Friday, May 12, 2006

The Legislative Work Ahead

Although we’ve only been in Raleigh for a few days, legislators already have a long “to-do” list – and it keeps growing by the day. As always during the short session, our biggest task will be passing the budget for the coming year. There are several stages in the budget process that will play out between now and the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. The Governor announced his budget plan on Tuesday, the Senate is expected to pass its spending plan prior to Memorial Day, and then the House will pass its version. After that, members of the House and Senate will work out the differences between the two spending plans and we will pass a final budget that sets funding levels for our schools, law enforcement, local and state governments, salaries for teachers and state employees, land and water conservation, etc.

Legislators received some good news recently – we won’t have to deal with a budget shortfall for the first time since the late 1990s; however, we still have enormous demands to meet and we will be faced with some difficult choices. We will have to find the resources to deal with the approximately 30,000 new students at our schools and the desperate need for thousands of new teachers, more cars on our roads, and soaring health care costs. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks as we make progress on the budget.

We will also introduce legislation based on the work of the many study committees that have been meeting since last fall. The House Select Committee on Ethics and Governmental Reform, on which I serve, has proposed at least ten bills which would strengthen ethics oversight of legislators, executive branch employees, and lobbyists. We are also proposing several reforms to campaign finance laws. In addition, The House Select Committee on Health Care has produced numerous pieces of legislation that will help reduce the number of uninsured people in our state, offer a tax credit to small businesses that offer health insurance to employees, and reform North Carolina’s mental health system.

I also plan to support legislation to increase our state’s minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 per hour; give our hard working teachers and state employees a seven percent pay raise; protect our children from child predators; reform our campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws; and continue to pursue a more sustainable state energy policy.

Representative Bruce Goforth (D-Buncombe) and members of the House Select Committee on Sex Offender Registration Laws filed a bill that would establish the North Carolina Sex Offender Watch Program. If voted into law, this bill would allow citizens to sign up to be notified by email if a sex offender moves into their neighborhood. The program would also provide a way for users to enter any address in the state and view a map of all adult sex offenders who live within a mile of that address. Committee members introduced another bill requiring GPS monitoring of those sex offenders who require the highest level of probation as part of their sentence – such as those convicted of offenses involving a minor. Several other important provisions comprise the bill and I will be glad to furnish additional information if you wish.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and I hope you will continue to tell me about the issues that matter most to you and your family, as well as your suggestions on how we can better prepare our state for the future.

I hope you find this information useful and that you'll contact me about your views.



No comments: