Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly was short, but we were able to pass some bills that had been lingering in both the House and Senate for a while. In the House they dealt mainly with education, school safety, and public safety. In southeastern North Carolina we also had a special visitor drop by on Friday. The state budget is still on hold, as the vote to override the Governor’s veto has not yet been taken.
Senate Bill 438 – Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 seeks to improve the Read to Achieve program, so that elementary students will be reading at grade level by third grade. It passed the third and final reading in the House by 75 – 39, went to the Senate, and they did not concur with the changes made in the House. It will now go into conference so the differences can be worked out.
Senate Bill 5 – School Safety Omnibus improves many aspects of the safety issues addressed in previous bills, as well as many of the issues addressed in last year’s House School Safety Committee on which I served. It will clarify the definition of a School Resource Officer (SRO), further define the training for SROs, clarify threat assessment teams for all public schools, establish a panic alarm system, encourage private and religious schools to adopt the safety practices of public schools, and make other improvements. This is an ongoing effort to make our schools safer so that students can learn without fear.
House Bill 863 – Qualifications for Sheriff/Expunctions makes it clear that a person who has committed a felony and had it expunged cannot run for Sheriff. It is already law that a felon can’t run, but this adds the expunction rule to the qualifications. After some heated debate, mainly by the lawyers in the House, it was sent back to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House.
On Thursday I learned that House Speaker Tim Moore wanted to visit several sites in southeastern North Carolina to see some of the projects impacted if the budget is not passed in its current form. Beginning Friday morning with the Pender County Courthouse, which was impacted by Hurricane Florence, he then went to the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and to the Southport campus of Brunswick Community College. The aquarium and the Fort Fisher Museum stand to receive almost $13 million for upgrades and construction in the budget. I joined the Speaker, his staff, and members of the aquarium and museum staff at the aquarium. I learned that it is the most visited aquarium of the three in N.C. with 500,000 visitors a year. It was very busy Friday.
At BCC’s Southport Center, the Speaker was met by college President Gene Smith and received the key to the city from Mayor Jerry Dove. We then toured the classrooms where an amazing amount of teaching legacy crafts is done. This allows our local citizens to explore their talents in arts and crafts, as well as add to the economy of the Southport area, which is known for local arts. Other classes are offered, and more space will soon be needed. The building is ready for additional classrooms, and the funds in the state budget would be helpful. The demands on BCC’s other campuses in areas such as Health Sciences and Career Technical Education (CTE) are also increasing. Unfortunately, the $2.2 million slated for BCC is being held up by the Governor’s veto. We hope to override it soon.
One of the highlights of the Speaker’s trip was the ferry ride from Fort Fisher to Southport. The N.C. ferry system is also supported by the state budget. Fortunately, funds for the ongoing operations are not cut off, as the state does not shut down due to a budget impasse.
We will be back in session this week, with more interesting bills coming up for votes, and a possible veto override.