

The State public health laboratory will receive $500,000 to test medications for HPV; food and tick borne diseases; and HIV testing for pregnant women. $2 million will go towards HIV prevention. This funding will go to local health departments, historically black universities and colleges, and community organizations to provide HIV counseling, testing, and early medical interventions. In addition, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the Health Disparities Initiative will both receive $500,000. I have been a strong advocate for this funding.

We also banned smoking in government owned spaces with House Bill 24 and have made all schools tobacco free, Senate Bill 1086.

The Allied Health Program will receive $5.6 million. The program is course of study emphasized in the community college system to address the shortage of allied health jobs.

You can visit the General Assembly's website at to look up bills, view lawmaker biographies, and access other information to assist in keeping you informed.


Women's Health

Women's Health Services will receive $200,000 to serve women who are uninsured and are not eligible for Medicaid. We have also set aside $2 million for screening and diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancer through the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Caner Control Program.

Parents and guardians of children in grades 5-12 will receive information about cervical cancer, cervical dysplasia, human papillomavirus, and the vaccines. The General Assembly ratified a bill, Senate Bill 260, that requires public schools give parents this information at the beginning of the school year.

Health Centers

Community health centers and groups are on the frontline of the battle to keep our people healthy and strong. This session's budget includes $5 million for rural health centers, free clinics, and school-based clinics. Local health departments will receive $1 million to help them reduce rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, injury, and infant mortality.

Insurance and Prescritptions

We, in the General Assembly, believe that health insurance should be included with employment. We have given a tax credit to small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees. This will help lower the employers' cost of providing health insurance and increase the number of people who have insurance.

NC Health Net, a program that coordinates free care for low income, uninsured patients will receive almost $3 million.

The Medication Access and Review Program will receive more than $500,000 to get free prescription drugs from pharmaceutical companies for the poor.

Children's Insurance

Legislators gave North Carolina's Health Choice (SCHIP) $59 million to provide healthcare to the 246,000 uninsured children in this state. Families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford rising health insurance premiums, can get free or reduced priced comprehensive health care for their children with NC Health Choice. It offers the same coverage provided by the state indemnity health plan for the families of state employees and teachers, plus vision, hearing, and dental benefits. The out of pocket costs for the program cannot exceed five percent of the family's income. Unfortunately the federal funding that supplements our program is at risk. President Bush has threatened to veto the federal legislation which is still being negotiated.

NC Kids' Care will receive $7 million to expand health coverage to children between 200-300% of the federal poverty level. This expansion of health insurance means that thousands more children who are not covered by SCHIP or other programs will become eligible for affordable health coverage. NC Kids' Care, which begins on July 1, 2008, will make available affordable health insurance coverage to 38,000 currently uninsured children Families would pay deductibles, co-payments, and monthly premiums subsidized on a sliding scale based on income.

Legislators also appropriated $250,000 for pediatric diabetes prevention and education.

The Smart Start program will receive nearly one and a half million dollars. Smart Start is an early childhood education program that makes sure children in all counties are healthy and ready for school. Smart Start funds are used to improve the quality of child care, make child care more affordable and accessible, provide access to health services, and offer family support. I had sponsored legislation for such funding, House Bill 365, with Rep. Alexander.

High Risk Insurance Pool

This session the General Assembly also ratified a bill, House Bill 265, that will create a high risk insurance pool to help those who suffer from serious or terminal illnesses. These people are often considered uninsurable or are forced to pay expensive premiums because of their illness. This pool will make sure they get the affordable insurance they deserve and ultimately receive the preventative care they need to stay healthy. Rep. Verla Insko has been the champion on this and was able to overcome the objections of the insurance industry in pushing for the high risk pool.

Mental Health Parity

This session the General Assembly passed, and Gov. Easley signed, a law that provides insurance parity to people who receive mental health services. The new law, House Bill 973, requires insurance companies to cover bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and three other mental illnesses the same way that they treat and cover physical illnesses.

The bill started out with broader coverage, but the insurance lobbyists successfully narrowed the field to the above illnesses. All other mental health conditions will be covered for up to 30 inpatient/outpatient days and 30 office visits. Representative Martha Alexander has been pushing this legislation for over 15 years and deserves most of the credit for its passage.


Medicaid costs - an estimated $500 million this fiscal year- are a huge burden for counties to bear. The state will take over the counties' share of Medicaid costs in a three -year phase out. This will help ensure the long-term viability of the program and protects our small and rural counties with a large number of people on Medicaid. The members of the House of Representatives are very proud of this resolution to the Medicaid burden which had been placed on counties. Every county will end up with at least $500 thousand more than they would have had otherwise. This is going to free up money in the counties for school construction and other needs which might keep taxes from being raised and contribute to a better standard of living for all of the citizens of North Carolina.

Our citizens who receive this service can expect the same standard of care they have always received. Additionally, Legislators reason that shifting the entire cost to the state means that the long-term financial stability of the program will not be threatened.

Greetings From Raleigh 09-05-07

This week's newsletter focuses on health care related legislation. But the news this past week has been dominated by the Governor's veto of a House Bill 1761, which gives Goodyear Tires $40 million over the next ten years to maintain its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville. This moves the incentives issue into a new era of giving multibillion dollar companies taxpayer's money to stay. It sets a dangerous precedent and I was one of just a few members to vote against this bill. It is anticipated that we will have a historic first time ever session to override the veto early next week.

This session we were determined to make health care in North Carolina more accessible and affordable and we made great strides. We approved landmark legislation on a range of health issues including the Medicaid swap, mental health parity, and insurance reform, described in more detail below.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Developers in five cities who take significant energy conservation measures in their building projects will now be eligible for incentives such as higher density allowances. The cities that requested such authority are Asheville, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and Wilmington.

Counties and cities can now reduce building permit fees or give partial rebates to encourage construction of buildings designed to conserve energy.

The North Carolina Building Code Council has been given authority to study how much hot water lines should be insulated to achieve greater energy efficiency and will amend the North Carolina State Building Code if necessary. The council has until April 2008 to report its findings to the state Environmental Review Commission and the General Assembly.

Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day.




Biodiesel fuel produced by an individual for their personal use in a private vehicle is no longer subject to the motor fuel excise tax under Senate Bill 1272 which we approved. Such fuel is sometimes made from discarded cooking oil or similar products and supporters of the measure argued the materials shouldn't be taxed twice. The Department of Revenue also acknowledged that it was difficult to collect taxes on this home grown fuel.

School buses that use diesel fuel must be able to operate with B20, fuel that contains at least 20 percent of biodiesel. Senate Bill 1452 also requires that beginning June 1, 2008, at least 2 percent of the fuel purchased annually by local school districts for school buses must be a minimum blend of B20. Thomasbuilt buses, here in NC, do meet the standard. Another bill, Senate Bill 1277, requires that new state-owned vehicles that run on diesel fuel must carry a warranty that assures they are capable of running on B20.

As part of the state budget, we improved the tax credit we have given since 2004 to companies that build renewable fuel production plants. The changes allow more flexibility in the credits and are expected to attract more such plants to the state.


We showed our support for alternative energy sources this year by expanding a bioenergy initiative at North Carolina State University. The $1.5 million in additional money will help researchers find new technologies for efficient and clean use of traditional energy sources; alternative, environmentally safe, and renewable energy sources; and research of energy technologies and their impact on the North Carolina's rural economy. The Southeastern Energy Field Laboratory in Duplin County will be the focal point of much of the work and will also serve as a demonstration site for bioenergy, wind, thermal, and solar projects.


The state continues to try to be a model for responsible energy use and a bill we approved this year backs up our commitment. The bill, Senate Bill 668, requires existing state buildings to reduce energy consumption 20 percent by 2010 and 30 percent by 2015, based on 2003-04 levels. New buildings are designed and constructed to use 30 percent less energy. It also requires state agencies and institutions to file annual energy management plans, strategies, and reports on consumption. I sponsored the House companion, House Bill 1075, with Representatives Carney, Underhill, and Thomas.

Renewable Energy

North Carolina took a major step forward this year in environmental policy in Senate Bill 3 by establishing a requirement that North Carolina power utilities get at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources -- such as wind, biomass, and solar energy -- and energy efficiency by 2021. A utility must meet at least 7.5 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy sources and can meet as much as 5 percent from improved efficiencies. The REPS has minimum set aside requirements for power from poultry waste, swine waste, and solar energy. The solar set aside is important in creating a market in NC for the solar industry, but the animal waste set asides are troubling. The swine set aside may result in perpetuating a flawed and polluting lagoon and sprayfield system for handling the waste, which has made life intolerable for neighbors of many of the industrial-sized hog farms. Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield and I pushed to amend the bill on the House floor to require that those farms meet certain performance standards, but the effort failed.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 3 started out as a renewable energy bill similar to House Bill 77 that I sponsored with Representatives Martin, Harrell, and Justice, became a broader base load financing bill. It contains provisions which make it easier to construct new nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The bill was the subject of months of negotiations, and it became clear that it would be difficult to pass an REPS without the utilities sweeteners. We worked hard with environmental, health, and public interest advocates to soften the baseload provisions and in the final analysis, the good outweighed the bad. The bill is expected to help cut our carbon emissions by 13 million tons and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The REPS will also expand the market for renewable energy, and is predicted to create as many as 20,000 jobs. Governor Easley signed the bill into law two weeks ago, and I am proud that North Carolina is now the first state in the Southeast with a renewable energy standard.

Sentate Bill 3 also changes our renewable energy tax credit to now allow a donor to a non-profit to take advantage of the tax credit that would otherwise be available to the non-profit. This should encourage churches and other non-profits to pursue more aggressive renewable energy options, such as solar panels.

Our budget ensures the future of the State Energy Office, the state's lead agency for energy programs and services, by appropriating nearly $2.7 million from the general fund for operating costs. Nearly $2 million of the money will be used for a utility savings initiative and to support the operation of energy centers at North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Appalachian State University. The state also gave the office $5 million for a reserve fund to support energy efficiency in state buildings. Readers may remember that the Senate proposed cutting funding, but the House leadership, the Governor, energy advocates, and I pushed hard for this funding.

A new law prevents municipalities or neighborhood associations from banning the use of solar panels. The panels use the heat of the sun to produce energy. They are sometimes banned because they are considered unsightly, but a bill, Senate Bill 670 signed into law last month prohibits outright bans while still allowing reasonable rules about where the panels can be located. Representative Susan Fisher and I sponsored the House companion, House Bill 1187.

Greetings From Raleigh 08-30-07

This week's newsletter highlights some of our energy related bills from this session. It is becoming abundantly clear that we are having a potentially inalterable impact on the earth's climate, seemingly directly related to our carbon emissions. Scientists say that if we don't act soon to reduce our carbon emissions, we will be close to reaching a tipping point of catastrophic climate change by 2015. NC ranks 24th in the world in carbon emissions (more than many similarly-sized countries) and we must act immediately to reduce our contribution to this problem. It is also clear that fossil fuel resources, particularly oil, are not infinite, and many of them are located in parts of the world that don't like us very much.

To support the tremendous growth we expect in North Carolina over the next 20 years, we have to work now to make better use of renewable energy, find alternative fuels, and to find more and better ways to conserve energy. North Carolina took some important steps this session toward establishing energy independence and implementing a more sustainable energy future , led in large part by Speaker Hackney's commitment to these issues.

We became the first state in the Southeast to set a renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS). We resolved to cut energy use in state buildings, and we agreed to make it more affordable for people to use and produce biofuels and bioenergy.

In the years ahead, these types of initiatives will become increasingly important to maintaining our strong economy and our quality of life.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Additional environmental legislation approved this session includes:

The Legislature approved House Bill 859, which establishes a fairer fee for mitigation for development in the impaired Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River basins. Last year, at the behest of developers, the Legislature reversed the Environmental Management Commission's fee increase for the nutrient offset program, reverting the fees to a lower, woefully inadequate amount while the issue was studied. A consultant study has been done, and the bill sets the fee at around $28 per pound for nitrogen in the Neuse, $22 for nitrogen in the Tar-Pam, and $28 for phosphorous in the Tar-Pam, and directs DENR to transition to a program based on actual cost of mitigation based on the least cost alternative. I voted against the bill because it is not clear that developers are paying their fair share.

A potentially troubling bill regarding bridge construction, House Bill 1005, was passed on the last day of session. After severe flooding during Hurricane Floyd, which washed out bridges and damaged associated infrastructure like power lines and sewer lines, DOT began a policy or practice of elevating their bridges over streams. This bill contains a provision that reverses that policy by requiring DOT to construct bridges to accommodate the 100 year flood level, which, in the coastal plain especially, is not strong enough. The bill further states that bridges shall be built "without regard for riparian buffer zones" and expressly prohibits rules or agreements between departments contrary to this mandate. I voted against this bill.

We have approved a bill that undermines the Fisheries Reform Act and erodes the authority of the Marine Fisheries Commission. House Bill 1017 restricts fishing for menhaden with purse seine nets off the coast of Brunswick County from May through October. It is not good policy for the NCGA to be making specific fisheries management decisions, particularly when we have a strong fisheries management program in place. Management disputes between commercial and recreational fishermen are emotionally charged and require good science and expertise, not meddling by the legislature. I voted against this bill as well.

Two additional bad environmental bills are still alive for the short session. Senate Bill 150 would permit additional tree removal around billboards. The bill passed the Senate, but does not appear to have any momentum for House action. Another troubling environmental bill, Senate Bill 599, which would allow Figure 8 Island to construct a terminal groin at the north end of the island in contravention to our 20-year-old ban on hardened structures on our beaches, also appears to have no momentum in the House.

Please continue to contact me regarding issues which impact you, your family, and your community. I value the input of my constituents and want to continue to be responsive to your cares and concerns.




A new law allows existing hog waste lagoons to continue to operate, but bans the construction of new ones. Hog lagoons have become an environmental concern in the past decade as the number of swine farms have grown. The pits, where the hogs' waste is collected and then sprayed on fields as fertilizer, often breach their banks during hurricanes or heavy rains, polluting waterways and soil and contaminating the groundwater. The state has had a moratorium on new lagoons for the past 10 years, but replacing them with new, cleaner technology is expensive. The bill, Senate Bill 1465, (I co-sponsored the house companion, House Bill 1115), signed into law, proposes a $2 million a year cost-sharing program to help farmers pay the cost of replacing the pits with more environmentally friendly systems. The new systems could produce useful byproducts such as compost or electricity from the methane gas released. The law includes a provision that allows up to 50 swine farms to join a pilot program that will allow farmers to sell methane gas to power companies. The compromise bill is supported by farm, industry, and some environmental groups and would represent a major step forward after years of trying to find better ways to handle hog waste. The neighbors of the offending hog farms are upset that we have not done more to phase out the lagoons by a date certain. Representative Earl Jones and I introduced House Bill 1822, to phase out lagoons and sprayfield systems, but it had no traction this session.

The state improved the process for transferring water from one water basin to another by requiring more public hearings, a study of the environmental impact of the transfer, and granting the Environmental Management Commission authority to appoint a mediator to settle differences between applicants and other parties. The bill, House Bill 820, has passed both chambers and awaits the signature of Governor Easley.

We established a new category of present use value to help preserve working waterfronts. Senate Bill 646 promotes traditional coastal uses in the face of rampant coastal development by allowing piers and fish houses to get the lower "present use value" tax rate, creates an advisory committee on working waterfront access, directs DOT to consider access issues, raises boating fees, and waives emergency CAMA permit fees.

The House provided funding for the hiring of seven new sediment and erosion control inspectors to help with North Carolina's top water quality problem - sediment. We also set aside $615,000 for private well testing, notification, and emergency drinking water supplies for low income residents with contaminated drinking water. These have both been priorities of mine for the past three sessions.


For the first time since 1991, we increased the penalty for air quality violations from $10,000 to $25,000. This increase puts North Carolina in line with other Southern states and moves us closer to the federal maximum fine for air quality violations of $32,500. In a separate matter, we set aside $500,000 to install pollution controls on diesel-powered school buses. That will allow us to access matching federal funds to cut back on emissions harmful to school children and bus drivers.


We strengthened regulations for the construction of landfills this session, requiring companies to prove they have adequate funding to maintain, close, and provide post-closure maintenance for a landfill. Several companies had planned to build landfills in North Carolina before legislators put a moratorium on such projects last year. The companies were attracted to the state because of our inexpensive land, our central location on the East Coast, our weak regulations, and lack of a surcharge on garbage. The bill that has been signed into law, Senate Bill 1492, (I was primary sponsor of the House companion, House Bill 1233), allows the state to collect $2 a ton for garbage disposal. Half of the money will be used to assess and update more than 700 old landfills and dumps that operated before the state adopted environmental protection standards. The other half will go to local governments and the Solid Waste Management Trust Fund to help pay for recycling and other solid waste management issues. The bill also creates an efficient and enforceable computer collection and recovery system, and it allows the state to reject a landfill permit based on what impact the facility will have on poor or minority communities. This change in the law will probably prevent the planned construction of several large landfills in the state. A companion bill, Senate Bill 6, allows those companies to be paid reparations if the new regulations prevent them from getting a permit to operate a landfill, which sets a bad precedent and is bad public policy.

The state's Land for Tomorrow Initiative will get $120 million in bond money to protect our forests, parks and greenways, historic areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and stream borders from development. The Land for Tomorrow partnership is a coalition of people and organizations throughout the state that is promoting the preservation of 1 million acres in North Carolina over the next five years. The Division of Marine Fisheries will get $20 million of the money to help preserve beach access. The Farmland Preservation Trust Fund will get an additional $8 million to protect farms from development. The pressure to develop land in the state has grown increasingly as the state's population grows and there is a need for more housing and commercial development, as a result we are losing farmland at the fastest rate in the nation. Also, some farmers leaving the industry feel forced to sell their property because of high land costs. This $128 million will help them and help make sure the state has healthy development.

An important change to the "present use value" tax rate system has passed the House and is eligible for consideration in the short session. I introduced House Bill 1889, with Representatives Brubaker, Gibson, and Hill, which would remove a disincentive for conservation that exists in the present use value system. Under current law, if a property owner takes a land out of cultivation and turns it over to wildlife or conservation management, he or she must pay a large tax penalty. This bill creates a new category of present use value for such instances, and was approved overwhelmingly by the House at the end of the session, despite opposition from the counties, Farm Bureau, and Forestry Association. I was proud of my colleagues for recognizing the problem and supporting this bill which we have been working on for over 5 years.

Greetings From Raleigh 08-23-07

Last week's newsletter summarized the highlights of our session completed on August 2, 2007. For the next several weeks, I will try to focus in more detail on specific issue areas. This week's focus is on conservation and environmental protection.

One of the bright spots of this session is the success we had in protecting our land, air, and water. It was one of the goals we had set for the session and by many accounts we had a landmark session in this regard. We became the first state in the Southeast to establish a renewable energy standard. We permanently banned the construction of new hog lagoons and continued to put money into finding safer, cleaner, and more affordable alternatives for farmers who operate existing ones. We established stronger rules to govern the construction of landfills in our state, which will protect our communities and prevent North Carolina from becoming a dumping ground for other states. We also authorized $100 million in bonds for the Land for Tomorrow preservation program to protect valuable land from being developed and an additional $20 million to preserve beach access. We allocated $8 million to preserve farmland and gave the Clean Water Management Trust Fund $100 million to protect our waters. We also set aside $100 million in grants to help communities replace their aging water and sewer systems.

Investments in these projects and others will protect the natural resources that have made North Carolina such a desirable place to live. They will also ensure that we continue to enjoy the quality of life we have now even as our population continues to grow.

We also made several changes to improve and strengthen the state's energy policies. These changes will reduce our dependence on foreign oil as well as our carbon footprint, strengthen the local market for alternative energy, and save us all money over time. I will share some of those new policies with you in more detail in the next newsletter.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Miscellaneous Bills To Be Considered In The Short Session

House Bill 205, which I introduced with Rep. George Cleveland, would repeal the in-state tuition provision for out-of-state athletes which had been slipped into the 2005 budget. Taxpayers will be subsidizing UNC system booster clubs with $8 million in 2008 as a result of the provision, and the cost will continue to increase. The bill was approved overwhelmingly by the House and may be considered by the Senate in the short session.

House Bill 1889, which I introduced with Representatives Brubaker, Gibson, and Hill, would remove a disincentive for conservation that exists in the present use value system. Under current law, if a property owner takes a tract of land out of cultivation and turns it over to wildlife or conservation management, he or she must pay a large tax penalty. This bill creates a new category of present use value for such instances, and was approved overwhelmingly by the House at the end of session, despite opposition from the counties, Farm Bureau, and the Forestry Association. I was proud of my colleagues for recognizing this problem and supporting this bill that we have been working on for over 5 years.

Gun issues saw little momentum this session. Two important bills that passed the House appear mired in the Senate, and we were not able to make any progress on setting up a data base to avoid the type of situation that arose with the tragic Virginia Tech shooting. House Bill 1287, sponsored by Representatives Jeffus, Sutton, and me, would have allowed for sharing of information among Sheriffs’ departments when an individual has been turned down for a gun permit. House Bill 1847 would have required reporting of lost or stolen guns to reduce illegal gun trafficking. The gun lobby appears to have effectively stopped both of those important bills in the Senate. Representatives Glazier, Weiss, and I will continue to work on the data base issue for involuntary commitments to prohibit access to gun purchases. There will be grant money available as a result of federal legislation inspired by the Virginia Tech tragedy. The NRA has supported the federal bill, so we hope to avoid that opposition at the state level.

Two bad environmental bills are still alive. Senate Bill 150 would permit additional tree removal around bill boards. The bill passed the Senate, but doesn't appear to have any momentum for House action. Another troubling environmental bill, Senate Bill 599, which would allow Figure 8 Island to construction a terminal groin at the north end of the island in contravention of our 20- year-old ban on hardened structures on our beaches, also appears to have little momentum in the House.

House Bill 1587 which would have effectively prohibited local governments from offering broadband and wireless services was turned into a study bill, and should be alive in the short session. This bill was actively opposed by all consumer interests as well as those representing local governments.

There are other bills relating to the death penalty, school bullying, comprehensive sex education, gay marriage, eminent domain, and others, that will still be alive during the short session.

We anticipate continuing the newsletter during the interim, although it will be shorter and perhaps less frequent. We continue to encourage you to keep in touch with our office with your concerns and questions during the interim as well as when the Legislature is in session.


Additional Ratified Legislation

Spay Neuter Funding

Sen. Kinnaird's bill, Senate Bill 684 which establishes a spay and neuter funding mechanism, was approved during the final days of session. NC had the highest kill rate (over 250,000 in 2006) of abandoned pets in the US, spending over $35 million of taxpayer money in capturing, housing, and euthanizing the animals. A portion of pet fees from rabies inoculations will be set aside to provide funding for lower income pet owners to spay and neuter their pets. This has been a years’ long battle, and animal activists agree that this is progress.


Adults who were adopted can now more easily access information about their birth parents and medical information, as a result of the approval of House Bill 445. The bill is scaled down from its original proposal, but advocates anticipate the issue being studied in the interim, with proposed changes coming in the short session.

Consumer Protection

We passed three important bills on issues relating to predatory lending and mortgage protection, which Governor Easley signed into law today. House Bill 1374 makes the foreclosure process fairer and helps protect homeowners from abusive mortgage loan servicing. House Bill 1817 protects home buyers from predatory lending practices and ensures they can afford to repay the loans made to them. House Bill 947 requires notice to tenants (and an opportunity to terminate the lease) when the property they are renting is foreclosed on.

Assistance to Seniors

In addition to several items in the budget, we approved several bills aimed at protecting our senior citizens. House Bill 1499 expands and improves the property tax homestead exemption. House Bill 1537 improves the process for the recovery of estates of individuals forced to go on Medicaid, most typically when they enter a long-term care facility. Senate Bill 56 overhauls the penalty review process and makes other changes to long term care regulations that are more compassionate and consumer friendly. We also established a rating system for adult care homes.

Public Safety

The General Assembly also ratified and Gov. Easley signed into law a bill to protect our children from Internet sexual predators. The bill, House Bill 29, will require recidivist sexually violent predators to enroll in a satellite-based monitoring system for life. We also protected victims of domestic violence with House Bill 46 that provides secure areas separated from the court room where victims can wait until their trial is heard. Another bill, House Bill 47, makes it a felony to violate a protective order related to a domestic violence case while in possession of a deadly weapon.

Ethics 8-16-07

Legislators have continued their efforts to improve ethical standards in government. Under Senate Bill 1218 ratified by the General Assembly, candidates who have been convicted of a felony would have to disclose that information when running for office. Another bill, Senate Bill 659, (I co-sponsored the House companion House Bill 1737) forfeits the pensions of elected officials who are convicted of a violation involving public corruption or election law. We also made changes to the State Government Ethics Act, House Bill 1110 and House Bill 1111, to make government proceedings more transparent to the public. The Governor signed both Thursday morning.

Election Reform

In the final days of the session, we passed House Bill 1517, which establishes a pilot project of public financing for three Council of State races; the Insurance Commissioner, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Auditor. The program is modeled on the judicial public financing program. This is a voluntary program; candidates must opt-in.

We approved House Bill 1828, which I sponsored, and is meant to help participants in the judicial public financing program access rescue money when attacked by third parties, especially 527s. This bill is intended to prevent situations like ‘’, which undermined the integrity of the judicial public financing program. The recent Supreme Court case, Wisconsin v Right to Life, has limited the regulation of 527s.

Earlier this session we passed House Bill 91 which allows for ‘one-stop’ registration and voting in advance of elections, with restrictions to guard against fraud. This should increase voter turnout, especially among young people.

Energy 8-16-07

North Carolina will be the first state in the South East to adopt a renewable energy standard if Gov. Easley signs the energy bill into law. Senate Bill 3 ( I sponsored the original companion, House Bill 77, with Representatives Martin, Harrell, and Justice) requires North Carolina utility providers to obtain 12.5 percent of retail electricity from renewable energy. It also provides sweeteners for the utilities to construct new nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The bill should to help cut pollution, greenhouse gas levels, and our dependence on foreign oil.

Enviornment 8-16-07

North Carolina’s natural resources will be better protected as a result of a bill that was ratified this session. The bill, Senate Bill 1492, (I sponsored the House companion, House Bill 1233, with Representatives Allen and Gibson) provides strict regulations for the construction of landfills including a statewide disposal tax and assurance of adequate funding to maintain, close, and provide post-closure maintenance for a landfill. Companies were attracted to North Carolina for landfill sites because of the inexpensive land, its location on the east coast, its weak regulations, and no surcharge on garbage. The bill will protect the state’s ground water supply and plants and animals in surrounding areas.


A bill that provides insurance parity to people who receive mental health services was signed into law this session. The bill, House Bill 973, requires insurance companies to cover bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and three other mental illnesses the same way that they treat physical illnesses. All other mental health conditions will be covered for up to 30 inpatient/outpatient days and 30 office visits. Mental health parity has been debated in the North Carolina Legislature for 15 years. 36 other states already offer some form of mental health parity. We, as a state, still have a long way to go toward fixing mental health reform, but this bill is a start and is expected to save the state money by reducing the amount spent for public mental health services

The General Assembly ratified a bill, House Bill 265, that would create a high risk insurance pool. The pool will help those who suffer from serious illnesses and are often considered uninsurable have access to health insurance. These people are often forced to pay expensive premiums because of their illness. North Carolina is the 35th state to enact such legislation.

The General Assembly has agreed to take over the counties’ share of Medicaid expenses – estimated at $520 million this fiscal year - over the next three years. Rural counties are particularly burdened by the increasing costs of Medicaid. In addition, we decided to give counties more flexibility by allowing them to raise additional taxes for school construction, infrastructure, and other improvements. Counties can decide to raise the sales tax by a quarter of a cent or the land transfer tax to 0.6 percent with local voter approval.

Education 8-16-07

The General Assembly ratified and Gov. Easley signed into law a bill that will provide additional support to high-need schools. Schools classified as high-need schools will be issued more National Board Certified Teachers to lower the student-teacher ratio and give children more individualized attention. The bill, Senate Bill 1479, gives these teachers, and teachers who have received certain awards, the freedom to use research-based teaching techniques that go beyond the standard course of study.

Greetings From Raleigh 08-16-07

On August 2, the General Assembly ended a very successful session. My colleagues and I have worked hard to pass laws that are important to our citizens. This session we passed landmark legislation in several areas including health care, energy efficiency, and protecting the environment. The last blog posts focused mostly on the budget. This week’s posts will be devoted to important legislation that was passed this session.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Just like you, we are passionate about protecting our children. We approved $4.8 million in grants for government agencies and groups working on gang violence prevention, intervention, and suppression efforts. We will continue efforts to protect our children from sexual predators by spending $237,000 to hire full-time investigators to handle child exploitation and sexual predator cases and $217,000 to operate a sex offender registry. We will protect children and victims of domestic violence by increasing spending on rape crisis and sexual assault services by nearly $900,000. We will help residents with lower incomes afford safe and affordable housing by increasing the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund to $5 million.

I continue to encourage you to contact me during the interim to share your concerns for the betterment of the quality of life for all our citizens.


Military 8-03-07

In support of our troops, the General Assembly approved business tax credits for employing reservists or National Guardsmen who are called to active duty. We have also set aside $420,000 to run three assistance centers to help families of deployed National Guardsmen. We will use $240,000 to hire four additional school counselors for largely military communities.

We will spend $1 million for morale, recreation, and welfare on our five military bases; $1.25 million for the North Carolina Military Business Center, which develops business in our military bases; and $1.5 million on the Defense and Security Technology Accelerator, which develops businesses related to homeland security and national defense. We have also created a $750,000 grant program to train sheriff's departments in immigration enforcement.

Economy and Finance

We have managed to make the budget fiscally sound and have set aside $175 million for our reserve fund and $145 million for repair and renovation of state owned buildings. We also gave local governments authority to enact a quarter-cent sales tax or a land transfer tax of 4/10 of a penny with voter approval. This will help them build new schools to lessen the demands of increasing school populations and to make other infrastructure improvements without raising property taxes.

We know that our citizens work hard to provide for their families and pushed for a 3.5 percent refundable earned income tax credit to help working families, small businesses, and people who earn about $40,000 or less. We also appropriated $3 million to the North Carolina Minority Support Center and $1.5 million to the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development to support businesses owned by minorities and women. We realize that people make mistakes and will give $3 million in tax breaks to help put released inmates back to work and help keep people from returning to prison. To stimulate job growth, we gave the One North Carolina Fund $14 million and appropriated $12.4 million for Job Development Investment Grants. These investments will stimulate our economy, create more jobs, and put more money in North Carolinians' pockets.

Environment 8-03-07

North Carolina has some of the most beautiful natural habitats in the nation. We have set aside $120 million for the Land for Tomorrow program to protect our forests, parks and greenways, historic areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and land bordering streams. A longtime priority of mine, farmland preservation, received $8 million, its first substantial appropriation in a decade. We will spend $100 million to help municipalities improve their water and sewer systems. We also continue to study better ways to improve the treatment of swine waste and put $2 million toward that this year (although, regrettably, we were not able to require a date certain phase out of the swine lagoons). We provided funding for drinking water testing, notification, and emergency supplies for low income communities, something I have pushed for these past several sessions. And, we finally funded another priority of mine, seven new positions for sedimentation inspectors to help address our number one water quality problem in North Carolina.

We gave the State Energy Office $2.7 million for operating costs and $5 million to start a reserve fund to pay for energy efficiency programs. I pushed very hard for that funding, particularly after the utilities were able to persuade the Senate to eliminate all funding for the office. The Center for Bioenergy Technologies will receive $1.5 million to develop technologies for efficient and clean use of traditional energy sources, alternative and renewable energy sources, and researching energy technologies and their impact on the environment and North Carolina's economy.

Health 8-03-07

We must take measures to keep our people strong and healthy. My colleagues and I agree Medicaid costs -an estimated $500 million this fiscal year- are a huge burden for counties to bear. The state will take over the counties' share of Medicaid costs in a three-year phase out. Counties will have extra money for school construction and other local needs without raising property taxes. This method protects our small counties and rural counties with a large number of people on Medicaid. We are very proud of this Medicaid swap. Every county will end up with at least $500,000 more than they would have had otherwise.

Small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees will receive a tax credit that will both lower employers' costs of providing insurance and increase the number of insured people. We also gave North Carolina's Health Choice (SCHIP) $59 million to provide healthcare to the 264,000 uninsured children in this state and gave the NC Kids' Care program for poor children $7 million. We added $2.7 million to hire 54 more school nurses and allocated $250,000 for pediatric diabetes prevention and education.

We appreciate the hard work of our senior citizens to build a strong foundation for this state and worked to show them our thanks through this budget. We set aside $7 million to provide a tax credit for families that purchase long-term care insurance and $250,000 in grants for community groups that help seniors enrolling in state and federal prescription drug plans. We established a rating system for adult care homes so families will have a better way to judge and compare these facilities. We also allocated $2 million to expand the state Health Care Personnel Registry, which will now include information on unlicensed personnel who work with patients.

This budget includes $4.6 million to improve and expand community-based treatment and support services for those with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse disorders. We appropriated $2 million for HIV prevention programs in local health departments and historically black colleges and universities, $2 million for screenings for breast and cervical cancer, $8.3 million to purchase and store 635,000 doses of flu vaccines, and $500,000 to reduce health disparities among whites and minority groups. The Healthy Carolinians initiative will receive $1 million to help local health departments lower rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and infant mortality. The University of North Carolina system will receive $25 million for cancer research, growing to $50 million in three years, and $8 million will be used to construct a cancer center at UNC- Chapel Hill.