Friday, April 27, 2007

Notes 4-27-07

The News and Observer reports today that several legislators are considering running for Congressman Brad Miller's seat if he does decide to run for the Senate. Those considering a run include Rep. Grier Martin and Sen. Janet Cowell of Wake County, as well as our own Sen. Kay Hagan.

Please continue to let me know the concerns of you and your family. Working together we can improve the quality of life for the citizens of Greensboro, Guilford County, and the State of North Carolina.



Public Saftey 4-27-07

The House Judiciary Committee, on which I sit, has recommended adopting rules that law officers would have to follow when conducting eyewitness lineups. A state judicial commission on innocence proposed the changes a few years ago after evidence showed that lineups were often faulty and failed to reveal the actual criminals. In 75% of cases, when DNA evidence resulted in the convictions being overturned, there had been faulty identification. Some law enforcement trainers have taught officers the revised methods recommended by the commission, but they aren't obligated to. House Bill 1625 would require the training and use of the procedures, such as presenting the suspects or their pictures one at a time rather than all together, and having an officer not involved in the investigation conduct the lineup.

The state Department of Justice has unveiled an updated sex offender registry Web site to help people better track people convicted of sex crimes. The new site allows users to register to receive e-mail alerts when a sex offender moves in a neighborhood or near a school and to view maps that show where sex offenders live within a 5-mile radius of a specific address. A person also can receive emails about a specific offender. State law requires people convicted of sex-related crimes register with a local sheriff, and the online registry provides information about the criminal, including a photo.

Support for the death penalty appears to be waning in North Carolina, according to a recent poll. The Elon University poll reports that 58 percent of those people who responded support the death penalty, down from 66 percent in a poll conducted in November, 2005. Forty-eight percent say it's always the most appropriate punishment for first-degree murder, down from 61 percent in the earlier poll, while 38 percent said life in prison is most appropriate. Just 27 percent favored life in prison in the 2005 poll. The shift seems to be in part a result of some very high profile wrongful convictions and accusations (e.g., the Duke lacrosse case, Darryl Hunt, and Alan Gell) as well as concerns about participating in the executions expressed by members of the medical profession, both doctors and nurses.

Ethics Violations

Public officials and state workers found guilty of corruption would lose their pensions under a bill approved unanimously in the Senate. A companion bill, Bill 1066, is pending. The loss of these pensions would not be retroactive to address any past illegal conduct by public officials. The law covers legislators, judges, teachers, and state and local employees convicted of election fraud or public corruption.

Education Lottery Update

The fund established to hold the net proceeds of the North Carolina Education Lottery has grown to $305 million after a recent transfer of $86 million. Lottery sales totaled almost $950 million between its inception on March 30, 2006, and April 19, 2007. State law requires at least 35 percent of net revenues be used for education initiatives such as class-size reduction, preschool programs, school construction, and college scholarships. Revenues have fallen short of projections and the Governor has proposed increasing the payout amounts to attract more players.

Health Issues

Adults adopted as children would have access to their original birth certificates under House Bill 445. These certificates are often sealed from public view at the time of adoption, and the names of the birth parents are not attainable. Descendants of a deceased adoptee could also make the request. Birth parents would be allowed to indicate whether or not they would want to be contacted, but in either case could provide updated medical history.

Environmental and Energy Issues

The House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, on which I sit, approved House Bill 36, requiring that companies that store hazardous waste face closer monitoring, more frequent inspections, and better disclosure of the nature of the hazardous items stored on site . The legislation, which moves to the full House next week, seeks to prevent disasters such as the Oct. 9, 2006 fire at a chemical plant in Apex, which blanketed the town with a toxic haze and resulted in its evacuation for two days. The bill incorporates recommendations made by the Hazardous Waste Materials Task Force, which was formed by the Governor after the blaze. Key components of the bill provide first responders and residents with information needed for safely responding to such emergencies.

Senator Dole has finally weighed in opposition to the Navy's plans for an outlying landing field proposed for Beaufort and Washington Counties. The Navy's preferred site would result in the condemnation of thousands of acres of farmland, most of which has been in families for generations. The site is also adjacent to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which attracts more than 100,000 artic tundra swan and other migrating waterfowl. The Navy's solution to removing the danger posed by the birds getting sucked into jet engines- poison and shoot them. With the majority of the state's delegation firmly opposed to the plan, it seems to have little traction.

Citizens in the western part of the county are concerned about the Heart of the Triad's proposed plans for development of a 6300 acre area which includes farms that have also been held by families for more than a century. Rep Larry Brown has asked the state auditor's office to look into the expenditure of a $200,000 DOT grant meant to deal with air quality non-attainment issues, but may have instead been spent on road planning through these farms. I have been very concerned about the plan and a group of us at the legislature have been working together to ensure that the citizens impacted will have a voice in the matter. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to provide even more funding for the planning, which seems to be largely driven by development and realtor interests.

Representatives Grier Martin, Jim Harrell, Carolyn Justice, and I have sponsored, House Bill 77, which would mandate that a certain percentage of our state's energy usage come from renewable energy sources as well as energy efficiency, creating a renewable energy and efficiency portfolio standard (REPS). The bipartisan bill will stimulate a market for renewable energy production in NC as well as reduce our carbon emissions, as occurred in the 23 other states that have adopted such standards. The House Energy Committee, which I chair, should begin hearing the bill within the next two weeks.

Greetings From Raleigh 04-27-07

House budget writers have slowed down passage of the appropriations bill in anticipation of good news about more money being available from the Department of Revenue. House Democrats plan to spend any additional money on education, reducing the Medicaid burden on counties, and giving income tax relief to the working poor. House leaders still anticipate passage of their budget early next month. The measure will then go to the Senate and lawmakers will try to approve a final version before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, 2007. The pace of business in the House continues to quicken as we approach the May 17th "crossover deadline" which is the date non-funding bills must pass the chamber in which they were introduced in order to remain eligible for consideration during this two-year biennium. For the next several weeks committees will hold extra meetings and floor sessions will run long so bill sponsors will have the opportunity to pass their legislation.

My colleagues and I continued to work on many important policy issues. A House committee has recommended changing the way criminal investigators perform suspect identification lineups, another approved measures protecting residents near hazardous waste facilities, and another committee is considering ways to open birth records for adoptees.

Please remember that you can listen to each day's session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly's website at Once on the site, select "audio," and then make your selection - House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room, or Press Conference Room.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Notes 4-20-07

I am attending the National Conference of State Legislators in Washington, D.C. Thursday through Saturday. Therefore, I will just list the bills that I introduced this week, with a more detailed explanation to come.

Thank you as always for allowing me to share this information with you. I appreciate the time you, my constituents, take to keep in touch and let me know your thoughts and concerns. By working together we can improve the quality of life for all the citizens of Greensboro and Guilford County.



Military 4-20-07

Service members and small businesses would benefit from a proposal recently introduced in the House. House Bill 1499, which I co-sponsored, would offer small businesses – those with 25 or fewer employees – tax credits for employing reservists or National Guardsmen who are called to active duty. The credits would help pay the cost of training people to replace the deployed service members and also the cost of reintegrating returning soldiers into the company’s work force.

Health 4-20-07

A revised bill, House Bill 259, to restrict smoking in North Carolina has again cleared the Judiciary I Committee, this time without the proposed ban on smoking at businesses that some lawmakers opposed. The latest version of the bill would prohibit smoking in restaurants and lodging facilities statewide, and allow local governments to impose stricter regulations for other businesses. Existing law doesn’t allow local governments to enact anti-smoking rules more restrictive than state regulations.

Public Saftey 4-20-07

Attorney General Roy Cooper and the state’s higher education leaders announced Wednesday they will review campus safety as a result of the 33 shooting deaths earlier this week at Virginia Tech. Erskine Bowles, president of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system, said the system had already planned to limit access to dorms and install more cameras on its campuses. The crime rate on UNC campuses is one-sixth the crime rate of the entire state, he said. Cooper's task force will study lock-down procedures, how to improve communication with students, and ways to better identify potential lawbreakers.

Rep. Ty Harrell has introduced a bill, House Bill 1764, to redact some personal, identifying information such as cell phone numbers, driver’s license numbers, birth dates, and insurance policy numbers from online vehicle accident reports. The online revelation of such detailed, personal information leaves people involved in accidents open to online identify theft.

Education 4-20-07

Education, community, and business leaders gathered this week to help provide the House Education Subcommittee on Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education with some guidance as it begins a new initiative to improve the state’s graduation rate. Howard Lee, chairman of the State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, as well as the presidents of Communities in Schools, the North Carolina Association of Educators and the N.C. Society of Hispanic Professionals and representatives from the Hunt Institute, the N.C. Justice Center and SAS attended the hearing, along with Speaker Joe Hackney, House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman and other lawmakers.

The House is expected to approve legislation this session to create pilot programs using some of the ideas gathered at the hearings to be held in Raleigh and Durham, and from educators.

The House education budget subcommittee has agreed with the Senate on a nearly $11 billion budget proposal. The draft offers about $114 million less than what Gov. Mike Easley wants and would not allow for his Learn and Earn program to be offered online to all of the state’s high schools. Budget writers in both chambers hope that more money will be available for education after the budget and finance packages are refined.

Nearly 100 undergraduate students from University of North Carolina schools visited the General Assembly on Tuesday as part of a research symposium. The research ranged from bee behavior, to a study of access for the disabled, to how racial bias influences jurors, a project by one of four students from Greensboro, three of whom were from UNC-G and one from A& T.

Greetings From Raleigh 04-20-07

I spoke at the Mobilizing NC Conference held in Greensboro April 18th, which focused on alternative fuels and advanced transportation technology issues in North Carolina. I was excited to participate with and to introduce, Dr. Richard Leakey, a long-time hero of mine. Dr. Leakey was named by TIME magazine as One of the 100 Greatest Minds of the 20th Century, in addition to many other honors and awards for his life’s work.

In addition to attending this critical-issues conference, I, and other members of the House of Representatives, faced a bill filing deadline this week which produced a great deal of legislation.

House education leaders moved quickly this week to start work on an initiative to improve the state’s high school graduation rate, holding an informational session with educators, business people, and leaders of community groups.

Outside our chamber, our state’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and state education leaders, have started a review of campus safety in the wake of the massacre at Virginia Tech. Our sympathies are extended to the students, families, and the entire Virginia Tech community. We pledge to continue to evaluate safety procedures in order to protect our college students.

Please remember that you can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at Once on the site, select “audio,” and then make your selection – House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Additionally, I have co-sponsored bills to aid our military personnel: House Bill 1413 provides for the designated appointment of a veteran of the armed forces to the state personnel commission; House Bill 1414 would revise the law providing for creditable service in the teachers' and state employees' retirement system for members who served in the armed forces of the united states; and House Bill 1415 would insure that a member of the teachers' and state employees' retirement system shall not be denied short-term disability benefits due to an absence for military service.

House Bill 1358, which I sponsored, will establish the Consumer Health Freedom Act for Complementary and Alternative Forms of Health Care Services and facilitate access to alternative health care services.

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.



Budget Items

The main budget-writers in the General Assembly asked their fellow lawmakers to trim Gov. Mike Easley's proposed $20.1 billion budget by about 1 percent. The $210 million cut would reduce the governor's proposed $350 million expansion budget by 60 percent. Gov. Easley's recommended education budget would be reduced by $115 million, while the Health and Human Services proposal would lose $26 million. The latter is particularly troublesome in light of the disaster that has become mental health reform. Part of the reason for the proposed cuts is uncertainty over the state's tax structure. Gov. Easley and some members of the House favor keeping a half-cent sales tax and an income tax increase for the state's wealthiest individuals - both approved in 2001 and set to expire soon - on the books. The loss of revenue exceeds $300 million, but the impact on the average taxpayer is deminimus.

Enviornment 4-13-07

Environment North Carolina release a new report April 11, 2007, ranking North Carolina fourth in the nation for the largest increase in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 to 2004, underscoring the state's need to develop policies encouraging the use of renewable energy sources. The report stated that carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in North Carolina jumped 50 percent between 1990 and 2004. The report also found carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel consumption increased 36 percent during the same period. I have sponsored several bills in the NC House which will lead NC toward a more renewable energy policy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions: House Bills 77, 838, 1073, 1074, 1075, and 1179 (summarized in previous newsletters). Global climate change is real, it is here, and we must act.

Health 4-13-07

I have co-sponsored legislation filed this week, (House Bill 1424) that would give Medicaid relief to the state's counties. Medicaid spending in the state has increased from $3.1 billion in 1995 to $8.5 billion in the last fiscal year. During that time, the counties' share of that spending has nearly tripled to about $450 million. The proposal would cap the counties' contributions to what they spent in the 2005-06 fiscal year and would also allow the state to offer financial help to poorer counties or others struggling to pay their share of Medicaid costs.

Another significant Health related bill I co-sponsored (House Bill 1476) would create a Carolina Cares for Children health insurance program. This program would be open to North Carolina residents under the age of 19 who are not eligible for health care under existing programs. This legislation would insure that all children in North Carolina have health care coverage.

Some nurses asked the North Carolina Board of Nursing to follow the lead of the state Medical Board by passing an ethics policy that bars its members from taking part in executions. The N.C. Nurses Association plans to discuss the issue later this month, but its position would not bind the licensing board. The group would have to seek legislation to keep nurses from participating in executions since the board has no authority to discipline its members for ethics violations as the medical board does. The Medical Board's policy has resulted in a de facto death penalty moratorium in the state as the courts seek to resolve the board's stance with a state law that requires doctors to attend executions.

Civil Rights

North Carolina joined Maryland and Virginia by becoming the third state in the nation to formally apologize for slavery after the state House approved Senate and House resolutions on the issue. The resolutions were approved unanimously after a 2 1/2 hour debate. They also included apologies for the state's Jim Crow laws and other legalized segregation dating to the 17th century. Several lawmakers expressed hope that the discussion will lead to a longer debate on how the vestiges of slavery and racism still permeate our society. We need to continue to consider proposals aimed at eliminating racial disparities.

Greetings From Raleigh 04-13-07

The North Carolina House of Representatives took an important symbolic step this week by unanimously agreeing to apologize for the institution of slavery and the immoral laws approved by our General Assembly predecessors. Additional work this past week has focused on education, health care, the environment, as well as budgetary issues.

We also honored Rep. Ruth Easterling, who passed away last fall. She had been the longest-serving female House member.

We lost a true public servant when Senator Bill Martin from Greensboro passed away last weekend. Senator Martin served the NCGA from 1983-2002.

Please remember that you can listen to each day's session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly's website at Once on the site, select "audio," and then make your selection - House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Enviornment 4-5-07

A new report from the Environmental Review Commission recommends that North Carolina spend as much as $25 million dollars over the next 10 years to find better ways to produce fuel from plants. The report also suggests that by 2017, 10 percent of the state's liquid fuel should come from crops grown in the state. Currently, the state uses 5 billion to 6 billion gallons of petroleum based fuel in a year. The report also recommends the creation of a biofuels commission to work on policy, guide research, and coordinate efforts in the public and private sectors to make and market biofuels.

Today’s column is briefer than usual because of the holiday weekend.

Please remember that you can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at Once on the site, select “audio,” and then make your selection – House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.

Thank you, as always, for allowing me to share this information with you and please let me know about your cares and concerns.

Have a wonderful Easter and Passover.



Health 4-5-07

Smoking around most buildings in the University of North Carolina system would be banned under a bill supported by the House Health Committee. The bill allows exemptions for the University of North Carolina Health Care System and medical buildings at East Carolina University. The measure wouldn’t apply to private businesses within the 100-foot buffer zones. The measure now goes to a House judiciary committee.

A revised version of House Bill 259, Rep. Holliman’s bill to ban smoking in most public places, will be heard next week in committee. The revised legislation proposes to ban smoking in restaurants. It will also repeal the state law prohibiting local governments from enacting regulations stricter than currently allowed by state law.

Civil Rights

Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate introduced resolutions expressing "profound regret" for slavery and legalized racial segregation. "It's a part of our time that is difficult to confront, of course, but in this way and time it should be confronted," said Sen. Rand, Senate Bill sponsor and the Senate's Democratic majority leader. House Speaker Joe Hackney is also supportive of the bill, which he says will have a “healing” purpose. Legislatures in Virginia and Maryland recently approved similar resolutions.

The state House voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a bill that Representatives Luebke, Coates, Jones, and I sponsored which would require the state to divest its holdings in companies that do business or have strong ties to the Sudanese government. That government is accused of genocide and human rights abuses in the Darfur region. North Carolina would be the first state in the Southeast to enact such a ban if the bill becomes law. State Treasurer Richard Moore has already taken steps on his own to sell the state’s holdings in nine companies that have done business with Sudan.

Activists working on behalf of government workers want lawmakers to abolish a nearly 50-year-old law that prevents state employees from bargaining collectively. The law allows state employees to join unions and associations, but prohibits them from being represented by such groups during contract negotiations. The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, ruled recently that North Carolina's laws violate principles of freedom of association and the right of unions to seek improved conditions for their members. North Carolina and Virginia are the only states that specifically prohibit state and local governments from collectively bargaining with their employees.


Speaker Joe Hackney, along with other leaders in the House, announced the start of an initiative to improve the state’s high school graduation rate by setting up pilot programs that will serve as models for other schools. A recent report showed that about 30 percent of the state’s students aren’t graduating within four years of entering high school. The House plans to set aside money this year for the program and has set a goal of a 100 percent graduation rate.

The House appointed eight people to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the policy making board for the state’s 16 public universities. Ronald Leatherwood of Waynesville, former Robeson County schools superintendent Purnell Swett and former Fayetteville Mayor Marshall Pitts were elected to the board for the first time. The House also elected five incumbents: Brent Barringer of Cary; Charles Hayes of Sanford; G. Leroy Lail of Hickory; Gladys Ashe Robinson of Pleasant Garden; and Priscilla Taylor of Chapel Hill (formerly of Greensboro).

The House approved a measure that would give school systems more scheduling flexibility. Under the bill, the State Board of Education could grant waivers for educational purposes to school districts that want to start before Aug. 25, the date set in state law. Some parents and the travel industry want the state to continue enforcing that law. School boards and educators say the strict scheduling requirements limit students’ academic options. The bill must now go to the Senate.

Greetings From Raleigh 04-05-07

My colleagues and I moved closer this week to issuing a long overdue apology for slavery and other legalized racial injustices and to outlawing investments by our state in Sudan, where the government is accused of widespread human rights abuses. Important appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors were made. We also took time to recognize the remarkable season of the national champion men’s basketball team from Barton College.