Friday, February 23, 2007

Other Legislative Highlights 02-23-07

This week I introduced House Bill 332, with 90 co-sponsors, which would appropriate $10 million for the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. This fund has been historically underfunded and as a result we have missed out on accessing millions of federal matching dollars, while we are losing farmland at the fastest rate in the country. I also joined Rep. Paul Luebke in introducing House Bill 291, which directs the state treasurer to divest companies doing business in the conflict-wracked African nation of Sudan. Treasurer Richard Moore has already undertaken an effort to divest in several companies involved in this war-torn region.

Below are other bills that have been introduced in the House or Senate during the last week:

v House Bill 274, the Street Gang Prevention Act, would increase criminal penalties for gang violence as well as providing $150,000 to the Department of Justice for the creation of a statewide criminal street gang member database and $10 million in grants for gang violence prevention and intervention programs.

v House Bill 283 would increase the pension for former firefighters and rescue squad members.

v House Bill 341 would provide that the state Supreme Court’s “proportionality review” of any death penalty case should include all similar capital cases reviewed on appeal, not just those that resulted in a death sentence. This is an important first step towards reform of the administration of the death penalty

v Senate Bill 215 would require a deposit on beverage containers that could be returned to redemption centers for deposit refunds as a way to reduce litter and encourage recycling.

v Senate Bill 208 would issue up to $500 million in bonds for grants and loans for wastewater and drinking water projects if voters approved the borrowing in a statewide referendum this November.

v Senate Bill 222 would make it a felony to rob someone using the appearance of a firearm.

v Senate Bill 242 would establish a uniform procedure for state tax refund claims.

v Senate Bill 296 would continue in-state tuition for dependents of members of the armed forces if the uniformed person is killed in combat or while on active military duty while assigned to a North Carolina unit.

The news this week regarding Speaker Black's state-level charges is troubling and disappointing. We hope that these improprieties are behind us with his resignation from office. I pledge to continue to work for more reforms that will restore the public's confidence it its government.

I am pleased that so many of you feel free to contact me to let me know how you feel about the issues that are being debated by the North Carolina General Assembly and the challenges you and your family are facing each day. By continuing to work together, we can make a difference in Guilford County and all regions of North

Carolina, to provide a better place to live, work, and raise a family.



General Assemby Salutes the UNC Women's Soccer Team

Members of the House and Senate came together on Thursday morning to host and congratulate the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team for winning the 2006 NCAA championship. The UNC team has won 19 national titles in its history.

Global Climate Change

The Legislative Committee on Global Climate Change, on which I sit, met to make recommendations to the legislature for the long session. We were joined by a delegation of members of the British Parliament, who stressed the global nature of the debate and congratulated us on working on this problem. The delegation has been traveling across the country studying energy and global warming related issues.

The committee made several recommendations for legislation and other changes including the following:

  • Adopt a renewable energy and efficiency portfolio standard (similar to my bill, HB77, although no specific percentages were recommended), moving us away from fossil fuels and toward alternative energy choices;
  • Establish a public benefits fund with a small surcharge on utility bills to pay for efficiency and conservation measures;
  • Establish a greenhouse gas registry and inventory, and adopt a goal for limits on carbon emissions;
  • Promote more energy efficient building standards; and
  • Set new efficiency standards for appliances sold in North Carolina.

Two New Coal Powered Power Plants For NC?

On Thursday, lawmakers sent a letter to the N.C. Utilities Commission, asking it to delay its decision for 90 days on whether to allow Duke Energy to build two coal-fired power generators at the aging Cliffside facility west of Charlotte. Launched by Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, the letter complains that the public hasn’t received adequate information about the plant and the potential negative impact on consumers, in addition to its rising costs. In November, the company acknowledged that its cost estimate for the plants in Rutherford and Cleveland counties had soared 50 percent, from $2 billion to more than $3 billion. Duke Energy is urging quick approval of the new plants so it can “lock in on negotiated prices for equipment and labor before costs rise again.” If built, Duke Energy’s proposed Cliffside units would be the state’s first major power plant project in a quarter century. The utilities commission is scheduled to rule on the proposal next week.

The Future Of Hog Farming In North Carolina

The North Carolina Pork Council and Progress Energy said in a press conference on Monday afternoon that they’ve found an economical way to generate energy from farm waste. They asked legislators to create a seven-year pilot program that would test the feasibility of converting hog waste from across the state into electricity, which could be sold to the utility company no later than late 2012. If approve by the General Assembly, hog producers would collect methane gas from their treatment systems and convert it to power. Under the pilot program, Progress Energy would purchase the electricity generated at about 18 cents per kilowatt hour – significantly more than the 4.5 cents to the 5.5 cents usually paid by other non-utility generators. The program could help the hog industry develop a new use for hog waste, which would further increase the state’s renewable energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While it might hold some promise, it is not clear what happens to the remainder of the hog waste. Under federal law, progress energy and other utility companies are required to buy electricity from renewable energy generators and other small electricity producers. If my bill, HB77, passes, the same will be required by state law.

On Tuesday, environmentalists and neighbors of hog farms in eastern North Carolina held a press conference and walked the halls of the General Assembly to meet with legislators to urge them to approve a permanent ban on animal waste lagoons and spray fields, and replace those that already exist with safer methods of disposal. A 10-year state moratorium on new hog lagoons is set to expire in September, 2007. North Carolina is the nation’s second-largest swine-producing state and its hog farms dump 13 million pounds of hog waste a day into open-air pits called lagoons, which is later sprayed on fields as fertilizer. Farmers say the practice is the only economically feasible way to handle the waste, but opponents say it’s an environmental danger, spoiling the air and contaminating groundwater and rivers, as well as ruining the quality of life of neighbors. Last spring, a report recommended five alternatives that would reduce ammonia and pathogen emissions, but which could cost of up to five times more than the lagoon and spray-field method. Environmental groups and swine farmers launched two pilot projects last summer to dispose of the waste more safely.

Also Tuesday, Rep. Dewey Hill, D-Columbus, introduced legislation (House Bill 275) to extend the existing moratorium on new hog farms and lagoons by three years, to September 2010. In the next week or two, legislation will be introduced permanently banning new hog waste lagoons and phasing out existing lagoons.

Improving Health Care In NC

Several bills were introduced this week, which focused on improving the health of North Carolinians. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, introduce legislation (House Bill 265) that would establish a high-risk insurance pool, which has already gained the support of 53 co-sponsors in the House, including me. The bill seeks to help people who cannot afford health insurance because of pre-existing health conditions. It would guarantee coverage to patients with premiums of no more than 175 percent of a standard health care plan, and insurers would pay a fee of up to $2 – phased in through 2012 – per each traditional customer it serves, which would go into the pool to pay the health care costs of the high-risk patients. Supporters of the high-risk pool say this is a first step toward providing affordable health care to more than 1.3 million North Carolinians who do not have health insurance. The House passed a similar bill in 2006, but it was not considered by the Senate before adjournment.

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman of Davidson County has introduced a bill (House Bill 259) that seeks to better protect the health of North Carolinians by banning smoking in public places, such as restaurants and work places. Exceptions are made for bars and private clubs, retail tobacco shops and designated rooms in hotels. As the bill is currently written, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2008. Local health directors across the state would track ALL violations. Holliman sponsored a similar bill in 2005, which failed in the House by five votes. Several states have already adopted similar smoke-free legislation aimed at reducing second-hand smoke, including Florida, Colorado, and New York. New York State experienced a 12 percent drop in smoking rates the year the bill was passed. Members of the Guilford delegation and I plan on introducing legislation in the next two weeks to allow Greensboro to enact stricter smoking regulations than are currently permitted by state law.

House members have also introduced legislation (House Bill 335) that seeks to reduce health disparities between Caucasian North Carolinians and African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians in our state. The bill would provide $6 million to the Department of Health and Human Services over the next two years, which would be awarded to local health departments, community organizations and American Indian tribes that seek to reduce infant mortality, cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, homicides and motor vehicle deaths.

Governor Easley's "State of the State" Address

During his fourth State of the State address on Monday night, Gov. Mike Easley praised the General Assembly for working with him since he took office in 2001, especially during the state’s recession and billion dollar plus budget shortfalls. He focused largely on ways to improve the education of every child in North Carolina.

The governor called on the General Assembly to launch the nation’s most ambitious education initiative that would allow students to earn a four-year degree at a state university debt free. First, he called for a major expansion of the state’s Learn and Earn program, which allows students to stay in high school for an extra year, and earn enough community college or university credits to get an associate’s degree and a high school diploma at the same time. The program now reaches 33 high schools and will expand to 75 high schools by the 2008-09 school year. In two years it would be available to every student, Easley said.

Along with the Learn and Earn expansion, Gov. Easley proposed a new initiative that would allow more students to attend and graduate from college. For low- and moderate-income students, he called for the creation of a major new financial aid program that combines a two-year state grant with current federal assistance that will replace the need for loans if students work 10 hours a week to help pay for their education. Therefore, students who complete the Learn and Earn program with two years of college credit will be able to finish their four-year degree at a state university debt-free.

In discussing our state’s economy, Gov. Easley said, “our state is much stronger. We have taken the toughest blows that a national recession and federal trade policies could deliver, and we are not only surviving in this new world economy, we are thriving in it.” But despite the improving economic situation, Gov. Easley declared that North Carolina has an obligation to continue to help its most vulnerable and hardworking citizens.

I was encouraged that he also mentioned the need for energy independence, especially the development of alternative energy sources. He pledged to push for more efficiency in government buildings as well as other conservation measures.

Governor Easley also called on legislators to:

  • Add 10,000 additional 4-year-olds to the state's "More at Four" pre-kindergarten program, which currently serves nearly 20,000 at-risk children.
  • Continue raising teacher pay, which will be up 18 percent since 2005 and on the way to reaching the national average by 2008.
  • Eliminate the state income tax for 600,000 low-income taxpayers and cut it in half for another 600,000.
  • Provide health insurance to foster children attending college until they turn 22 and to approximately 12,000 children in families who earn $40,000 to $60,000 a year, or 300 percent of the poverty level for a family of four.
  • Expand the North Carolina Rx prescription drug program to reach 45,000 more seniors.
  • Strengthen and expand campaign and lobbying reforms.

Governor’s 2007-08 Budget

Gov. Mike Easley released his state budget proposal for the next two years on Thursday morning during a press conference. My colleagues and I at the General Assembly will receive an extensive briefing on it next week. The governor’s budget is expected to provide greater details regarding the new initiatives he unveiled during Monday night’s State of the State address. The announcement of the governor’s budget officially kicks off the budget process in Raleigh. Over the next several months, the House and Senate will pass their own budget proposals, in hopes of passing a final budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

I will provide more details on the governor’s budget in next week’s update, or you can review the entire budget online at

Greetings From Raleigh 02-23-07

On Monday night, Governor Mike Easley delivered his fourth, and likely his final, State of the State address at the General Assembly, which was broadcast live across the state. The governor focused largely on education and gave us a sneak preview of his budget, which was unveiled on Thursday and will be discussed by legislators next week.

On Tuesday, former Speaker Black pleaded guilty to two felonies, offering a bribe and obstructing justice, in state court, further darkening the cloud that hangs over the legislature.

On Thursday, we were honored with a visit from a delegation of members of the British Parliament to our legislative commission on global climate change.

Members of the House and Senate have introduced close to 700 pieces of legislation during the first month of the 2007 session, which started on January 24. I introduced bills this week dealing with farmland preservation and state investments in Sudan. Other highlights include bills focused on providing affordable health care to North Carolina’s more than 1.3 million uninsured, banning smoking in public places, and reducing gang violence.

Please remember that you can learn more about the General Assembly by visiting Our newly updated website allows citizens to listen in on each day’s legislative session, committee meetings and press conferences, learn more about introduced legislation, and view each day’s schedule and list of bills to be voted on. The House will be back in session on Monday at 7 p.m.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Other Legislative Highlights

I filed HB205 with Rep. George Cleveland which would repeal the out-of-state tuition exemption for athletes and scholars in the UNC system which had been quietly slipped into the 2005 Budget. This provision will cost NC taxpayers more than $5 million a year in subsidies to out-of-state athletes in the UNC system. I can see no public policy objective achieved by this provision, and will push for its repeal.

Below are several additional bills that have been introduced in the House or Senate during the last week:

o House Bill 150 would change from Oct. 16 to Aug. 31 the deadline for a child’s fifth birthday in order for the child to attend kindergarten that fall.
o House Bill 179 would appropriate $2.15 million over two years to provide $10,000 bonuses to teachers of students with behavioral and emotional disabilities.
o House Bill 183 would ban cell phone use by school bus drivers
o House Bill 184 would exempt from state income taxes the compensation paid to a member of the armed forces on active duty.
o House Bill 192 would issue $250 million in bonds to help provide affordable housing.
o House Bill 213 would allow local government employees to return to work without losing retirement benefits.
o Senate Bill 124 would authorize local governments to regulate smoking in public places.
o Senate Bill 132 would establish an act to protect children from sexual predators, including expanded definitions of sexual activity, increased penalties for sexual exploitation of minors, requiring minors to have parental permission to put private information on social networking sites, and obligating film processors to report finding any images showing sexual conduct by minors.
o Senate Bill 156 would limit the length of legislative sessions.
o Senate Bill 161 would require student-athletes at public schools to undergo random tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
o Senate Bill 163 would establish a special insurance pool for chronically ill patients who don’t have access to affordable coverage.
o Senate Bill 168 would move North Carolina’s presidential primaries from May to the first Tuesday in February beginning in 2008.
o Senate Bill 171 would require students to attend school through age 17, up from 16, beginning in 2009; and through age 18 beginning in 2011, unless they graduate from high school at an earlier age.
o Senate Bill 179 would increase penalties and take other steps to strengthen prosecution of Medicaid fraud

The news about former Speaker Black’s admission of guilt brings a sad end to a once distinguished political career. However, I, as your elected representative, am even more committed to strengthening finance and campaign reform statutes. I am grateful for your support as I continue to make ethical reform a priority.

As I’ve said many times before, I hope you will continue to let me know how you feel about the issues that are being debated by the North Carolina General Assembly and the challenges you and your family are facing each day. By working together, we can make Guilford County and all regions of North Carolina a better place to live, work, and raise a family.



South African Royalty Visits General Assembly

The House of Representatives was honored to have a very special guest in our chamber on Thursday: Her
Majesty, the Queen Mother Semane Bonolo Molotlegi. Her Majesty is a member of the Royal Family of Royal
Bafokeng Nation based in the North West Province of South Africa. Her third son King Leruo Tshekedi
Molotlegi is the current King of the Royal Bafokeng Nation.

Her Majesty, as Queen and now as Queen Mother, has played a pivotal role in helping her country become a model to which other communities in the region hope to aspire. She champions the issues of job creation for her people, the rights of women in her country, improving education, and health care. In September 2006, a delegation of citizens from North Carolina was invited by a South African Religious leader to meet Her Majesty and to share community, religious, and medical strategies to eliminate health disparities. During that visit, she learned of a health care model that had been in place in NC for nearly a decade.

The purpose of The Queen Mother’s visit to North Carolina was to learn more about North Carolina’s health care innovations. While here, she and members of her delegation toured East Carolina University’s telemedicine program, the Windows on the World Teleconferencing center in Roper, NC, and other health care facilities.

The People's Agenda

On Saturday, February 10, more than 2,000 people from across North Carolina ranging from civil rights
activists, anti-war protesters, and low-income workers marched from Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium to the
Legislative Building to bring attention to the group’s legislative agenda.

The NAACP spearheaded what was called the “Historic K (Thousands) on Jones Streeta reference to the
Legislative Building’s address. More than 60 organizations participated in or endorsed the event, from black
Masons, the Latino group El Pueblo, union organizers, and the North Carolina Green and Socialist parties.
The group’s agenda consists of a 14-point action plan that focuses on issues ranging from expanding health care coverage to abolishing the death penalty and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. The agenda also includes offering more education money to comply with the Leandro school-funding lawsuit, creating a “living wage” that would be several dollars more than the current minimum of $6.15 per hour, and giving collective bargaining rights to government employees. To view the group’s entire 14-point legislative agenda, go to:

Last Saturday’s rally was held while the General Assembly was adjourned for the weekend so more working people could attend. A lobbying day is scheduled for March 28, which is expected to bring together an estimated 1,000 activists and legislators.

Military and Veterans Cacus Announced

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly recently announced the creation of the Military and Veterans Caucus, which is comprised of legislators in the House and Senate who are military veterans, who represent districts with a military presence, or who have an interest in issues affecting our armed forces. I joined 62 colleagues at the first official meeting of the new caucus.

Legislators also invited representatives of the National Guard, the N.C. Military Advisory Council, and veterans groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States to attend their caucus meeting.

Currently, there are 35 House members and 18 Senators with military experience. Some may not know that I am the widow of a decorated combat veteran and am very supportive of the military. North Carolina’s military bases, which account for the third largest military presence in the nation, contribute over $18 billion annually to our state’s economy. Our state is also home to more than 100,000 military personnel, which is more than all but two other states in the nation.

Fighting Against Child Predators

During a press conference on Monday, Attorney General Roy Cooper urged lawmakers to update state laws meant to combat child sexual predators. He’s supporting legislation that would increase punishment, improve methods of tracking offenders, and strengthen reporting requirements for people who discover pedophiles. Internet social networking sites would also be required to receive parents’ permission before children could share sensitive personal information. Reps. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, and Karen Ray, R-Iredell, chaired the House Select Committee on Sex Offender Registration and Internet Crimes Against Children, which made numerous recommendations that became the basis of several bills already introduced in the House. For example: House Bill 27, Duty to Report Child Porn; House Bill 28, Up Penalties/Sex Offenses with Child Victim; and House Bill 29, Sex Offender GPS/Doc Requests. To view the Attorney General’s press release and other information regarding sex offenders and child predators, go to:

House Committees Announced

During Monday night’s session, Speaker Joe Hackney announced the 44 House committees and subcommittees, which will meet during the 2007-08 session. After many discussions with members of the House Democratic and Republican caucuses, and careful consideration of their requests and suggestions, Speaker Hackney decided to create four new committees and restructure several others that have met in previous years.

The House of Representatives will now have committees that will focus on agribusiness and agricultural economy; energy and energy efficiency, which I will chair; juvenile justice; and mental health reform. Several committees will also focus on slightly different issues or have expanded responsibilities than in previous years, including: Commerce, Small Business, and Entrepreneurship; Federal Relations and Indian Affairs; Homeland Security, Military, and Veteran Affairs; and Ways and Means.

I will serve on the following committees: Energy and Energy Efficiency as Chair; Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources, Vice Chair; Environmental and Natural Resources, Vice Chair; Appropriations; Education; Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform; Judiciary I; and Public Utilities. I will also continue serving on Environmental Review Committee.

For a complete list of all House committees, go to: asp?sAction=ViewCommitteeType&sActionDetails=House% 2oStanding.

Senate President Pro Tern Marc Basnight, D-Dare, recently announced the Senate committees, which will meet during the next two years. For a complete list of all Senate committees, go to: asp?sAction=ViewCommitteeType&sActionDetails=Senate %2oStanding.

Greetings From Raleigh 02-16-07

Work at the General Assembly picked up substantially this week following Speaker Hackney’s announcement on Monday night of the 44 House committees and subcommittees, which will meet during the 2007-08 session. There has also been a substantial increase in the number of bills that legislators are currently working on, and plan to introduce over the next two months.

We were also briefed on budget items this week relating to public education and retiree health benefits and long-term liability, which will help us prepare for the budget discussions that will occur during the next four months.

The biggest news of the week was the announcement Thursday that former Speaker Black pleaded guilty to taking cash from chiropractors while promoting legislation benefitting them. It was a sad day for him, his family, the NC Legislature, and all North Carolinians.

Governor Mike Easley will be delivering his “State of the State” address on Monday, February 19. This will be Gov. Easley’s fourth ---and likely final -- address, which is given every two years, and usually highlights the requests he intends to make in his upcoming two-year budget proposal. Gov. Easley’s budget is expected to be presented to legislators soon. Check your local TV listings if you would like to watch the speech.

Please remember that you can learn more about the General Assembly by visiting Our newly updated website allows citizens to listen in on each day’s legislative session, committee meetings, and press conferences, learn more about introduced legislation, and view each day’s schedule and list of bills to be voted

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Other Legislative Highlights

Below are several bills that have been introduced in the House or Senate during the last week:

  • House Bill 130 would change from October 16 to June 16 the deadline for a child’s fifth birthday in order for the child to attend kindergarten that fall.
  • Senate Bill 82 would create felony counts of “endangering a juvenile” for adults who place children in dangerous situations without intentionally injuring them.
  • Several bills were recommended by the House Select Committee on Public School Construction, which has met in recent months to study ways to meet the growing needs of school systems across the state. It is expected that our state’s school systems need to build $9.8 billion worth of facilities over the next five years. House Bill 66 would allow all 100 counties to levy a one half-cent sales tax with proceeds dedicated to local school construction. House Bill 67 would allow local school districts to seek a refund on sales taxes they pay.
  • Senate Bill 70 would reduce the waiting period for retired teachers to return to the classroom without loss of benefits.
  • House Bill 81 would increase salaries of full-time faculty and staff at community colleges, with an appropriation of more than $134 million over two years.
  • Senate Bill 106 would remove the cap on the number of Charter Schools in North Carolina.
  • House Bill 65 would streamline the approval process of school construction projects and renovation plans.
  • House Bill 66 would authorize counties to levy one-half cent local sales and use taxes, which would be used for public school construction purposes if approved by the voters of that district.
  • Senate Bill 83 would make it a felony for the subject of a domestic violence order to trespass on property considered a safe house for domestic violence victims regardless of whether the person covered by the order is there.
  • Senate Bill 87 would prohibit the sale or distribution of video games and software determined to be graphically violent or sexually explicit.
  • House Bill 119 would include Internet safety instruction for students as part of the school technology plan.
  • House Bill 121 would require local school boards to ensure that high school science labs are equipped with safety gear for students and teachers.
  • Senate Bill 89 would establish a study commission on lethal injection and create a moratorium on executions until June 1, 2009, while the panel completes its study.
  • House Bill 122 would require hospitals to give free influenza vaccines to all employees who have direct patient contact.
  • Senate Bill 66 would create a commission to study the known environmental causes and triggers of cancer.
  • House Bill 77 would set a 20 percent renewable energy and efficiency standard for the state’s electric power generators by 2021.
  • House Bill 125 would dedicate $50 million over two years to the state Division of Public Health to help deliver 10 essential public health services in all counties.
  • House Bill 127 calls for a referendum to authorize issuance of $500 million in bonds to fund wastewater and drinking water projects.
  • House Bill 91 would allow for residents to register to vote at one-stop absentee voting sites and immediately cast a ballot at the site.
  • House Bill 68 would set formal guidelines under which biological parents or other blood relatives could create a written agreement with an adoptive parent to stay in touch with children after adoption.
  • House Bill 69 would change motor vehicle inspections and emissions from annually to once every two years.
  • House Bill 72 would raise the monthly pension for certain firefighters and rescue squad workers from $165 per month to $170.
  • House Bill 85 would extend by one year the grandfather date for some lifetime licenses from coastal recreational fishing license requirements.
  • House Bill 90 would outlaw hidden compartments in vehicles.
  • Senate Bill 92 would require owners of dangerous dogs to acquire liability insurance.
  • Senate Bill 96 would appropriate $2.9 million over two years for 10 family assistance centers for the North Carolina National Guard and armed forces and reserves.
  • Senate Bill 111 would allow adult adoptees or their direct descendants to receive a copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate and other information related to the adoption.
  • The House Study Committee on Abandoned Cemeteries, which met prior to the start of this year’s session, made several legislative recommendations, including: House Bill 107 would clarify state laws related to abandoned and neglected cemeteries so to encourage their care and recast the statutes related to removing graves from property; and House Bill 105 would make it a felony to knowingly and willfully disturb, remove or desecrate human remains interred in a cemetery without consent or by law.
  • Senator David Weinstein has introduced two bills that would make changes to the General Assembly and the compensation and election schedule for legislators. Senate Bill 85 would amend the North Carolina constitution by changing the length of Senate terms from two years to four years and Senate Bill 98 would raise compensation for state legislators, ranging from an increase from $13,951 to $14,718 annually for House and Senate members to an increase from $38,151 to $40,249 annually for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore.

I hope you will continue to let me know how you feel about the issues that are being debated by the North Carolina General Assembly, and the challenges you and your family are facing each day. By working together, we can make North Carolina a better place to live, work, and raise a family.



Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

This week I introduced HB77, which promotes the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency in North Carolina by requiring a 20% Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Standard (REPS) by 2020. This will require that 20% of the state’s energy needs come from renewable sources and improved efficiencies. The resources are available to meet such a standard without measurable increases in rates, and it should significantly increase jobs relating to green energy, in short order. There is a great deal of interest in alternative energy issues at the Legislature this session. I expect to see a lot of activity in this sector.

Legislators Honor Former Rep. Bernard Allen

The House and Senate on Monday night honored the life of the late Rep. Bernard Allen, D-Wake. Rep. Allen served two terms in the House before dying in October at the age of 69. Several members remembered Rep. Allen as a passionate and energetic legislator and lifelong activist for education. House members mentioned his efforts as a leader of the civil rights movement, his work on behalf of low-income citizens in his district and across the state, and sponsoring important legislation such as clean drinking wells (which I worked closely with him on), North Carolina’s education lottery, and improved working environments and salaries for state employees.

Legislators, Council of State Discuss the Death Penalty

The House Interim Study Committee on Capital Punishment, on which I sit, has spent the last year studying the state’s death penalty and criminal justice system, and it held its final meeting on Monday. The House panel recommended some legislation, but did not consider a proposal – a two-year moratorium – that would temporarily suspend the death penalty in North Carolina. I was disappointed we were not able to recommend any reforms to make the administration of the death penalty fairer, but I expect several bill to be filed in the coming weeks.

Also on Monday, I joined 43 State Senators and Representatives (including many from Guilford) in sending a letter to Governor Mike Easley requesting an immediate suspension of all executions “until we can be assured that North Carolina’s method of execution clearly meets the U.S. constitutional requirement that the punishment is not cruel and unusual”. The letter also drew attention to recent developments in other states across the country as reason for a temporary moratorium in North Carolina. Governor Jeb Bush imposed a moratorium on executions in Florida following a December 13, 2006, botched execution during which the condemned inmate clearly suffered a protracted, painful death. In addition, nine additional states – Arkansas, California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee – have recently halted executions to review their lethal injection process.

On Tuesday morning, the Council of State – made up of the governor, lieutenant governor, and the elected heads of eight state government agencies – approved a revised procedure for administering executions. The council was forced into the capital punishment debate by a judge who placed three executions on hold, citing a 1909 law that requires the council to approve any change in the state’s execution procedure. State correction officials changed the protocol after the state medical board said it is unethical for doctors to participate in executions and threatened to discipline any that did.

The new protocol now goes back before Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, and will probably be taken up by the General Assembly. Attorney General Roy Cooper has also indicated that he would try to negotiate with the state medical board before returning to Stephens’ court.

House Majority Whip Elected

House Democratic members elected three members to serve as Majority Whips for the next two years: Reps. Larry Bell of Sampson County, Jean Farmer-Butterfield of Wilson County, and Deborah Ross of Wake County.

The Majority Whips will be part of the House Leadership team, which includes Speaker Joe Hackney, Speaker Pro Tem William Wainwright of Craven County, and Majority Leader Hugh Holliman of Davidson County. The three-member whip team is responsible for keeping tabs on what legislation is coming to the floor or will be debated in committees, and will offer needed information to members as requested; monitoring how members of the House Democratic Caucus are reacting to important bills or plan to vote; helping to ensure the priority issues of the caucus are advanced throughout the session; and ensuring members are present for important votes and are aware of the positions of the House leaders and the Democratic Caucus on various bills up for debate.

Budget Briefings:Corrections and Mental Health

As part of the on-going informational briefings for House and Senate members, legislative fiscal staff told us on Tuesday morning that the Department of Correction will likely need an additional 2,500 prison beds by 2011. The increase is due to growth in the rate of felony convictions and the length of sentences. The analysts said the General Assembly must make decisions on building new prisons this year, but added. Lawmakers could reform sentencing and work to reduce recidivism, or repeat offender, rates to narrow the number of beds needed.

On Wednesday the discussion shifted to our state’s mental health services and possible ways to make needed improvements in communities across the state. In North Carolina, nearly $3 billion in federal, state, and local money is spent each year on services for mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse. However, local and state spending on mental-health care in North Carolina varies widely from county to county, accentuating the gap between rural and urban areas in quality of care.

Legislative staff members described several large problems in the state’s mental-health system. The problems include the regional disparities in the quality of care and the state’s over reliance on psychiatric hospitals. Many rural areas are hit the hardest. In each county, a “Local Management Entity,” or LME, is set up to contract with private mental-health-care providers, but some rural counties simply do not have enough providers. Legislators approved $95 million in new funding for mental health services in the 2006-07 budget and are expected to continue working on additional reforms and improvements in the coming months.

In fact several new standing committees have been created, including one on mental health reform, which is a signal that a growing number of legislators want mental health services to be a priority in next year’s budget. All House committees are expected to be announced next week.

This week’s briefings were our first in-depth look at the state’s corrections and mental health systems and expected expenses in both areas as we begin our work to draft and approve a two-year budget during the next five months. Next week, we will receive briefings on public education and retiree health benefits.

Although the next budget cycle, which begins July 1, 2007, will be tight, no one is expecting anything like the “billion dollar plus” budget shortfalls from a few years ago when our state’s economy was in a recession and we lost tens of thousands of jobs. Legislators, who are expecting a budget shortfall of $200 to $500 million this year, will now begin the task of looking at all areas of state government and various programs to determine what can be made more efficient or cut entirely in order to meet the growing needs of our state and its citizens.

Greetings From Raleigh 02-09-07

Legislators have been working in Raleigh for slightly over two weeks and our to-do list continues to grow. We received additional briefings on the budget this week with specific emphasis on the growing needs of our state’s mental health services and criminal justice system. These briefings will help us as we begin work in the coming weeks on drafting a two-year budget.

So far this session, close to 250 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate on a wide range of topics related to education, health care, public safety, taxes, the environment, improving our economy, and local projects across the state. I have introduced a major renewable energy bill.

On a lighter note, members of the House and Senate honored the two-time national championship Appalachian State University football team on Tuesday. Mrs. Hughlene Frank, of Greensboro, a member of the ASU Board of Trustees, was in attendance. The Mountaineers defeated the University of Massachusetts on December 15, 2006, by a score of 28-17. The players, coaches, athletic staff, and families also attended a special celebration at the Governor’s mansion.