Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 22, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we had a shortened week, but managed to squeeze in some very interesting and controversial bills, had long committee meetings and almost finalized one phase of the state budget process.

The week was shorter than usual, due to an Easter break that had been planned at the beginning of the session.  Monday and Tuesday were much busier than usual, and we were able to come back to our districts on Wednesday rather than late Thursday.

I started the week on Monday in Pinehurst at a conference of the Railway Association of North Carolina.  Four of our House and Senate Transportation chairs were on a panel and discussed issues pertaining to the operations of the 2 large railroad companies and almost two dozen small ones.  It was very interesting, and they allowed us to go early and sprint to Raleigh for meetings starting just after noon.  Committee meetings went on all afternoon and the voting session started at 6:00 p.m.  Tuesday was similar, with meetings all day considering dozens of bills and the voting floor session in the House at 4:00 p.m.

Our most controversial bill was Senate Bill 359 – Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.  This was a companion bill to House Bill 602, but the Senate version crossed over first, so we voted on it Tuesday.  The bill makes it clear that if an infant survives to birth, whether or not it is the survivor of an attempted abortion, it must receive the same medical care as any other human. To refuse care or to kill the infant after birth would be felony murder.  I was amazed at the level of debate and controversy on this bill.  The vote split 65 – 46, almost on party lines, but with 4 Democrats voting with all Republicans present to pass the bill.  It went to the Governor’s desk on Tuesday, and he vetoed it on Thursday.  I was frankly surprised, as I believe that he is a good father, and that he would have taken this subject personally, not politically.

Also, on Tuesday, we had three other bills of interest.  House Bill 437 – Education on the Holocaust and Genocide passed unanimously 112 – 0. It requires the inclusion of the history of these subjects in middle and high school curricula. There were several touching stories of visits to the Holocaust death camps during the floor debate.

House Bill 350 – Designate NC Time Zone/Observe Daylight Saving Time All Year says that North Carolina will go to daylight saving time all year if and when Congress approves a bill to do the same across the country.  It passed 85 – 27.

House Bill 151 – Katelyn’s Law says that a student will not lose school days against a perfect attendance record if they are attending a legislative event (like Youth Legislature) or visiting the legislature (like serving as a page).  It passed 110 – 2.

The budget process moved along in high gear, with the full chairs having received the area budgets. They will come back to us, we will be able to present and pass each part of the budgets in our respective committees, hold the full House Appropriations Committee meeting to pass the entire budget, take it to the floor for a vote by early May, and send it to the Senate within the next two weeks.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 15, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we had filed almost 1400 bills in the House and Senate, we had some controversial bills in committees on abortion and transportation safety, and we were working many hours early and late on the various areas of the House version of the state budget.

By Thursday the House had filed 708 bills so far this session.  This, combined with almost 700 in the Senate, means that about 1400 bills have been filed since January 30th, when the session began.  We know that not all of these bills will be considered in committees, that some of those that are will not pass out of committees to the floor of the House or Senate, and a small number of them will make it through the House and Senate and be signed into law by the Governor.

We had some controversial bills in committees last week.  Among others, there was a bill in the House Health Committee, House Bill 602 – Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, that makes clear it is felony murder to intentionally end the life of a child that survives abortion and is born alive.  After a strong debate it passed the committee 20 – 9.  It now moves to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House before moving to the house floor for a vote.  I am a co-sponsor of this bill.  This is one of several bills on protection of infant life filed by Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County.

The Insurance Committee, of which I am a member, had a bill on association health insurance, House Bill 464 – Small Business Health Care Act.  It allows independent contractors, such as real estate agents, to form a group for health coverage.  It passed the committee on a voice vote.

Early in the week, on Tuesday, our House Transportation Committee had several interesting bills.  One was House Bill 267 – Require Safety Helmets/Under 21, which allows motorcycle riders over 21 to choose to wear a helmet or not.  This is a controversial subject each session, and has not passed so far.  The vote was 10 – 10 with several members absent, so it did not pass, and remains in the Transportation Committee.

Each day last week we were meeting as Chairs of the Appropriations Committee on Transportation to put together our portion of the state budget.  We had a deadline of April 11th, Thursday, to report back to the full Appropriations Chairs.  On Wednesday, we presented the preliminary numbers, and Thursday the final proposed numbers to them.   They will now process what we have proposed and come back to us, so that we can finalize the budget by the end of April and vote it out of the House in early May.  Although these meetings have lasted later in the day than usual, it will be worth it to have a budget as early as possible on the Governor’s desk, and find out if he will agree and sign it.

This week we expect to continue the budget process and continue to have lots of our bills in committees.  Monday and Tuesday we will be very busy on both of these, as well as voting on the House and Senate floors.  Wednesday we will attempt to finish the week’s business and began an Easter Break.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 8, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we exceeded 1200 bills filed so far, the House passed landmark legislation in education and law enforcement, and the House was digging deeply into the state budget.

As of Thursday, the House members had filed 590 bills and the Senate had leaped up to 672, a total of 1262.  This may not be a record, but it had seemed as if there would be fewer bills than usual.  So, this was a surprise, possibly spurred on by several bill filing deadlines coming up.

In the House voting session Wednesday, we had a group of education bills, two of which are of particular note.  House bill 315 – Instructional Material Selection, gives the local school districts more choice of which books and other instructional materials to use.  It gives parents additional input and awareness in the selection process.  It passed the House 63 – 51 on a party line vote with all Republicans voting for it.  It now goes to the Senate.

House Bill 377 – Reduce Testing, is a bill that makes the biggest effort that I have seen to reduce the testing in our schools at every level.  Certain assessments that were taking elementary students 37 hours a semester, other end-of-grade tests, and graduation projects would be reduced or eliminated if this becomes law.  It passed the House 110 – 2 on a bipartisan vote and goes to the Senate.

A controversial bill requiring Sheriffs to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was debated and voted out of the House on Wednesday.  House Bill 370 – Require Sheriff Cooperation with ICE, requires law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE when they have arrested someone for a criminal offense who is not a citizen of the United States.  If ICE puts a detainer order on the prisoner, the local agency must hold the prisoner in compliance with the detainer.  Most Sheriffs have been doing this voluntarily, but a half dozen in primarily urban areas are not, and have earned the nickname “Sanctuary Sheriffs.”  Former Sheriff and House Member Carson Smith of Pender County introduced an amendment to protect sheriffs from unreasonable intrusion of federal agents into their jails.  It passed and the bill passed by a vote of 63 – 51 along party lines again.  It now goes to the Senate.

One other bill that got some debate was House Bill 184 – Study State Health Plan Design.  It requires a study of how to make the health plan for state employees more efficient and less costly.  After a spirited debate it passed on a bipartisan vote of 75 – 36 and now goes to the Senate. 

The House Appropriations Committee was meeting daily in their area committees last week, putting together the budget in areas such as Education, Health and Human Services, Transportation, etc.  I was meeting with the Appropriations Committee on Transportation.  We are making good progress, and should be able to report back to the chairs of the full Appropriations Committee this week.  We have high hopes that we will have a budget on which the House can vote by early May.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 2, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we passed the 900 mark on the number of bills introduced by the House and Senate combined.  We will certainly pass the 1000 bills filed in the typical long session.

We also continued to meet jointly with our Senate colleagues each morning to review the various departments and divisions whose budgets we will soon put together.  In our case we heard from divisions of the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT).  Last week we heard from the Global Transpark, the Aviation Division, and the Ferry Division.  Next week we will meet separately to complete the budget in a matter of just a few days before presenting our transportation area to the full budget chairs in the House.

At this time during the session, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are filled with committee meetings.  We also have many groups and individuals that want to meet with us about various legislative priorities of interest to them.

It is always good to welcome the realtors from the Brunswick County Association of Realtors (BCAR).  They brought almost a dozen of their key people representing real estate sales and vacation rentals.  They were from Southport to Sunset Beach and all points in between.  The real estate and tourism industry are at the heart of the Brunswick County economy.  They are always interested in our business-friendly tax policies and regulation reforms.  It was great to discuss their priorities and our upcoming legislation.

One of the pleasures of representing our district occurs when I can present a special certificate from the House of Representatives to a newly earned Eagle Scout recipient.  Last Saturday, Grayson Moffitt was presented his Eagle Scout rank in Southport, and I was able to attend and tell the group there what it can mean to the young man and his family, as it has to my family.  Grayson will attend N.C. State next year and should continue to do very well.

It was an interesting week, and I expect the budget talks to heat up this week and during the month of April.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – Mar. 25, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we had dozens of bills being heard in committees, we appointed 12 members to the UNC Board of Governors, and we continued to hear from the departments on their plans and needs for the state budget.

Two of my major committees, Transportation and Education K-12 heard more bills than any other week so far.  After bills are filed, they are sent to a committee in different areas, which we call “policy” committees.  In Education K-12 we heard six bills on Tuesday. Some of them dealt with the grading system for schools, the method by which schools are ranked by their performance and growth.  Equal weight should be given to growth and performance, 50% growth compared to the current 20%.  These bills will enable that.

One bill dealt with corporal punishment in schools.  All 115 school districts in the state have banned corporal punishment, or paddling, in their schools.  This just brings state statutes in line with actual practice in our schools.  These bills were voted out of committee and will proceed to the House floor for a vote.

Another committee I always have on Tuesday is Transportation.  We had four bills to consider last week.  House Bill 257 makes it legal to wear a mask to protect the face from the cold when riding a motorcycle.  A previous law to ban masks in public had left out this exception and riders have been liable to citation by law enforcement.  House Bill 289 authorizes a special license plate saying “POW/MIA Bring Them Home”.  House Bill 307 makes it a traffic infraction to pass farm equipment on the roads when they are signaling a left turn even if they swing to the right to enable the turn.  These bills and one concerning litter passed committee and will also proceed to the House floor for votes.  Some of them must pass other committees prior to floor votes.

The House and Senate were able to appoint members of the UNC Board of Governors.  In House Resolution 364 we appointed six members to the board and the Senate is doing the same.  After a spirited debate it passed 63 – 52 on a mostly party line vote. 

Our budget committees are continuing to meet at 8:30 each morning on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  In the Appropriations Committee on Transportation, we are meeting jointly with the Senate members.  We are now hearing from the non-highway divisions of the Dept. of Transportation, such as railroad, aviation, bicycle /pedestrian, ferries, and ports.  In April we will break away to begin putting the Transportation budget together.  The other House committees in different areas of state government will do the same.  As mentioned before, we hope to vote the entire budget out of the House by early May.  It will then go to the Senate and the Governor for their approval.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – Mar. 18, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we saw increased activity once again.  It was the seventh full week of the 2019 long session.  Filing of bills increased, as did committee meetings and floor votes in the House and Senate.

We are up to approximately 600 bills filed in the House and Senate combined.  The deadline for filing local bills is approaching March 28th, but statewide bills can be filed until April 16th.  Budget meetings continued each morning at 8:30, and soon we will separate from the joint meetings with the Senate appropriations committees and begin putting together the House budget.  We hope to vote the full budget out of the House in May.

The biggest bill considered in the House last week was the school construction bond bill, House Bill 241 – Education Bond Act of 2019.  This bill puts a bond issue on the ballot for voters to decide in the March primary election.  It passed the House Wednesday by a vote of 109 – 6, and now must go to the Senate for a vote and be signed by the Governor.  This could take a few weeks. 

If the bond bill passes these hurdles and a positive vote of the people in March, it will provide $1.9 billion for school construction and renovation for local school districts, as well as some funds for the NC Community College system and the state university system.  While $200 million is set aside for the community colleges and $200 million for the universities, this means $1.5 billion will go to local school districts across the state.  I personally would have liked more for the 58 community colleges and less for the 17 universities, but I still voted for the bill.  Every school district will get some funds, including low wealth districts.  Brunswick County Schools are not considered low wealth, but we will get $10 million of these funds to assist the county in school construction.  It is normally a responsibility of the counties in North Carolina to build schools, but this will jump start the counties in meeting this ongoing need. 

It is not guaranteed that the Senate and the Governor will agree with the plan in the House bill, but we can encourage them to act on it soon.

We have most of our committee meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, and our floor votes on Wednesday and Thursday.   At least once last week I had to present a bill in one committee and then run to vote in another committee of which I am a member.  I expect this activity to continue and increase in the coming weeks in April, May, and June.  The good news is that we are usually done on Thursday in time for me to drive back to Brunswick County by dinner time.  Then I am frequently able to meet with individuals and groups across the county on issues of interest to them on Friday and Saturday.  Getting around the county is interesting to me and helps me stay energized.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – March 11, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly the House of Representatives voted on several school safety bills, the House and Senate heard the Governor’s budget proposal, and we continued to file bills at a rapid pace.

Our normal schedule this session is to meet with most of our committees on Tuesday and have most votes on the house floor on Wednesday and Thursday.  Last Wednesday we had some important votes on school safety bills.  They came out of recommendations of the House Select Committee on School Safety, which met during the interim last year and of which I was a member.  I was happy to cosponsor these bills.

House bill 73 – Civic Responsibility Education calls for schools to include in some existing courses instruction on the concepts of respect for school personnel, responsibility for school safety, service to others, and good citizenship.  It passed the House 113 – 2.

House Bill 75 – School Mental Health Screening Study calls for a study of development of a mental health screening process for students, similar to the physical health screening now in existence. One important amendment to the bill was to be sure it is an “opt-in” process, not “opt-out”, so that the parents are fully aware.  It passed 113 – 0.

House Bill 76 – School Safety Omnibus contained many of the other recommendations of the select committee.  They include such things as annual school vulnerability reports, School Resource Officer training, and clarifying the role of the Center for Safer Schools.  It passed 112 – 0.  These bills then moved to the Senate for their consideration.

Thursday morning, we met with the Senate as the Joint Appropriations Committee to hear the Governor’s budget proposal.  The Budget Director, head of the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) presented their budget encompassing the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021fiscal years.  The biennial budget for the state begins in the House this session, and we will have our own ideas of how to spend the peoples’ money.  We have been meeting with our Senate appropriations members in each budget area three mornings a week, and will soon break out to put the budget together.

The Governor’s budget proposes to spend $25.2 billion in the General Fund budget for 2019-2020 and $26 billion in 2020-2021. This is 5.4% above the 2018-2019 budget of $23.9 billion the first year and 3.1% additional in the second year, or a total of 8.8% increase.  This is above the expected growth in population and inflation.  It has been a goal of the General Assembly since 2011 to stay at or just below that benchmark, so that growth in the economy and jobs can be used to give families a tax break.

Besides expected differences in the total spending, there are some proposals in the education area and hurricane recovery that we can agree with, but each area will be analyzed in detail and the House budget should be done by early May.  I will be closely involved with the Transportation budget, which is an approximate $4 billion budget separate from the General Fund.  However, I will be watching the Education budget and the Health and Human Services budget (which includes Medicaid) very closely.  These two departments combined comprise 80% of the General Fund budget.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – March 4, 2019

Last week was the fifth week of the 2019 long session at the North Carolina General Assembly.  Between the House and the Senate about 400 bills have been filed, and many are being heard in committees.  We heard from the Governor at his State of the State address Monday night, and heard from many advocates both inside and outside the government on upcoming issues.

Last Monday night, Governor Cooper delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate.  Also, in attendance were the members of the N.C. Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the Governor’s Cabinet.  He was very concise with a 30 minute speech, and covered many points that will be in the budget, as well as other issues.  Some with which we can agree include investments in teachers, school construction, recovery efforts from Hurricane Florence, and resiliency against future natural disasters.  There are issues with which we will not agree, but it is up to all of us to come up with the best budget and laws for our state.

Tuesday is usually a day of committee meetings. I was in three major committee meetings dealing with transportation and education, in our annual ethics training class, and several smaller meetings on upcoming bills.  Also, on Tuesday we filed a bill, House Bill 169, to make the Loggerhead Sea Turtle the official state Salt Water Reptile for North Carolina.  Two other legislators from Pender and Carteret counties were primary sponsors, along with me.  This is the turtle species that lays thousands of eggs in nests each year along the Brunswick County coast.

Some major votes on House bills took place on Wednesday.  House Bill 3 – Eminent Domain puts on the ballot a constitutional amendment to make it illegal for government at any level to take one’s land for any reason except a public use.  In the past some states and local governments have condemned land and let developers use it to increase the tax base.  This would make it not only illegal, but also unconstitutional.  After a thorough debate, it passed on a bipartisan vote of 94 – 21 and now goes to the Senate.

Another bill we passed would restore the N.C. Court of Appeals to 15 members from the current 12 members.  It passed 115 – 1.

It was good to see people from back home again this week.  Members of NC Cooperative Extension of Brunswick County visited on Tuesday, as did some of our nurses in the NC Nurses Association from Southeastern NC.

This week we will be getting more of our local bills into our Bill Drafting Dept. and then filing them by the March 28th deadline.  Some may be coming for our county.  We will have many more bills moving through committees and on to the House floor for votes.  Our Joint Appropriations Committee on Transportation has begun meeting every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and will continue this week and each week in March.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – Feb. 25, 2019

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly was our fourth week of the 2019 long session.  Discussions about the upcoming biennial budget for 2019 – 2021 took up a lot of our time.  We were also working on bills to be introduced and meeting with groups of advocates as well as with visitors from back home.

The most interesting piece of the budget discussions was the Consensus Revenue Forecast and State Budget Outlook.  We got a full presentation of the numbers from our Fiscal Research Division and Dr. Barry Boardman during a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Wednesday.  It is called a “Consensus” forecast because our Fiscal Research Division in the legislature has to meet with the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM), which works for the Governor.  They have to agree on the forecasted revenue figures before it is made public in our appropriations and finance committees.

The revenue forecast for this the balance of this year, as well as the next two years is very good news.  While our tax rates have been reduced, the growth in the economy has increased the revenue dollars each year.  This fiscal year, July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019 is projected to be 2.2% over last year, 2019 – 2020 will be 3.0% over this year, and 2020 – 2021 will be 4.0% over the prior year.  This growth is in line with the surplus figures almost every year since 2011.  We have seen actual collections about 2 % higher than the general fund budget revenue 6 of the last 7 fiscal years since then.  In other words, the projected growth has been very accurate, but the collections have been better than projected.

On the spending side of the budget, it appears that the dollars available will be in line with population growth plus inflation, so that programs can be fully funded. Based on the current budget, 58% of the approximately $24 billion will go to Education and 22% will go to Health and Human Services (HHS), which includes Medicaid.  This is 80% of the General Fund dollars, and leaves 20% for Justice and Public Safety, Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources, Capital and Information Technology, and all other government departments, except Transportation.  The Dept. of Transportation has a separate budget, funded by gas taxes and fees, which is approximately $4 billion, split between construction and maintenance of the state system.

On Wednesday we also had many local leaders from Eastern North Carolina visiting with us and attending a press conference on the infrastructure needs after Hurricane Florence.  Mayor Pro Tem Steve Barger of Boiling Spring Lakes spoke to the press about the devastation in BSL, and I was able to comment on that, as well as Southport and our area.  Mayors and other leaders were there from Wilmington, Kinston, and many eastern and southeastern towns and counties.

Later the League of Municipalities hosted a dinner for local leaders and legislators. There I was able to see our officials from Oak Island, Southport, Holden Beach, and many others from our district and across the state.

This week will begin with the Governor making his State of the State address Monday night to a joint session of the House and Senate.  We will be filing many of the bills we have been working on, and hearing many of them in our committees.  I will be chairing the House Transportation Committee where we will hear 4 bills.  We will also have budget meetings each morning.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – February 18, 2019

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly was our third week of the regular session.  It featured many meetings, many new bills, and a celebration of a youth organization over 100 years old.

Monday night is usually a quiet session with no floor votes.  However, last Monday, February 11th, was a celebration of 109 years of the Boy Scouts of America.  We had a presentation of the annual report of Scouting in North Carolina.  It featured recognition of how many Scouts become first responders and some of the heroic acts they perform.  I rarely give the opening prayer at the start of session.  However, as an Eagle Scout and the father and grandfather of Eagle Scouts I was honored to be asked to give the prayer Monday night. 

The biggest issues of the week for me involved Transportation.  Tuesday I chaired a House Appropriations Committee on Transportation meeting to discuss the moving of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DMV) headquarters out of their New Bern Avenue building and into another location. The proposed location is in Rocky Mount, about an hour from Raleigh.  There were many questions and concerns about the expense of leasing or purchasing the buildings at the Rocky Mount site, as well as the impact on the over 400 employees.  Further information is coming on the budget and the personnel impacts.

On Thursday, we again met in this committee, but jointly with members of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee.  This time the subject was Dept. of Transportation (DOT) project delays.  We are very concerned that the Highway Trust Fund is being drawn down to a base level of $500 million from a previous high of $2 billion.  While we want the spending to get projects into the street, so to speak, we don’t understand project delays at the same time that the spending has increased.  Part of the explanation given is that the Strategic Transportation Investment Plan (STIP) has increased the number of projects from approximately 400 to 1800, and this volume has put extra pressure on the system of DOT engineers and private contractors.  Again, further information will continue to come on this issue.

Two of the new bills on which I am a primary sponsor as of last week was one to make the Osprey the official state raptor, and one defining Electric Standup Scooters.  I also cosponsored bills on school safety and on the right to life. One can view all the bills I sponsor on the General Assembly website, www.ncleg.net . Just click on the House member list, then on my name, then on “Bills Introduced”. Many more bills are being drafted for introduction in the coming weeks.

One of the most interesting things we do is meet with people from a variety of backgrounds and professions to get information. Some of those topics last week were: Thyroid Cancer incidence in certain counties; Private Industry involvement in Environmental Protection; and issues of interest to the Outdoor Advertising industry.

We also had the North Carolina Tourism Industry represented at a reception.  It was good to see Tourism advocates from Brunswick County, Mitzi York and friends.