Friday, June 29, 2007

Notes 6-29-07

The Senate and the House honored members of the North Carolina Guard for their services and sacrifices at home and in wars overseas. The resolution, House Bill 1720, honored the 11 National Guard members who died in the line of duty and six who were killed in action since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 11,000 members of the guard have been deployed overseas since that time and 135 have been wounded in action. Members and leaders of the North Carolina National Guard, dressed in their green, gray, and tan uniforms, listened from the galleries as the names of their slain or wounded comrades were read aloud.

Infant mortality rates in North Carolina have remained steady since 2000, but remain relatively high compared to the national rates. Public health officials said this week that while the state has made much progress in women’s access to prenatal care and care for premature babies, chronic issues such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes may be the cause of the high infant mortality rate.

Please continue to express to me your concerns and support for the legislation that is being considered in the General Assembly. By working together we can improve the quality of life for citizens in Greensboro, Guilford County and the entire state.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July, there will be no newsletter next week due to the holiday.



The House sent the Senate version of the one-stop voting sites bill, House Bill 91, to a conference committee this week. The bill would allow residents to register and vote right away at one-stop voting sites during the last two and a half weeks before an election. Presently voters can vote early at one-stop voting sites, but registration ends 25 days before an election.

Public Saftey 6-29-07

A bill that would require stricter oversight of hazardous waste storage sites was signed into law this week. The bill, House Bill 36, protects residents by requiring hazardous waste sites to take financial responsibility and conduct preventative screenings for environmental contamination when hazardous materials are released. The bill was filed in response to an explosion and fire at a hazardous waste storage facility in Apex late last year that resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said this week that mislabeled oxygen generators in the plant probably fueled the fire.

Property Rights

The House concurred this week with minor changes the Senate made to a bill that defines and punishes residential mortgage fraud in North Carolina. House Bill 817 makes it a felony to knowingly misrepresent or exclude information in the mortgage lending process even if the victim is not harmed financially. Offenders can be sentenced to up to 16 months if they have no prior record and up to 31 months if they are linked to at least five cases of fraud with no prior record. Mortgage fraud is illegal under existing laws, but it was covered by general fraud law. That law required stolen property to be valued at a minimum of $100,000 before the offender would face substantial punishment. The changes make it easier to protect people who were cheated out of lesser amounts.

Health 6-29-07

The House concurred Thursday with changes made in the Senate to a bill, House Bill 24, that would bar smoking in all buildings owned, leased or occupied by state government. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature. The House also approved Senate Bill 1086 that would ban the use of tobacco products on school campuses at all times. If the Senate concurs with changes made in the House, that bill will also go to the governor.

A bill that would provide insurance parity to people who receive mental health services cleared the Senate Health Committee this week. The bill, House Bill 973, would provide require private health insurers to pay for mental health services on the same level as what the pay for physical health services. The bill is expected to save the state money spent by reducing the amount of money spent for public mental health services.

Ethics 6-29-07

Officials convicted of felony misconduct must forfeit their pensions under a bill sent this week to Gov. Mike Easley. The Senate accepted minor changes from the House on the bill, Senate Bill 659. The bill requires officials convicted of a federal or state offense involving corruption or a felony violation of election laws committed in their official capacity to lose their retirement benefits earned in that office.


The Senate has approved Senate Bill 3 , Renewable Energy/Baseload Provisions on second reading. This bill started out similar to House Bill 77, Promote Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, sponsored by Representatives Martin, Harrell, Justice, and myself. After months of negotiations, the Senate bill was loaded up with provisions to get buy-in from a variety of interest groups, from Wal-mart to homebuilders to chemical companies, and especially the utilities. As a result, there are many troubling provisions in the bill, which we hope to fix in the House. The most troubling relate to financing new nuclear and coal fired power plants, which shifts the risk from the investors to the rate payers. This fight was fought in the early 1980s, and the consumers prevailed, but not this time around. The House will give this bill the scrutiny it deserves. It is important that we pass a renewable energy bill, but not necessarily with provisions making it easier to build new coal and nuclear plants.

Greetings From Raleigh 06-29-07

As the end of the fiscal year approaches, House members worked diligently this past week to get a permanent spending plan in place for the next two years. We came close, but in the end agreed that we need at least another month to continue negotiations. Negotiations are particularly complex this year because leaders in both chambers want to develop a plan that takes back a significant share of the Medicaid expenses from the counties. Our initial budget proposal in the House recommended giving the counties $100 million based on their Medicaid costs, freeing up money for school construction and other critical local needs.

We are also looking at a plan that over several years would totally take over all of the counties’ Medicaid costs in exchange for some revenues, such as a portion of the sales tax that counties receive. The total county cost of Medicaid is expected to reach $733 million in the next five years and shifting the cost to the state will allow better local financial planning. Negotiations on this plan will continue next week.

Members of the House continued work to strengthen an ethics policy in the state, protect your health and the health of our state workers, and to guard against disasters such as the explosion and fire last year at the hazardous waste plant in Apex.

Members of the North Carolina National Guard were honored in the Chamber for all of the service they have given our nation abroad.

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, June 22, 2007


The House unanimously approved minor changes made in the Senate to a bill that would require hazardous waste storage companies to tell their neighbors and emergency response officials more about the materials they store. 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 9, 2007, that resulted in the evacuation of an estimated 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 chemicals and other materials from manufacturers and laboratories. The waste is consolidated and then shipped to incinerators, landfills, and recyclers in other states.

Thank you for your continued interest in the activity at the General Assembly. Please keep me informed of your concerns so that together, we can improve the lives of the citizens of Greensboro and Guilford County as well as all North Carolinians.


Public Saftey 6-22-07

The General Assembly approved a pair of bills this week to protect cemeteries. One bill, House Bill 105, would make vandalism of a grave marker or any other cemetery monument a felony instead of a misdemeanor and desecration of human remains would become a higher grade felony. Under existing law, vandalism that results in damage of less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor. The other bill, House Bill 107, better defines abandoned and public cemeteries and attempts to make it easier for groups to set up trusts to pay for the cemeteries' upkeep. The bills have been sent to Gov. Mike Easley for his approval.

Convicted drunken drivers would be allowed to wear alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets instead of serving jail time under Senate Bill 1290 approved in the House this week. The bracelets would cost $12 a day, some of which would be paid by the convicted drivers. Some representatives questioned whether it was fair to adopt use of the devices, since some people could not afford their use. Supporters argued that counties may be willing to bear the cost since the bracelets would keep drunken drivers off the road and be less expensive than jail.

Voting 6-22-07

A House bill that cleared the Senate this week is expected to increase voter turnout by allowing people to register and vote on the same day in the final 2½ weeks before an election. Existing law cuts off voter registration 25 days before an election. The bill, House Bill 91, now returns to the House for concurrence on changes made in the Senate, which include a requirement that all ballots be printed in English.

As the cost of statewide campaigns balloons, a House committee has approved a bill that would provide public financing for three Council of State jobs. The bill was endorsed by Insurance Commissioner Jim Long and state schools Superintendent June Atkinson. Their races and that of State Auditor Les Merritt would be eligible for public money if the bill becomes law. Candidates would have to receive at least 750 contributions of $10 to $200 to be eligible for public financing. The bill, House Bill 1517, now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

Health 6-22-07

Two bills to restrict smoking moved through the General Assembly this week, with one being sent to Gov. Mike Easley and the other to the Senate floor. One measure, Senate Bill 862, would allow smoking to be banned inside and within 100 feet of any building in the University of North Carolina system. The UNC Health Care system and the medical buildings of East Carolina University would have discretion over the policies of their buildings and grounds. The Senate concurred this week with changes made in the House and the bill now goes to the governor for his signature. The second bill would prohibit smoking in any state government buildings and allow local governments to do the same on their property. A Senate committee gave its approval to House Bill 24 that would bar smoking in all buildings owned, leased, or occupied by state government. The House approved the bill earlier this session and it now goes to the Senate floor.

Energy 6-22-07

The Senate has begun consideration of its renewable energy bill, Senate Bill 3. As many as 100 stakeholders have been negotiating differences over the bill during the past 5 months. Senate Bill 3 would adopt a 12.5% renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard, and has set asides for the conversion of swine and poultry waste, both of which would negatively impact air quality. The bill also makes it easier to build new nuclear and coal fired power plants (regardless of the merits, they have no connection to renewable energy). House Bill 77, which I introduced with Representatives Grier Martin, Jim Harrell, and Carolyn Justice, proposes a 15% REPS and contains none of these troubling provisions. Senate Bill 3 will be considered by Senate Agriculture and Environment, before heading to Finance and the Senate floor, then to the House where it will receive careful scrutiny and consideration.

Education 6-22-07

The Senate has approved a House bill that would move the cutoff date for children to enroll in kindergarten. Under the proposal, children would have to turn 5 by August 31 to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten. The current cutoff date is October 16. House Bill 150 is expected to help ensure that all children start school with the skills they need. The bill must still be signed by the governor before it becomes law. It would take effect in the 2009-10 school year.

Ethics 06-22-07

The governor could immediately remove a disbarred judge or district attorney under a bill that received final approval this week in the General Assembly. The bill, Senate Bill 118, will also allow for the suspension of the disbarred lawyer's pay. It would be reinstated if the disbarment was reversed. Existing state law requires judges and DA's to be members of the bar in good standing, but doesn't provide for their removal. The bill came after a district court judge who lost his law license refused to leave his job, even though he was suspended from acting as a judge.

The House approved Senate Bill 659 Thursday that would take away the pensions of state or local elected officials convicted of public corruption or election fraud. It now returns to the Senate for concurrence.

Greetings From Raleigh 06-22-07

The House and the Senate moved nearer to a final budget deal this week, with members of both chambers agreeing to take over the full cost of the non-federal share of Medicaid. The takeover is intended to relieve counties from the rapid growth in costs and free up more local money for school construction and other costs. The counties' share of Medicaid is more than half a billion dollars this year and expected to continue to grow. Negotiators continue to differ over the best way to phase in the plan.

We also took steps this week to continue to tighten the state's ethics laws and improve education by moving the cutoff date for children to enter kindergarten. We made state and university buildings safer for visitors and workers by allowing smoking bans and approved a stricter law for monitoring hazardous waste storage facilities following an explosion at one such company in Apex.

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.

Also, if you seek more information regarding any bill mentioned in the Newsletter, or another one of interest, you may access the General Assembly's home page and enter the bill number, i.e., H77.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Notes 6-15-07

Sandy Basnight, the wife of Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, passed away Sunday after an extended illness. I attended her funeral in Wanchese on Wednesday, along with most of the Senate and a good amount of House members, as well as most of our Council of State. The Senate canceled its session for the day while the House convened in the evening to allow its members time to attend.

The House honored Asheville native Wilma Dykeman yesterday. The noted author and environmentalist died last December. She received numerous awards for her work and has been credited with bringing attention to environmental issues years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published.

The Charlotte Observer requested that I write an Op-Ed on energy issues in North Carolina. Here is the link. I am told that the paper plans to publish a collection of the ten or so pieces they requested in a tabloid-style format.

Please continue to express your opinions and concerns to me. I value the participation of my constituents in the legislative process.


Education 6-15-07

The group leading the House initiative to improve the state's high school graduation rate recently held its third public hearing, this time at Parkland High School in Winston-Salem. The audience for the hearing included several members of the House of Representatives, school administrators, teachers, parents, students, local leaders, and concerned citizens. Forsyth County school superintendent Don Martin also came to share information about dropout trends in his school system. The group may hold additional hearings before presenting its recommendations. The budget proposed by the House included $7 million to help the state better address this serious issue.

Property Rights

A House committee took up the emotional issue of annexation this week, holding a public hearing that drew more than 200 people. The committee is considering a study on whether the state's annexation laws should be amended. North Carolina is one of a handful of states that allow forced annexation. Supporters of the law say it allows for orderly growth and for economic stability in cities and towns. Opponents argue the law unfairly forces them to become a part of municipalities.


The Senate environment committee approved a House bill that would require closer monitoring of businesses that store hazardous waste. The proposal includes many of the suggestions made after an explosion at a hazardous waste storage company in Apex that resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people. Under the bill, such companies would have to provide information to emergency workers about the types of chemicals they store and the state would have to consider increasing budgets for the state medical assistance teams that respond to hazardous waste incidents. House Bill 36 now goes to the full Senate.

Another Senate committee approved a bill, Senate Bill 150, that would dramatically increase the permitted cutting of vegetation around billboards from 250 to 375 feet. The bill does contain increased penalties for illegal cutting as well. The Department of Transportation had previously considered this request (originally proposing 500 feet of clearance) and turned it down after careful study, so the industry went to the legislature for the authorization. The DOT, Department of Environment, Sierra Club, and others, spoke out against the bill, which was approved on a voice vote. It now goes to Senate Finance.

On the renewable energy front, stakeholders continued to meet to work out differences over the proposed renewable energy portfolio standards, Senate Bill 3, House Bill 77. The Utilities have been quite insistent on the inclusion of provisions making it easier to build new nuclear and coal fired power plants. Duke's CEO has been quite clear in stating that Duke can't build new nuclear plants without these provisions. So it seems our renewable energy bill is also going to make it easier to finance and build new nuclear plants. We should have a bill in the next couple of weeks (although I have very little enthusiasm for running a renewable energy bill will nuclear power in it.)

Health 6-15-07

Smoking could be banned within 100 feet from University of North Carolina buildings under a measure approved by the House this week. The bill, Senate Bill 862, allows exemptions for the UNC Health Care System and medical buildings at East Carolina University. Administrators there would set their own smoking policies. University leaders asked for the bill so they can help protect the health of their students. The bill now goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.

Public Saftey 6-15-07

Governor Easley is closer to getting authority to remove disbarred district attorneys and judges. Existing law doesn't require them to leave office or allow for their removal. The bill, Senate Bill 118, has already been approved in the Senate. It was prompted by the case of a disbarred district court judge who refused to leave the bench. The state paid him $25,000 in salary before he eventually resigned.

A House Judiciary Committee considering legislation to address gang violence and prevention held a hearing on the issue this week. The House is considering several solutions to reduce gang-related crimes in our state and make our schools and communities safer.

Budget 6-15-07

Budget negotiations between the House and Senate continue, and several large issues remain unresolved. The biggest sticking points between the two chambers appear to be resolving the Medicaid relief issue for the counties and the proposed expiration of the temporary taxes.

The NC Justice Center's Budget and Tax Center released a report (pdf) this week that analyzes and compares the two competing plans and how they fare in terms of working families and fiscal responsibility. The report concludes: "The Senate Budget is all around less responsible than the House or Governor's versions. It provides less funding for programs that would benefit working families across the state. It is less fiscally responsible by relying on one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses, allowing the two temporary tax provisions to expire, and using less of the onetime to build the Rainy Day Fund, finance capital improvement projects, and payback the state pension system. It drives up the state's responsibility for paying off debt by issuing $1.2 billion in certificates of participation to primarily finance university projects."

Funding prospects on key environmental programs are looking better. The Natural and Economic Resources Conference Subcommittee on which I sit approved a budget that recommends funding at the House level ($615,000) for emergency drinking water supplies, notification, and testing for low income communities. Farmland preservation is back in at slightly less than $1 million (Governor had proposed $5 million, House- $8 million, Senate-$0). We hope to resolve this at a level closer to the House proposal. The House and Governor are committed to maintaining the State Energy Office (Senate budget had proposed eliminating the office).

Budget chairs are meeting quite frequently with the hope of resolving any outstanding issues in time to have a budget in place by July 1, 2007.

Greetings From Raleigh 6-15-06

Budget negotiations continued this week with the House and Senate working to find common ground. The goal remains to have a final budget ready for Gov. Easley's signature before the end of this fiscal year on June 30, 2007.

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, June 08, 2007

Notes 6-08-07

Several Legislators were honored on May 23rd at the Conservation Council of North Carolina's Green Tie awards dinner. I received the Representative of the Year award and Janet Cowell was named Senator of the Year. Rep. Carolyn Justice was named Defender of the Environment and Speaker Joe Hackney received a Life Time Achievement award from the organization.

Thank you for continuing to share your concerns and comments regarding legislation now being debated in Raleigh. This is democracy at work and all of our citizens benefit from the process.



Internet Access

On Wednesday, the Public Utilities Committee approved House Bill 1587, which would seriously hinder cities from providing wired and wireless communication services (such as cable, broadband, telephone, internet) by imposing onerous restrictions. This follows closely on the heels of the industry-sponsored video franchise legislation enacted last year that took away authority from municipalities and eliminated build out requirements. I offered an amendment in committee to exempt areas that the industry was not serving from these requirements, but it failed. Three members of the committee voted 'No' on the bill which is opposed by City of Greensboro staff and officials, other North Carolina cities, Dell, and other equipment providers, etc. The bill is now before the House Finance Committee.

Health 6-08-07

The House Aging Committee approved legislation that would lead to a rating system for adult-care homes. The ratings would be based on inspections, complaint investigations and penalties imposed by state regulators. The bill, House Bill 248, now goes to the House Appropriations Committee. The sponsors hope it will eventually create a star-rating system similar to the one used for day care centers, which awards the centers one to five stars, with five being the highest. The long term care industry is fighting this proposal.


A measure that would allow people to register and immediately vote at one-stop sites up to three days before an election is making its way through the Senate. Supporters say the bill, House Bill 91, would encourage more people to vote. Existing law requires registration 25 days before an election. State elections officials say the program could be easily implemented and would be more secure because voters would register in person rather than by mail or on line. The measure now goes to the full Senate.

Energy 6-08-07

The House Committee on Energy and Energy Efficiency, which I chair, held a hearing on House Bill 77 which is sponsored by Representatives Martin, Harrell, Justice, and me.

The bill would require that at least 7.5% of our energy needs in North Carolina come from renewable energy sources and another 7.5% from increased energy efficiencies by the year 2021. Twenty-four other states have adopted such requirements, but none in the Southeast. We must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, especially given the irrefutable evidence that our carbon emissions are harming the planet. If we do adopt the new energy standard, we will reduce emissions by 13 million tons at a time when our carbon emissions are growing at the fourth fastest rate in the country. A renewable energy standard will also create more than 20,000 good clean energy production jobs, especially in wind and solar production, in the state. The Utilities are pushing for provisions in the bill which would make it easier to build new nuclear power and coal-fire power plants. This is part of a Senate negotiated package that may come to the House for a vote. In the meantime, the House is pushing for a "clean" clean energy bill.

Enviornment 6-08-07

State agencies could no longer use oyster shells in landscaping or highway beautification projects if the Senate agrees to changes in a bill, Senate Bill 1453, approved in the House this week. State agencies are trying to increase awareness of oyster shell recovery efforts. The state has already banned shells from landfills and is working to establish oyster hatcheries at the state's aquariums. North Carolina oyster stocks have dropped about 90 percent since 1900, and old shells provide the best habitat for young oysters.

Public Saftey 6-08-07

Cigarettes that self-extinguish when left unattended, would be required in North Carolina with the passage of House Bill 1785 which was approved in committee this week. Similar legislation has been approved in more than a dozen states and Canada, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes. The group says cigarettes are the leading reason for fire deaths in the United States, causing up to 900 deaths a year. In 2005, there were over 7500 residential fires in North Carolina, with nearly 100 deaths and 800 injuries from smoking-caused fires, according to the state Division of Public Health. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

People who purposely kill a police animal or an assistance animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, could serve prison time under a bill sent to Gov. Mike Easley this week. The bill makes it a felony to kill such animals and makes the death an aggravating factor when determining punishment for another crime. The Senate agreed this week to a House version of the bill, Senate Bill 34, that removes language that would have made it a felony to attempt to kill these animals.

Education 6-08-07

The House elected Robeson County Dr. Cheryl Ransom Locklear this week to serve on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. She replaces former Robeson County Schools Superintendent Purnell Swett, who was elected in April, but resigned before taking office. Dr. Locklear is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She earned her doctorate in dentistry and a master's degree in public health at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a former chair of the board of trustees at UNC-Pembroke and a former member of the board of visitors for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Budget 6-08-07

The General Assembly started negotiating this week on a final budget to present to Gov. Mike Easley. Both the House and the Senate have approved roughly $20 billion budget proposals that invest heavily in education and economic development. Conference committees appointed by the leaders of each chamber will work out the differences in the plans. Matters eligible for negotiation include pay raises for state employees, the statewide sales tax rate and, the income tax rate for the highest wage earners in the state.

The House proposed a 4.25 percent pay raise - a quarter-percent more than the Senate proposed. The Senate wants to trim a quarter-percent from the sales tax and the income tax rate for the wealthy. The House has proposed keeping both taxes unchanged. The Senate budget also eliminates funding for farmland preservation and the State Energy Office, as well as much of the funding for emergency drinking water testing and notification for low income communities with contaminated water. Negotiators hope to have a final plan ready before the next fiscal year starts July 1, 2007.

Greetings From Raleigh 06-08-07

The pace of work in the House of Representatives increased this week as committees considered measures sent by the Senate. The House also began having conference committee meetings on the budget and I have been appointed by Speaker Joe Hackney as a negotiator for Natural and Economic Resources. These meetings will help shape the final budget the General Assembly will submit to Gov. Mike Easley.

In other business, the House took important steps this week in protecting our senior citizens, our homes, and considered important legislation moving us toward a more sustainable energy future.

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, June 01, 2007


House members approved Senate Bill 1132, which would create a commission that would review older laws to determine if they continue to be relevant and necessary. The group of 18 lawmakers would not conduct financial audits of programs. North Carolina is one of only four states without such an internal review. The bill now returns to the Senate so that they can consider changes made in the House.

Thank you for continuing to let me know your position on the issues being addressed in the General Assembly. By working together, we can enrich the lives of all the citizens of Greensboro and Guilford County.


Public Saftey 6-01-07

Willfully killing a police animal or an assistance animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, could soon become a felony in North Carolina. House members unanimously approved a bill Senate Bill 34 Wednesday strengthening the penalty. The bill would also make killing a law enforcement animal or an assistance animal an aggravating circumstance for other criminal offenses. The proposal now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

Justice 6-01-07

Two bills that would change the death penalty in North Carolina were modified this week so that they can stay alive past last week's crossover deadline. One bill, House Bill 1691, would suspend executions in North Carolina for two years to allow the state to re-examine the administration of the death penalty and to ensure the penalty does not violate constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment. The other bill, House Bill 1526 which I sponsored, would reduce the number of aggravating factors that make defendants eligible for the death penalty. The bill is intended to allow prosecutors to focus their resources on the worst crimes.

Ethics 6-01-07

Elected officials convicted of job-related corruption would lose part of their government pensions under a Senate bill now making its way through the House. Senate Bill 659 cleared the Judiciary I committee on Tuesday and now heads to the Committee on Pensions and Retirement. The measure was approved in the Senate unanimously. It would require elected officials to give up the state-funded portion of their retirement funds if they are convicted of felonies relating to public corruption or election laws fraud.


One of the most troubling aspects of the Senate budget is the proposed elimination of the State Energy Office. Federal money from oil company overcharges, that has provided most of the funding for the last 20 years, has run out and it is now up to state appropriations to continue its good work. The office has an annual budget of $7.3 million, which funds 16 positions and provides grant funding for programs such as the Solar Center at NCSU, and energy programs at A&T and ASU. According to the director, Larry Shirley, the office's work has resulted in energy savings of $62 million for state government and $170 million for private businesses. I was disappointed that the House budget cut the Governor's proposal in half, and I worked to get an additional $2 million in the House budget for Energy Office programs. Eliminating the office, as the Senate proposes, is not an option.

This session has seen more focus on energy and climate change related legislation than any in the past, and this is no time to eliminate the one office focused on creating a more sustainable energy future for NC. The House is committed to saving the Energy Office. Speaker Hackney said it best: "Go figure, it's the energy session and we haven't saved the State Energy Office."

Consideration of House Bill 77, which I sponsored with Representatives Martin, Harrell, and Justice, will resume on Tuesday, June 5. House Bill 77 requires that 15% of NC's energy needs come from renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2021. Oregon just became the 24th state to adopt a renewable energy portfolio standard, and none of those states are in the Southeast.

Budget 6-01-07

The Senate approved its proposed budget this week, clearing the way for negotiations to begin on the final plan. Their $20 billion proposal cuts both the income tax on the highest wage-earners and the sales tax by a quarter percent and spends $263 million less than the House proposal. It would provide no money for Medicaid relief to the counties, while the House has suggested giving the counties $100 million. The Senate plan would also spend $82 million less than the House for health and human services and decrease the reserve fund allocation by $133 million. The University of North Carolina system would get $60 million more, but community colleges would get $8 million less than what the House proposed. Teachers, community college faculty, and university employees would get 5 percent raises - the same as the House proposed - but state employees would get a 4 percent raise, a quarter-percent less than what was proposed in the House plan.

The Senate budget eliminates funding for farmland preservation, at a time when we are losing farmland at the fastest rate in the country (the House had proposed $8million, the first significant funding in years). It also drastically cuts proposed funding for an emergency drinking water fund that provides resources for testing, notification, and access to clean drinking water for low income communities with contaminated water.

It eliminates funding for dropout prevention, a top priority of our House leadership. The budget provides substantially less funding for removing folks from the waiting list for child care subsidy. And it provides much less funding for disadvantaged students.

The Senate proposes borrowing $1.2 billion, without a vote of the public, to pay for about 30 construction projects. That's nearly three times more than the House proposed borrowing.

Budget negotiators in the House and the Senate will begin meeting soon to work out the differences in the plans, and I hope to be part of this process. The intention is to have the spending plan in place by July 1, 2007, the beginning of the next fiscal year.


House Democrats laid out an ambitious agenda soon after the start of this session and leaders of the chamber met with the press Tuesday to announce that they have already met most of our goals. The agenda called for improving confidence in government, providing a quality education, creating jobs, improving health, supporting our military, ensuring safer communities, promoting a more sustainable energy future, and protecting the environment. Bills that have cleared the House have addressed those matters in several ways, and House Speaker Joe Hackney and Majority Leader Hugh Holliman pledged that for the remainder of the session the House will focus on further improvements in those areas.

Greetings From Raleigh 06-01-07

After several busy weeks preparing the budget and handling the last of the bills that needed to pass before our crossover deadline, this holiday-shortened week offered lawmakers in the House an opportunity to slow down. Our Senate colleagues finished work on their version of the budget Thursday. The next step will be for negotiators in the House and the Senate to reconcile the differences between the proposals and then send a compromise bill to the governor for his signature. In the House, we approved bills that would strengthen ethics laws, require closer scrutiny of state programs, and stiffen the penalties for killing police animals or assistance animals, among other issues.

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.