Friday, May 25, 2007

The House set the stage this week for a possible constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot next year. The proposed amendment would prevent governments from using their power of eminent domain to take private property for commercial purposes. It would go before voters in November and change the state constitution to say, “private property shall not be taken except for public use.” House Bill 878 comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo that eminent domain could be used for economic development purposes. Several of us were concerned about tinkering with the constitution, especially since it currently doesn’t authorize using eminent domain for acquiring private property for commercial purposes. Current law clearly protects private property rights, and would never allow anything like the fact scenario that precipitated the Kelo controversy.

This Memorial Day weekend many of us will be traveling and visiting with friends and family. As we enjoy ourselves let us remember those who are now serving our Country, and those who have served before, making great sacrifices to insure our freedoms.




The House agreed Thursday to establish the Joint Legislative Budget Oversight Committee as a way to continually examine and oversee the state budget. The committee would review agency expenditures and collections of receipts, agency compliance with state laws, and compliance with legislative policies and intent, among other things. The committee would have 20 members – 10 members of the House appointed by the Speaker of the House and 10 senators appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore. At least three of the members from each chamber would have to be members of the minority party. Each member of the committee would serve two-year terms. The bill, House Bill 716, now goes to the Senate.

Health 5-25-07

North Carolina took a step this week toward giving those who suffer from mental illness the same level of insurance coverage available for physical illnesses. House Bill 973 would bring North Carolina in line with many other states in the region. It exempts companies with 25 or fewer employees from the expanded requirement and many companies with 100 or more employees would be exempt because they are self-insured. That means the change will apply initially only to about one in six workers in the state. Thirty-four states already have mental-health parity. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senate leader Marc Basnight indicates that members of his chamber support expanding private mental health coverage.

Education 5-25-07

School children will be better protected from bullies under a bill approved in the state House. House Bill 1366 includes a list of students who are likely to be targets of bullies. Some opponents argued that the list creates two classes of victims by listing race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory disability as possible reasons why students may be bullied. The bill sponsor said states that incorporated similar lists into their anti-bullying laws have noticed a sharper decrease in instances of bullying. People who are not on the list are not excluded as potential victims of bullying. A proposed amendment that would have removed the list failed by a vote of 59-58, with Speaker Joe Hackney voting on the prevailing side. In a separate vote, the House defeated a bill, House Bill 853, that would have banned corporal punishment in the school systems. Opponents of the ban argued that it stripped local school boards of their authority to set policy in their systems.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has long reserved a seat for a student, but never allowed the student to vote. A bill approved in the state House is trying to change that. The bill approved Tuesday would allow the student member to vote on matters that come before the board. Proponents of the bill argue the student member is generally well informed enough about the issues to vote. Opponents say students don’t have enough time during their one-year tenure to become knowledgeable about the needs of the 16-campus public university system. House Bill 893 now goes to the Senate.

Justice 5-25-07

The House approved two measures that would reform the death penalty in North Carolina. One proposal would allow convicted killers sentenced to death to challenge the penalty if there was evidence of racial discrimination. The bill, House Bill 1291, would require the defendant to prove that race was a factor in the sentencing and could include evidence that people of some races are sentenced to death more often than people of other races. Another bill, House Bill 341, would require the state Supreme Court to review some life imprisonment sentences when conducting a “proportionality” review to determine whether a death sentence is warranted. If the justices determine the penalty was too severe when compared to cases with similar circumstances, they can reduce the penalty to life in prison. The review does not allow them to reverse the conviction.

A bill that would change the way medical malpractice lawsuits are handled in North Carolina passed the House on Monday and will go on to the Senate. The bill, House Bill 1671, would automatically send malpractice cases to an arbiter unless there is an objection by one of the parties. The arbiter would be able to award damages no higher than $1 million. The goal of the bill is to reduce insurance costs for physicians. Costs recently have risen to levels that some say discourage people from practicing medicine in the state. Insurers, knowing there is a limit to damages in many cases, may lower their insurance fees. The bill is based on one that passed in the state of Washington last year and is the result of a compromise between the N.C. Medical Society and the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, two groups that have long fought over medical malpractice suits.

Drivers from other states who come to North Carolina to get drivers licenses and lower insurance premiums will be committing a felony under a bill approved this week in the House. The House passed the measure unanimously Monday, and it will now go to the Senate for consideration. House Bill 729, supported by the state Department of Insurance, is designed to minimize fraudulent insurance filings with the state. Drivers from out of state often come to North Carolina, fraudulently claiming to be residents, and then securing automobile insurance here. When these people have accidents, it can raise rates for other people insured in North Carolina. North Carolina has one of the lowest auto insurance rates in the nation. The bill also requires insurers to try to verify if an applicant is being truthful about their residence.

The House passed a bill Monday that would allow authorities to take driver’s licenses from adults who give underage children alcohol. The penalty would be in addition to the misdemeanor charge already in place. The charge is currently punishable by a fine and community service. The bill, House Bill 1277, passed 106-6, and it will now go to the Senate for consideration.


Lawmakers who establish legal defense funds may now have to report donations to those accounts. A bill, House Bill 1737, approved by the House would also require reporting of expenses each quarter and make the reporting requirements similar to those for campaign accounts. That means that donations would be capped at $4,000 and corporations and unions, among others, would be barred from contributing. The chamber rejected a separate bill, House Bill 1662, that would have lowered the threshold for reporting donations from $100 to $50. Existing law, approved last year, requires political candidates to report the name, address. and profession of anyone who donates $50 or more to a campaign.

Greetings From Raleigh 05-25-07

We concluded a very busy few weeks in the General Assembly by reviewing and debating dozens of bills over the past few days. We spent hours in committee meetings and on the floor considering these proposed laws in hopes of getting them approved (or rejected) before the “crossover” deadline Thursday. Bills that wouldn’t require money to be spent or that wouldn’t result in money being raised have to be approved in their originating chamber by the deadline or there is little chance of getting them heard for the rest of the two-year session. The bills we have approved in the past few days pave the way for great improvements in our state. We agreed to reform our death penalty and medical malpractice laws, reaffirmed our commitment to strong ethics, proposed tougher penalties for driver’s license fraud, moved to protect bullied children, and made a step toward expanded insurance benefits for people who suffer from mental illness.

We will now move on to consideration of bills sent to us by the Senate and to the consideration of bills with a financial impact. I hope to build on the strong body of work we have already built this session.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


House Bill 461, Lottery Compliance Act, filed by Representatives Folwell, Hurley, Pierce, and I, passed the House Finance Committee on Thursday. The bill originally had restricted lottery advertisements at university athletic events, and was amended to include only high school events at the request of the Lottery Commission and officials from the Governor's office. The NCAA prohibits such advertising at its events, but leaves it up to the individual institutions for non NCAA events, although it is highly discouraged.

Thank you for your continued involvement by sharing your concerns and questions with me. Expressing your opinion is vital to the conduct of the governmental process.



Health 5-18-07

A bill banning smoking in long term healthcare facilities, House Bill 1294, passed the House unanimously Tuesday. It was introduced following a deadly fire in March at an adult-care facility in Mocksville. The fire, caused by a resident smoking in her room, resulted in one death and 21 injuries. The bill will affect tens of thousands of North Carolina citizens either living or receiving medical care in the 635 adult care homes, 644 family car homes, and 392 nursing homes licensed by the state. The bill is expected to improve the safety and health of residents and workers in the facilities.

A driver's license does not currently serve as a valid indication of a person's wish to be an organ donor. Rep. Dale Folwell introduced House Bill 1372, making the notice on driver's licenses adequate legal notice of a person's intentions regarding organ donation. The bill passed the House 117-1. It now goes to the Senate.

Election Laws

North Carolinians currently vote in the presidential primaries in May of the election year. Some legislators want that to change, since the primary elections have been essentially decided at that point in the year. A new measure being considered in the Legislature would change the primaries to February, effective for the 2008 elections. More than a dozen states are considering the proposed Super Tuesday vote.

Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin and I have sponsored a bill, House Bill 1645, that would change the way North Carolina casts its electoral votes in national elections. The current method gives all of the state's 15 electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes within the state. Many feel the current system results in federal candidates ignoring North Carolina and focusing intensive media campaigns on a few swing states. The bill proposes giving the electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The bill passed the Senate this week, and it will likely go before the House in the next few weeks.

The House Committee on Election Laws heard House Bill 1828, which Representatives Paul Luebke, Julia Howard, Jeff Barnhart, and I have introduced. The bill would require greater disclosure of expenditures by 527s, e.g., groups such as and farmers for fairness, which generally participate in campaigns independently of the candidate. In addition, it would clarify access to rescue funds for candidates who have elected to participate in the judicial public financing program. In the situation, those judicial candidates who had participated in the public financing system were impacted by ads that favored their opponents. The ads did not trigger access to rescue money because of the narrow way in which the statute was written, and the bill is mean to correct that. There will be another hearing next week.


House Bill 1626, approved by the House on Wednesday, would require North Carolina law enforcement agencies to record all homicide interrogations, either by audio or video devices. The bill is designed to reduce the contesting of cases because of the interrogation process. The recording must be uninterrupted. It may be refused, and if so, that refusal must be recorded. A survey of 500 law enforcement agencies using the tactic found lower litigation costs, decreased number of issues raised in appeals, and an increase of cases ending in plea agreements rather than trial. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The House passed a bill unanimously Tuesday, Senate Bill 1026, that would require adults over the age of 54 to get a driver's license that expires within five years instead of eight years. The bill is designed to ensure safe driving practices. The bill also took care of a technical issue that arose when a bill enacted last year tightened drivers license eligibility. Many legal visitors to the U.S. have not been able to get a drivers license, which has been a real hardship for foreign employees of the universities and many of our high-tech industries.

House Bill 445, which assists adult adoptees or their biological parents in finding out each other's identities, passed the House on Tuesday and now goes to the Senate for consideration by the Judiciary II Committee. The bill was a compromise which allows an adoption agency to act as a "confidential intermediary" between an adoptee age 21 or older and a biological parent. With the written permission of both sides, the agency could facilitate contact between the parent and child or share identifying information. Family medical information could be sought by a child's adoptive parents.

Education 5-18-07

The House Education Committee passed House Bill 1366 designed to combat bullying in schools. It would require school administrators to impose new policies forbidding harassment and bullying. The bill includes ways to report bullies and guidelines for investigating such acts and punishment for them. The bill describes bullying as an act of discrimination and alerts teachers and administrators about people at risk of bullying because of their race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. The support was divided along party lines, with the opposition claiming that there is no need to specifically protect children deemed at risk.

The House Education Subcommittee on Pre-School, Elementary, and Secondary Education held its second public hearing recently as part of an initiative to improve high school graduation rates. The audience included its chief supporter, Speaker Joe Hackney, Subcommittee chairs Fisher and Parmon, other legislators, as well as local school administrators, teachers, parents, students, local leaders, and concerned citizens. Several shared insights about how to reduce the number of dropouts. The group may hold additional hearings and will then develop guidelines for how to award grants to pilot programs that may reduce the dropout rate. The budget proposed by the House includes $7 million for dropout prevention programs.


The House Committee on Energy and Energy Efficiency, which I chair, began hearing House Bill 77, the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), sponsored by Representatives Martin, Harrell, Justice, and I. The bill would require that 15% of North Carolina's future energy needs will come from renewable energy and energy efficiency. 23 other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar efforts. Moving away from fossil fuel-based energy production to 7.5% renewable energy sources is expected to create more than 20,000 green jobs in NC, as well as significantly reduce our carbon footprint. The bill will continue to be heard in House Energy for the next few weeks.

Military 5-18-07

The House passed House Bill 1634 this week that will better protect the parental rights of military members called to active duty or deployed away from their homes. The bill crafted by Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin, a family lawyer, and Rep. Grier Martin, an Army reservist who has served in the Middle East, allows service members who are called to duty to have expedited custody hearings. It also allows for them to speak with a judge by phone during a hearing if they were deployed on short notice. Any custody order issued as a result of a deployment expires within 10 days of the soldier's return, under the new law. It also forbids one parent from mentioning the deployment as a reason to modify or change custody arrangements. The bill is yet another away the House is trying to make our state friendly to those military members who protect us. It now goes to the Senate.

Greetings From Raleigh 05-18-07

My colleagues and I in the House of Representatives turned our focus this week toward hearing the hundreds of bills that need to clear our chamber by next Thursday if they're to be considered during this two-year session. The approaching deadline means busy days and long floor sessions, but the work we are doing will mean better schools, healthier and safer communities, and a cleaner environment.

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, May 11, 2007


The finance package proposes nearly $290 million in tax relief over the next two years. The package is balanced and offers breaks to low wage earners, small businesses, emerging industries, those planning for retirement, environmentally friendly industries, and farmers.

The chief feature is an earned-income tax credit expected to benefit 825,000 taxpayers in North Carolina who are considered the working poor. The change would help offset the costs of other taxes paid by these workers and the estimated tax savings will be $69 million in 2008-09, its first year. The credit is refundable, meaning that in some cases it will not only eliminate the tax burden for low wage earners, but it could put money in their pockets in the form of tax refunds they otherwise may not have received.

Another tax credit would phase out a sales tax on electricity, and the excise tax on piped natural gas for manufacturers and farmers. Estimated savings are $14 million in the first year increasing to $42 million by third year.

A change in the tax code allows small businesses to immediately claim tax credits on property and equipment rather than spreading it out over several years. Estimated yearly savings are $36 million for these small companies which are essential to our economy. Other changes in the tax code are expected to provide $21 million in savings - a total of $57 million.

This plan, crafted and approved by Democratic majority in the House, is balanced, offering tax breaks to the poor and those small business people who help drive our economy. We also took care to look out for the people in our state who need help. Education remains our main focus, though, and our plan gives our students, schools, and colleges the resources to succeed.

The bill now goes to the Senate and then to the governor. The goal is to have the new spending plan in place before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007.

I appreciate your taking the time to contact me with your concerns and questions regarding the business of the Legislature.



Environmental and Energy Efficiency 5-11-07

This budget fully funds the Clean Water Management Trust Fund at $100 million, helping to protect the state's greatest natural resource. For the first time in years, substantial funding ($8 million) is proposed for farmland preservation. North Carolina is losing farmland at the fastest rate in the US, and this money will also help leverage additional federal farmland preservation funding. It also adds funding for a top issue for environmentalists for the past several sessions - additional inspections for sedimentation and erosion control. Sediment is the biggest water quality problem in the state.

The House proposal also sets aside $10 million so that state buildings can adopt energy efficient measures, which are expected to help save money in the future, and wean us off of fossil fuel based energy. There is some funding for the state energy office and its good work promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency across the state.

The budget sets aside $2 million so that the state can continue working on ways to improve treatment of hog waste. There is also funding for notification and testing of well water and for emergency drinking water supplies for lower wealth citizens with contaminated wells.

Health 5-11-07

The proposal would give counties $100 million toward their estimated $517 million Medicaid costs - nearly 20 percent of the total cost. Half of that money would be set aside for counties with the highest percentages of people receiving Medicaid coverage. It is a responsible, thoughtful way to help those counties most burdened by the cost of Medicaid. The other half would be spread among all counties. Guilford County has projected costs of $21,054,539 in Medicaid expenditures. The percent of Medicaid eligible recipients in Guilford is 17.74% of the population, resulting in fiscal relief of $2,035,586 for the county.

Mental health reform remains one of the priorities of this state. In this budget, we increase spending for mental health by about $20 million, with a focus on housing, substance abuse treatment, crisis services, and employment.

$2 million is proposed in additional funding for HIV prevention, education, and treatment. We had hoped to expand the authorized funding to include harm reduction pilot projects in three counties (including Guilford), but the controversy over the involvement of sterile syringes sidetracked the effort.

Budget writers also proposed $8.4 million to subsidize child care costs for an additional 2,000 children, and $4 million to hire 80 more school nurses.

Education 5-11-07

The budget proposes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, and a $250 bonus for first-year teachers that would raise their salaries to $30,000; $7 million for a dropout prevention program; $20 million more in school funding for at-risk students; $3.2 million more for Governor Easley's Learn & Earn program, and $6.4 million in additional monies to expand Learn & Earn online. It also includes $2.85 million to hire 60 tutors to help with school literacy programs for struggling eighth-graders.

Both community colleges and the university system would receive all of the funding requested for enrollment growth at their campuses, while community colleges would get $12.4 million for an expanded facilities and equipment grant program. The community college system received a total of $34 million, a 3.8 percent increase. This money includes $10 million for equipment and $5 million for advanced planning. This investment will ensure that these critical centers for local education and job training have the money and facilities they need to complete their missions.

Need-based financial aid at the universities would increase by nearly $28 million under the plan. In addition, the governor's EARN Scholars program would get $75 million over the next two years. The program would provide $4,000 a year scholarships to 12,500 community college and UNC system students with the greatest financial need.

Greetings From Raleigh 05-11-07

This week's newsletter focuses on the budget approved by the House earlier this morning. The $20.3 billion budget sends a powerful, unmistakable message that education remains our top priority. It addresses the needs of our students at all levels by increasing education spending an additional $1.3 billion, a considerable investment in the future of this state and our young people. We took particular care in this plan to ensure that we provide resources in public schools to those who need it most - poor people and those at risk of dropping out of high school. We also propose spending that would help our universities and community colleges remain the envy of the nation and recommend increasing access to these institutions by providing more need-based financial aid.

We also provide $100 million for Medicaid relief to the counties -- a substantial investment in lowering their burden.

The budget is one of the greenest budgets ever, with increased funding for conservation, environmental protection, and promoting energy alternatives and efficiencies.

At the same time, this proposal is fiscally responsible. After expenditures relating to the natural disasters in 1999, the state had no remaining money in reserve. This budget adds $315 million to the state's savings, bringing the total to more than $900 million.

The budget also provides nearly $290 million in balanced tax relief and does not raise or create any taxes. It is mindful of people's pocketbooks and small business.

Highlights of the budget appear below.

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.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Notes 5-04-07

County commissioners came to Raleigh this week to lobby lawmakers on a number of issues, but were primarily concerned about reducing how much they pay for Medicaid. The Guilford County contingent visiting for the day included Commission Chairman Paul Gibson, Commissioners Kay Cashion and Kirk Perkins, and Manager David McNeill. My colleagues and I in the House support providing as much Medicaid relief as the state can afford, and we will do what we can as we debate our budget proposal in the coming week.

Wednesday was clean water lobby day, with more than 125 clean water advocates visiting the legislature to lobby for better policies regarding the handling of hog waste as well as the transfer of water from one river basin to another (interbasin transfers). Another priority is the funding of seven additional positions at DENR to deal with sedimentation and erosion control, North Carolina's top water quality problem, mentioned above. An additional issue is the provision of emergency drinking water supplies and notification to well users of known or suspected contamination. I have sponsored bills addressing all of these issues.

I was pleased to have been appointed by Speaker Hackney to the State Energy Policy Council this week to serve until January of 2009. The Council is charged to advise and make recommendations on energy policy to the Governor and the General Assembly, serving as the central energy policy planning body of the state.

Thank you as always for allowing me to share this information with you. Please let me know of your concerns so that we can continue to work together for the betterment of the citizens of Guilford County and North Carolina.



Environmental and Energy Efficiency

Two of the bills I have sponsored saw some action this week; House Bill 838, dealing with incandescent light bulbs, and House Bill 1824, promoting low impact development.

House Bill 838 was revised and now requires the state to develop a disposal plan for the mercury contained in compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). This is of critical importance if we are to promote their use. The Environmental Review Commission is also charged with studying lighting efficiency and reporting back to the short session of the General Assembly in May, 2008. The bill was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Energy Efficiency yesterday, and is on its way to the Rules Committee, where study bills are reviewed.

House Bill 1824 promotes the use of low impact development to control stormwater. There are many in the development business who promote this technique which relies more on the natural landscape than conventional engineered systems for controlling stormwater, since it is cheaper, more effective, and generally more attractive. The EPA and the National Homebuilders Association are promoting low impact development. The bill was approved by the House Commerce Committee and has been re-referred to House Environment.

The House unanimously approved a bill that would require hazardous waste storage companies to tell their neighbors and emergency response officials more about the materials they store. The bill House Bill 36 would also subject such companies to more inspections. The legislation follows an explosion and fire at EQ Industrial Services in Apex on October 9th that resulted in the evacuation of roughly 17,000 people. Emergency responders had little information about what the company had stored at the site, limiting their ability to extinguish the blaze. North Carolina has 10 remaining commercial hazardous waste storage warehouses that receive truckloads of chemicals and other materials from manufacturers and laboratories. The waste is consolidated and then shipped to incinerators, landfills, and recyclers in other states. The legislation now goes to the Senate for approval.

Public Saftey 5-04-07

The House gave final approval to a bill requiring sheriffs to notify the State Bureau of Investigation when they deny someone a permit to buy a handgun. Sheriffs could access the information through a database when they are considering permit applications. House Bill 1287, which I sponsored with Representatives Sutton and Jeffus, does not require the second sheriff to deny a permit or to even contact another sheriff, but supporters of the bill say they would expect a denial would be a warning sign that sheriffs would want to explore. Representatives Joe Kiser and Ray Warren, both former sheriffs, said they supported the bill as a commonsense measure to help sheriffs make good decisions, and to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people or those with violent mental health histories. Opponents argued that sheriffs have great discretion in determining whether to grant permits and that someone could be unfairly included on the list. The bill cleared the chamber by a vote of 81-34, with dissent and opposition from gun-rights groups, and now goes to the Senate.

A bill that would overhaul the way law enforcement investigators conduct eyewitness lineups passed the House this week as part of an effort to improve North Carolina's criminal justice system. A state judicial commission on innocence proposed the changes a few years ago after studies showed that more than 1 in 4 people identified as perpetrators were actually innocent. An estimated 4500 innocent people are convicted in the United States every year because of mistaken eyewitness identification. Some law enforcement trainers have taught officers the revised methods recommended by the commission, but they aren't obligated to. The bill, 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.

Education 5-04-07

The House Education Subcommittee on Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education held its first public hearing this week as part of a new initiative to improve the state's graduation rate. Speaker Joe Hackney, who proposed the initiative and has been its chief supporter, attended the hearing along with subcommittee chairs Reps. Parmon and Fisher. Enthusiastic local school administrators, teachers, parents, students, local leaders, and concerned citizens were among the members of the audience and several of them shared their ideas about how to reduce the number of dropouts. Some presenters suggested expanding the learning centers established by the Communities In Schools program, looking at ways to better connect the business community and the education community, raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18, bringing more mentors into schools, and finding more incentives to keep certified teachers in areas they are needed the most. The subcommittee will hold its second and final public hearing at Southeast Raleigh High School in Raleigh at 6 p.m., Tuesday May 8th. The House budget proposal released this week set aside $7 million for this initiative. The money will be used to help pay for pilot programs at schools that want to implement programs proven to reduce to the dropout rate.

Teachers could take two personal days a year without having to pay for substitutes under a bill, House Bill 906, approved by the State Personnel Committee. Teachers in North Carolina are given five personal days a year, but have to pay for a substitute if they use them. The bill sponsored by House Democrats seeks to bring teachers more in line with the leave policies of other professionals. It now goes to the Education Committee for consideration.

Health 5-04-07

The House agreed Tuesday on legislation that would extend health care coverage to thousands of "high-risk" people who have otherwise been denied coverage or asked to pay premiums they cannot afford. The bill, House Bill 265, passed its final reading in the House by a vote of 104-11. An amendment was defeated that would have required the pool to be financed with money out of the state's general fund. Members opposed the measure because they wanted to ensure money for the pool came from a steady, reliable source that would not get tied in with the yearly budget negotiations. The measure goes to the Senate, where the chamber's leaders say they will support its passage. Thirty-six states already have similar pools.

Under the bill, people enrolling in the high-risk pool would pay about two-thirds of the program's costs through their premiums. The remaining cost would be covered by cost reductions negotiated with medical providers and by a monthly assessment on all health care insurers in the state. The projected assessment would be 4 cents per enrolled member per month in 2009 and 92 cents per month per enrolled member in 2019. An estimated 13,000 people are expected to enroll in the pool. The bill is supported by the state's largest insurers, who believe it is an important step to expanding health care coverage to the estimated 1.4 million uninsured people in North Carolina. The North Carolina Justice Center, which also supports the bill, estimates that every insured person in the state already pays $438 a year in extra premium costs to cover health care for the state's uninsured.

Budget 5-04-07

The House rolled out much of its budget proposal Thursday that ensures that education will remain the state's top priority. The state's public schools, community colleges, and universities will get a total of $11 billion, about 55 percent of the roughly $20 billion plan. The proposal recommends: a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and a $250 bonus for first-year teachers; $7 million for a dropout prevention program championed by House Speaker Joe Hackney; $20 million more for a program for at-risk students; $3.2 million more for Gov. Easley's Learn & Earn program; and $6.4 million extra to expand Learn & Earn online. It also includes $2.85 million to hire 50 tutors to help with school literacy programs. Community colleges would get $25 million for a facilities and equipment grant program. Both community colleges and the university system would get all the money they requested for enrollment growth at their campuses. Need-based financial aid at the universities would increase by nearly $28 million under the plan. Budget writers also found $8.4 million to subsidize child care costs for an additional 2,000 children and $4 million to hire 80 more school nurses.

I am a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources, which covers the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Environment, and Labor. I am pleased to report that full funding ($100 million) is proposed for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. In addition, $8.5 million is intended for farmland preservation. There is $1 million proposed for the Natural Science Center in Greensboro, and some additional funding for promoting the High Point Furniture Market. There is also funding for seven additional inspectors for sediment and erosion control, North Carolina's number one water quality problem.

House leaders anticipate passage of their budget by the end of the week. The measure will then go to the Senate and lawmakers will work to approve a final version before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, 2007.

Greetings From Raleigh 05-04-07

The House unveiled much of its spending plan this week with $11 billion of the $20 billion plan to be spent on education. Teachers would get a 5 percent raise as we continue to try to increase their pay to the national average for their profession. We also took a very important step by expanding health care coverage to "high-risk" people. Many experts agree that creating such a pool is a critical part of reaching the uninsured. We also held the first public hearing on an initiative to reduce dropout rates, a top priority of Speaker Hackney's. In the week ahead, we will continue to discuss and debate the proposed budget before sending it along to the Senate.

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.