Friday, August 18, 2006

Recap Of Important Legislation- 2006 Session

Below is a short recap of some of the most important legislative accomplishments of the 2006 session. Feel free to contact me if you would like additional information on these issues or any others that were debated by the General Assembly during this year’s session.

Education remained the #1 priority throughout this year’s session. I’m extremely proud of our many accomplishments, which will improve education from early childhood through adulthood. We were able to dedicate more funding to our children’s education than ever before. (The budget included $10.8 billion in resources dedicated to improving education and increasing teachers’ salaries. This total represents more than $943 million above last year’s budget and is in addition to $425 million in expected revenues from the new North Carolina Education Lottery.) We gave teachers the substantial pay raise they deserve (an average of 8%), which will bring them closer to the national average and will help us reduce our teacher shortage. We dedicated over $75 million to address the on-going Leandro school funding lawsuit, which will help our low-wealth schools and disadvantaged students and provide additional funds for literacy coaches and high school reforms. We also eliminated a $44.3 million recurring reduction in public school budgets ordered annually since the 2003 budget shortfall, a priority of our Guilford County School Board.

We continued our investment in outstanding universities and community colleges, which educate North Carolina citizens at all stages throughout their lives. UNC campuses across the state will receive $185.7 million to help build new classrooms and buildings, including projects at UNCG and A&T. The budget also substantially increases financial aid available for students attending our state’s universities and community colleges, and we gave parents a new tax deduction when they save for a child’s college education.

We established a new lottery oversight committee, which will ensure that all lottery proceeds go to early childhood education, reducing class size, school construction, and college scholarships. And, schools will be required to set aside time when students can recite the Pledge of Allegiance.


I worked hard to push for good environmental bills and fight bad ones this session, and overall we had a decent session. The best news comes from the budget where I pushed for legislation to provide funding for testing and emergency drinking water supplies for North Carolinians obtaining their drinking water from sources located near known contaminated hot spots. I also successfully pushed for funding for shellfish protection programs, and for restoring funds for the pesticide disposal program. I was not as successful in seeking funding for farmland preservation, despite gathering 93 cosponsors for funding, or for getting additional sedimentation and erosion control positions funded. Our biggest water quality problem is runoff, largely from sediment, and NC has not adequately funded that program for years. Additional provisions in the budget provide for expanding the state park at Hickory Nut Gorge, funding testing for new private drinking water wells, and fully funding Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

We vastly improved groundwater protection for those 2.7 million North Carolinians drinking from private wells. In addition to the funding listed above, we established comprehensive well construction standards statewide.

I worked hard for a much needed twelve-month landfill moratorium. Six proposed mega dumps in eastern NC counties would have resulted in NC importing an additional eight million tons of trash annually, becoming the fourth largest trash importer in the US. The moratorium puts a halt to that for twelve months while we consider the impact and establish an environmental justice study to look at the practice of landfills being sited in low income, often minority, communities.

We passed the School Children’s Health Act, which reduces students’ exposure to toxins in schools, including mercury products, arsenic in treated wood products, and emissions from idling buses.

We took a small step toward a sustainable energy policy, by enabling government buildings to finance energy efficiency measures with future energy cost savings. A comprehensive Energy Independence Act was pared down to include measures involving studying and planning for energy efficiency. I had pushed for the state’s adopting a renewable energy portfolio standard, as twenty two other states have done, but it seems we will wait until the Public Utilities Commission finishes its study on this subject next year. I had also pushed for an energy future use study, which would have accounted for public health and environmental impacts in arriving at the cost of energy generation, but the bill was killed by the utility lobbyists.

Bad bills that passed included a bill that will let Duke Energy emit more pollution than NC’s regulations allow at its Cliffside, NC plant. Several of us fought that hard, but lost. Another bad bill will allow for inadequate mitigation for development in the nutrient sensitive Neuse and Tar-Pamlico watersheds.

We did manage to stop several bad environmental bills. Risk –Based Environmental Remediation would have lowered groundwater cleanup standards and enabled polluters to walk away from future liability with a small fee. Another bill would have allowed for weakened protection for trout waters. Finally, the billboard industry had pushed legislation that would have doubled the area of tree clearing in front of billboards and made the public foot the bill.

Unfortunately, there were also several good bills that did not pass, including many I had introduced. In addition to those mentioned above, I had also pushed for clean cars legislation to reduce emissions from those mobile sources. I had also pushed for better tax treatment for land held for conservation purposes. I tried to require better disclosure of coastal hazards in real estate transactions on the coast. I pushed for better management of the waste from our hog industry. And I supported the land for tomorrow bond initiative, which has been turned to a study I hope to participate in. I also pushed for the reduction of products containing mercury, which will be studied by the Environmental Review Commission, on which I sit.

Improving health care in North Carolina by making it more affordable and accessible for all of our citizens was another top priority during this year’s session. As stated on opening day, most House members believe that health care should be a part of the job – if you work, you should have health insurance. Unfortunately, half of the 1.3 million uninsured North Carolinians work full-time jobs. To help address the problem, we passed numerous bills this session that will improve and expand health care and services in communities across our state.

The House Select Committee on Health Care, and its six subcommittees held numerous meetings prior to May and made recommendations for legislation on issues including access to health care, ways to decrease the number of uninsured North Carolinians, and the state’s increasing costs associated with Medicaid.

After three years of work and passage by the House several times in recent years, we finally approved a new tax credit for small businesses that offer health insurance to employees. The new $250 tax credit will go to small businesses that offer health coverage to employees making less than $40,000. This credit is intended to help our valuable businesses with one of their fastest growing expenses, plus allow more North Carolinians to get or keep health insurance.

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation creating a new high-risk insurance pool, which would cover people who can’t afford health insurance or qualify under traditional plans. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take it up prior to adjournment. Supporters of the bill said this was a first step toward providing affordable health care to our state’s 1.3 million uninsured.

This year’s budget provides more than $4.2 billion for health and human services. As part of an on-going reform effort that began in 2001, we dedicated $95 million in new funds for mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse programs, including $14.4 million for the Mental Health Trust Fund. We provided $27.4 million in relief to all 100 counties to freeze the counties’ portion of Medicaid expenses at the 2005-06 year’s level. More than $30 million is provided for child care services and subsidies, which will maintain the current 2,650 child care slots, remove 3,096 children from the waiting list, and create 3,100 new slots.

North Carolina’s economy has steadily improved during the last few years; however, some communities continue to experience job losses and unemployment rates higher than the state or national rate. In an effort to strengthen our economy and create new jobs, my colleagues and I were successful on numerous fronts. We approved a $1 increase in the state’s minimum wage, which will increase the salaries of approximately 140,000 North Carolinians from $5.15 to $6.15 per hour starting January 1, 2007. We provided substantial pay increases for our valuable teachers and state employees – teachers received an average 8% increase and state employees received a 5.5% increase.

We approved legislation to vastly improve job creation programs, like the One North Carolina Fund and Job Development Investment Grants (JDIG), which have created over 33,000 new jobs across our state since 2001. The budget provided $15 million for the One North Carolina Fund and $5 million for the One North Carolina Small Business Fund. Legislators also made major improvements to the William S. Lee Act, which was created 10 years ago and has created more than 130,000 new jobs across the state during the past decade. Under this program, companies receive tax credits based on the location of new jobs – companies receive higher credits if jobs are located in the more economically distressed or impoverished counties of the state.

We provided close to $200 million in tax cuts for all North Carolinians, including a reduction in the state’s sales tax, effective December 1, 2006 – just in time for the holidays, and a reduction in the personal income tax rate, which will help approximately 30,000 small businesses. We also capped the state’s gas tax to ensure it does not increase further even if oil and gas companies continue to raise prices at the pump for consumers.

Legislators took numerous important steps during this year’s session, which will reduce crime and better protect our families and communities. We strengthened our laws regarding sex offenders, DWIs, identity theft, and the production of meth, which is a dangerous drug impacting many of our rural communities. Legislators also approved vital funding in the budget for our courts, new judicial and law enforcement positions including several in Guilford County, and our state’s emergency preparedness efforts.

Following work by the House Select Committee on Sex Offender Registration Laws, the General Assembly passed numerous measures that crack down on sex offenders, which will better protect our children. Sex offenders will now be prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center and will not be able work or volunteer in a position where they would interact with minors. Some of the worst predators face lifetime satellite monitoring under a new global positioning system (GPS), and all offenders must comply with tougher registration requirements, which will help authorities to update addresses and photographs. DMV is also instructed to search the national database of sex offenders prior to issuing a new driver’s license, which will help ensure criminals from other states also register and are monitored in our state. Legislators also took aim at human trafficking and sexual servitude by increasing penalties, especially for those individuals who harbor children. We included $1.5 million in the budget to upgrade the state’s sex offender registry, implement the global positioning system (GPS), and establish an email notification program so citizens can be notified when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhoods.

Lawmakers approved legislation to create a first-in-the-nation Actual Innocence Commission, which will help ensure the wrongfully-convicted are not in prison and the guilty are. The commission will be focused on examining questions of innocence, while the current criminal appeals process is geared toward ensuring fair trials.

After three years of work, the state has overhauled and toughened our DWI laws. The new laws will impose tougher penalties for those who cause fatal accidents and limit the discretion of judges, which in the past has resulted in many DWI charges being reduced or completely tossed out of court. The DWI changes create three new felonies – and stiffer penalties – for automobile accidents that involve impaired driving and result in serious injury or death. The measure will also require merchants to keep records on keg sales and make it a misdemeanor for anyone younger than 21 to drink an alcoholic beverage.

The General Assembly also passed legislation to ban video poker. The new law, which was supported by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, requires current machine owners or businesses to downsize from the current maximum of three machines to two machines by October 1, 2006, and from two machines to one machine by March 1, 2007. A complete ban of the machines will take effect on July 1, 2007. The phase out of video poker will allow the more than 1,700 current employees in the industry to find new jobs while ridding the state of the controversial games.


House members spent close to eight months drafting various ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying reform proposals. I was appointed to the House Select Committee on Ethics and Governmental Reform, which was established at the end of last year and looked at numerous issues and ultimately recommended ten pieces of legislation.

Prior to adjourning, legislators approved some of the toughest and most far-reaching campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics reforms and regulations in the nation. We strengthened ethics regulations for the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, and for boards and commissions. We established an independent, eight-member State Ethics Commission, which will conduct inquiries on complaints filed against all three branches of government. Following last year’s passage of tougher lobbying regulations, lawmakers went further this year by enacting additional reforms including a gift-giving ban and a ban on lobbyists contributing to political campaigns.

Legislators also approved bills that provide more control over the use of campaign funds and prohibit the use of funds for personal expenses, improves required training for campaign treasurers, bans the use of “blank payee” contribution checks, and requires stronger reporting requirements on campaign finance reports as well as efforts by lobbyists and politically active “527” groups. Unfortunately, we did not approve the public financing pilot project for four legislative races.

My colleagues and I approved several measures intended to combat illegal immigration in North Carolina. Driver’s license applicants will now have to produce a Social Security card or valid visa when applying for a North Carolina license. In recent years, illegal immigrants had used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) as identification to obtain a driver’s license. Another new law would require state government, including the UNC system, community colleges, and public school systems, to use a federal database to ensure new hires are legal residents. The House also passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to enact meaningful immigration reform, including locating a new immigration court in Charlotte and allowing local authorities to be able to work with federal agencies to deport illegal immigrants who are caught driving while impaired or for other serious crimes.


I plan on spending the next three months splitting my time between my campaign for reelection and my work on interim committees, including Global Warming, Death Penalty, Environmental Review, and Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Thanks to all of you for your continued communications and advocacy on the issues. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of help.

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