Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – October 7, 2019

Even with the hot days in Raleigh last week, the week started coolly in the North Carolina General Assembly. Then things heated up when we started debating bills to fund the “Raise the Age” legislation and to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls.

Most of the action was on Wednesday. The first action in the House was a joint session with the members of the Senate joining us on the House floor to approve the appointments to the State Board of Education made by the Governor.  We took up three of the five appointees as a block vote, and passed them almost unanimously.  All Senators present voted for the nominees, as did all but 8 of the House members.

House Bill 1001 – Raise the Age Funding contains the funds that are in the state budget for expanding the age for juveniles in the court system to 16 and 17-year-olds.  The budget itself is currently held up due to the Governor’s veto.  This would provide the funds for Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) and for District Court Judges in the prosecutorial districts across the state.  For our district this means one additional ADA and no additional District Judges.  These are totals of 15 ADAs and 6 District Judges for our district which includes Brunswick, Bladen, and Columbus counties.  Debate on the House floor mainly concerned the work load formulas that are used to set the numbers of ADAs and judges.  The vote was 104 – 1 in the House.  The bill moved to the Senate for their approval.

The other controversial bill on Wednesday was Senate Bill 250 – Remove Foreign Citizens from Voting Rolls.  It requires Clerks of Court to maintain records of jurors who are excused from jury duty due to checking the form saying they are not a citizen of the United States.  Then the information must be shared with the Board of Elections, so they can be removed from the voting rolls in the county, should they be registered to vote.  It seems simple, but all sorts of debate was presented about voter suppression, targeting of individuals, and concern about exposing them to harassment.  I supported it as a simple and much needed check against illegal voting.  It passed 55 – 49 on a party line vote, and moves back to the Senate for final approval.

Much of the energy in the legislature was in committees and other meetings about “Mini-budgets”, bills that include budget items that are being held up by the current veto situation.  These include transportation funds, teacher pay, disaster recovery funds, and many other important items.

This week, we expect additional work on “Mini-budgets” and possibly efforts in the Senate to override the budget veto.  The temperatures will be cooler as fall moves in, but we will continue to work at a fever pitch on getting funds and services to the people as soon as possible.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – September 23, 2019

Last week in Raleigh was much cooler than the long, hot summer months experienced this year.  The mood in the North Carolina General Assembly had also cooled somewhat.  There were several unanimous votes in the House and the Senate on very good policy bills and a desire to get some time back in our districts.  The final votes were taken on the court-ordered legislative districts, and bills were passed on school safety, social services reform, and processing of rape kits.

In late August the three-judge panel appointed by the N.C. Chief Justice had sent their 357 page decision back to us, instructing us to redraw the districts for the House and Senate members in just over two weeks.  We concluded that work and had final votes in both chambers last week and sent them back to the court.  Since we used districts drawn by their experts as the baseline, we believe that the maps should pass the approval of the court.  We hope to know soon, as many of the districts will be different for the 2020 election, including Brunswick County. The district information is all public, and can be accessed on the General Assembly website.

School safety remained at the forefront of our policy work.  House Bill 75 – School Safety Funds, Programs, and Reports includes provisions that mirror the state budget, House Bill 966, which is still under the veto cloud until the Senate is able to override the veto.  It provides $38.8 million in 2019-2020 and $29.8 million in 2020-2021 to implement many programs: require reports on school psychologist and school counselor positions, require creation of a School Mental Health Crisis Response program, fund 8 additional SBI agents to support the Behavioral Threat Assessment program, and funding for other priorities in local and state programs to improve school safety.  I was a cosponsor of this bill, which passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed by the Governor on Wednesday.

House Bill 935 – Social Services Reform provides much needed improvements to social services, both state and local.  It requires criminal background checks for day care workers, additional staff for the Division of Social Services of NC Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS), additional training for local boards of social services members, and a total of eight positive changes.  HB 935 passed the House 114-0 and is in the Senate for action.

House Bill 29 – Standing Up for Rape Victims Act of 2019 requires the expeditious testing of all sexual assault examination kits, regardless of whether the case is pursued in court.  Such DNA evidence can lead to conviction, exoneration, or linkage to other crimes.  This is in the interest of protection of the public and of future potential victims.  The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor.

One other bill which I cosponsored, House Bill 211- Various DMV Changes, also passed unanimously and was sent to the Governor for his signature.  It has several changes, but the main one of interest is a requirement for reflective license plates and a requirement to change license plates every seven years.  Some of the old plates are difficult to read by law enforcement.  There is also a study of digitized license plates required in the bill.

It appears that we will have some time back in the district (home) this week.  Of course we are always subject to call back to Raleigh by the House Speaker or by the Governor.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – September 17, 2019

The last two weeks have been very eventful, both in the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh and in the coastal parts of our state.  After Hurricane Dorian ran up the coast the first week of the month, the legislature created a storm last week by the House overriding the Governor’s veto of the state budget and meeting a court-ordered deadline for drawing new districts.

Two weeks ago a three judge panel appointed by the N.C. Chief Justice ruled that the legislative districts drawn in 2011 and partially revised in 2017 were politically gerrymandered, and should be redrawn.  In a 357 page decision their experts went through 14 county groupings and said the legislature must redraw them in two weeks, a process that normally takes months.  This is unprecedented, due to the fact that political considerations have never before been ruled illegal.

After Hurricane Dorian delayed the start of the process, our House and Senate Redistricting Committees went to work.  Speaking for the House side, the meetings, which were required to be public, had court reporters, live streaming, and full public notice of the live meetings in our largest committee rooms.  Although our meetings were held by the House Redistricting Committee, almost the entire House membership attended, so that their impacted districts could be reviewed with full participation of members of both parties.

I observed much of the proceeding, but was a participant in the review of the Brunswick-New Hanover county grouping.  The districts had been changed by the court experts, so we were able to make no adjustments, except for incumbency.  In our case, no changes were made.  Many other county groupings had incumbents that were doubled or tripled up in districts, and had to tweak the precincts to correct it.  This was particularly difficult in the Mecklenburg county map, where there are 12 House members.  After three days of long and intense meetings and bipartisan agreement, the House voted Friday and passed the maps. The final vote, however, was mostly along party lines, in spite of the open, bipartisan process. They now go to the Senate for approval and back to the court for their blessing.  So our local districts in Brunswick and New Hanover have been changed by the courts.  I cannot stress enough that this not final until the court gives their approval.

Other startling news came out of Raleigh on Wednesday, when the House was able to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget, House Bill 966.  As the Speaker had promised, the bill remained on the daily calendar and when the votes were there, we would take the vote.  Everything was done according to law and House rules and protocol, and the vote was taken.  The three-fifths majority for override was reached and the bill now is in the Senate for their override vote.

Contrary to all the misinformation and false information that has been put out by the Washington Post and other media, there was no 9/11 service going on that the opposition was attending.  There was no additional notice to our party, other than the daily reminder from House Republican leadership to be in our seats on time.  There was no notice that there would be no votes, which notice goes out from the Speaker by email, or from the podium, and usually both.  All allegations to the contrary by media or opposition activists are false.

After an interesting and sometimes stressful last week, this week should see the districts approved by the Senate, while we in the House approve their districts.  Hopefully, other business will be wrapping up so the long session can end, although a couple of months late.

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

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we had a new group of bills giving Highway Patrol, correctional officers, and other state employees their budgeted raises, reducing testing for our public school students, and combating election fraud.

Last Wednesday was a big day for many of the state employees, who have been wondering about the raises that were budgeted by the General Assembly in June and vetoed by the Governor.  Four House bills were approved by the House and the Senate Wednesday and presented to the Governor the same day. House Bills 126, 777, 609, and 226 give the same raises as were in the state budget to the State Highway Patrol, SBI and ALE officers, correctional officers, and a variety of non-certified workers in our schools.  The raises for teachers will be considered soon in other bills.  Three of these bills passed unanimously 114 – 0 in the House and 46 – 0 in the Senate.  House Bill 609 passed 113 – 0 and 43 – 0.

On Monday, Senate Bill 621 – Testing Reduction Act of 2019 was on the House floor for a vote to adopt the changes in the conference report worked out with the Senate.  It reduces the end-of grade test requirements and the requirement for a senior project for graduation.  It passed 105 – 12.  Having passed the Senate, it was sent to the Governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 683 – Combat Absentee Ballot Fraud tightens the requirements as to whom can submit absentee ballot requests by another person and the requirements for submitting the completed ballot itself.  Another important provision would require that all early voting sites be open on the last Saturday of early voting rather than only the county election office site.  The hours that day would be 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  The bill passed the House 112 – 1 and was sent to the Senate for their concurrence.

One additional important bill last week was Senate Bill 553 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2019.  It has 17 pages and 28 different sections, too many to list here.  I recommend that is there is interest in it, please go to the General Assembly website, www.ncleg.net , where it came be read in detail.  It passed the House 71 – 31 and the Senate 30 – 15.

As this is being written, Labor Day is ahead of us on Monday.  Labor Day was one of the first federal holidays, being made official in 1894.  It now marks the end of summer vacations for many, and a return to school or jobs.  The writer hopes you had a good weekend with family and friends.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – August 26, 2019

As the heat in Raleigh tried to moderate last week, the temperature inside the Legislative Building seemed to go up.  A group of controversial bills came to the House floor, received extensive debate, and had close votes.  We had bills on immigration, farming, and utility rates.  The Governor vetoed more bills on immigration and outdoor advertising.

House Bill 370 – Require Cooperation with ICE Detainers was designed to make the policy consistent that Sheriffs need to notify ICE when an illegal alien is being released after being arrested for committing a crime.  A few Sheriffs in large North Carolina counties are refusing to notify or cooperate with federal authorities.  They are releasing felons into their city populations.  One has to wonder how that is supposed to protect the public and reduce crime in their inner cities.  It passed on a straight party line vote, 62 to 53.  The Governor vetoed this bill immediately the next day, on Wednesday.

Another immigration bill, Senate Bill 250 – Remove Foreign Citizens from Voting Rolls, was on the calendar for Wednesday.  It requires court officials to report to election boards when someone is excused from jury duty due to being a foreign national citizen.  Then, if they happen to be registered to vote, they will be removed.  It was a party line vote except for five Democrats, passing 65 to 47.

The NC Farm Act of 2019, Senate Bill 315, was debated and passed the House on Wednesday.  It received plenty of debate, in spite of the fact a controversial provision on hemp had been removed.  Farmers can still grow industrial hemp for the medicinal oils and other products, but smokable hemp is banned.  The NC Sheriffs’ Association had been concerned, but were okay with it once that provision banned the smokable hemp.  It passed with some bipartisanship, as again five Democrats joined the Republicans to pass it 63-48.

Senate Bill 559 – Storm Securitization/Alternative Rates was on the House floor for a vote, after much debate and many revisions in committees.  It allows utilities to use private bonds to recover from storm damage costs, and allows multi-year rates to plan ahead for utility infrastructure.  It is all still under the control of the NC Utility Commission.  It also requires that excess profits be returned to the rate payers.  After some debate it passed with a strong bipartisan vote of 112 to 2.

We got word that the Governor vetoed two other bills last week.  House Bill 645 – Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws was vetoed Wednesday.  Senate Bill 438 – Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 was vetoed on Friday.  These bills have adjustments to the replacement of billboards condemned by DOT, as well as improvements to the Read to Achieve reading program in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.  It appears we will have a full schedule of voting sessions and interesting bills this week.  We are still hopeful of an override of the Governor’s veto of the state budget.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – August 20, 2019

One good thing about a short week in Raleigh is the chance to meet with people back home in the district.  Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly ended in time to get back Thursday to the district.  We had a comprehensive health bill on the House floor in Monday night’s session, we had a big announcement by DOT about a local project, and we continued all week to try to secure enough votes to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget.

Senate Bill 361 – Healthy NC creates the N.C. Healthcare Solutions Task Force, ensures equal coverage of oral cancer drugs, and addresses changes in telemedicine and telehealth services, as well as other important issues in healthcare.  It received some debate, and passed by a bipartisan vote of 106 – 3.

On Tuesday the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that they were discontinuing work on the project known as the Cape Fear Crossing.  This should be good news to those whose property was in the path of the corridors on the twenty-year-old maps, as well as those who think that the project should be reworked with a different scope.

House Bill 966 – 2019 Appropriations Act, the state budget, passed by the House and Senate in June and vetoed by the Governor, remained on the calendar each day.  We are still hopeful of an override vote soon, so our schools and agencies can know what budget to expect from the state.

Thursday was a day of highlights for me back in the district.  Having served on the Brunswick Community College Board of Trustees longer than I have been in the House, it was an honor to be reappointed to the Board.  Thanks go to the Brunswick County Board of Education for the appointment, only one of which they get each year.  At Thursday night’s Board meeting, I was sworn in by Chairman Alan Holden.  Two of my other friends were sworn in, also.  Dr. Gene Steadman was reappointed, and Mr. Ronnie Jenkins was appointed.  Both of these gentlemen bring unique talents and experiences to the Board, will represent the community well, and will help us remember that BCC’s middle name is “community”.

Later Thursday evening, I was privileged to be invited to the quarterly meeting of the Brunswick County Fire Chiefs.  I learned quite a lot about current issues and challenges of the fire departments, both municipal and rural, and was able to share some of the legislative action we are attempting to get passed by the House and Senate.  Bills are in process on firefighters’ work related cancers, firefighters’ separation allowances, and allowing first responders better interstate access.  These bills have passed the House and are now awaiting action in the Senate either this year or the short session next year.

Both at BCC and at the fire chiefs’ meeting I was able to stress the importance of getting our budget veto overridden.  It contains appropriations of $2.2 million for BCC construction, $13.3 million for Brunswick school construction, and appropriations for the Museum of Coastal Carolina and Ingram Planetarium.  Other grants and appropriations are being held up for our first responders and others affected by Florence and other emergencies.  Teachers’ and other state employees’ raises are in question, also.  It is critical to our economy and well-being as a state to get this budget out of this hostage situation as soon as possible.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – August 12, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly was a longer week than most summer sessions with voting sessions in the House on four days, as well as several committee meetings.  We were able to get final House action on bills on small business health insurance, rural hospital financial assistance, and standards of student conduct.  There were also some discussions about the security of members and staff at the legislature, following an incident the prior week.

Senate Bill 86 – Small Business Health Care Act allows associations of small businesses and non-profits to offer group health insurance to association members.  The best example in our area would be the realtors, who are independent contractors and belong to the N.C. Association of Realtors.  Many other associations exist, and most of them were in strong support of this legislation.  It passed the House 82 – 32 and goes back to the Senate for concurrence with the House Committee Substitute language.

Part of Senate Bill 681 deals with a fund for rural hospitals to obtain loans to sustain operations.  The county in which the hospital is located would be responsible to see that the loan is paid back.  While only a few hospitals would be able to use the fund, it could be a lifesaver for those few and for the counties where it is the only hospital.  It passed 81 – 31 and goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

While these two bills had some debate on the House floor, the most debate was over Senate Bill 295 – Standards of Student Conduct. It gives teachers and principals more authority to decide what determines disruptive behavior.  On Tuesday the discussion was heated, and some implied that certain groups might be targeted because of skin color or disabilities.  The vote that day was split 62 – 52.  After an amendment on Wednesday that clarified some of the offenses the vote was unanimous on third reading, 114 – 0.  This bill also goes back to the Senate for concurrence with the House changes.

August 1st there was an incident where a visitor to one of the House members was stopped at the entrance with a handgun and two extra clips in his bag.  Fortunately, the member’s office was in the Legislative Building (LB) where the entrances have been hardened with metal detectors and guards.   No motive for carrying in this weapon has been announced.

The building that contains my office, the Legislative Office Building (LOB) has no security at the main entrance, and has one guard at the street entrance.  The LOB entrances are in the process of being hardened.  One member took an opportunity last week to speak from the House floor about her concerns over our security.  I agree with her concerns. She and others, including myself, have received threats.  We usually dismiss them, but in these troubled times they must be taken more seriously.  We do have measures to take if we feel threatened to summon security to our offices. I appreciate the efforts to protect our security, while still allowing the public free access to their representatives.  It is sad that these measures are necessary.

The override vote on the state budget, House Bill 966, has still not been taken.  We are getting some good work done on other bills while we wait for the override, but most of us would rather be back home in our districts discussing more local issues with our citizens.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – August 5, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly was a short week in Raleigh, but many activities were going on back in our districts.  Brunswick County had a particularly large honor for our law enforcement community, we had a veto of an education bill by the Governor, and voted on a controversial child sex abuse bill.

Last Tuesday night the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association held their annual banquet in Wilmington.  Our Sheriff John Ingram was sworn in as President of the association for 2019 – 2020.  This is a big honor for Sheriff Ingram and also for his department and all of Brunswick County law enforcement.  It was a privilege to be invited as a special guest.  It was great to see all five of our County Commissioners in attendance, as well as several mayors and other officials and law enforcement officers from the County.  My colleague in the House, Representative Carson Smith, former Sheriff of Pender County, was honored as a retired Sheriff at the banquet.

Early last week the Governor vetoed Senate Bill 392 – Various Charter School Changes.  This bill would provide more opportunities for students to participate in the virtual charter school pilot program by raising the cap on enrollment, allow the Superintendent of Public Instruction additional power to approve private activity school bonds for charter school construction, and require background checks for charter school boards of directors.  There is no apparent additional cost to the state.  It passed both chambers by more than enough votes to override the veto, so we will look forward to a successful override vote in the near future.

Senate Bill 199 – Child Sex Abuse/Strengthen Laws was in the House Tuesday and Wednesday for votes.  The bill raises the age for a victim to bring a civil suit for abuse suffered under age 18 and strengthens the laws against sexual predators’ contact with children, including on-line contact.  There was some debate over raising the age for delayed civil action up to age 38, but it passed the House 92 – 15, with my Yes vote. 

We anticipate another active week, in spite of it being vacation time for most people.  The peoples’ business sometimes takes longer than usual to complete, particularly when there is not consensus on major issues.

Legislative Update from Representative Frank Iler – July 29, 2019

 

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.

 

Legislative Update from Representative Frank Iler – July 22, 2019

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly was short, but as intense as the heat outside in Raleigh. There was controversy over public schools, over sports betting, and over appointments to various boards and commissions.  We also continued debating in committees about healthcare, school safety, and insurance for public schools.  The Governor’s veto of the state budget has yet to be overridden, but remains on the calendar.

Many Senate bills were on the House calendar last week for approval.  Senate Bill 438 – Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 seeks to improve the Read to Achieve program so all children can read at grade level by third grade.  It was well debated and passed the House by a slim margin of 58 – 51.

Senate Bill 154 – Allow Sports/Horse Race Wagering Tribal Lands approves betting on sports events and horse racing on Cherokee tribal lands.  This is in line with federal law, but my concern was the possible spreading to other parts of the state in future legislation.  With my No vote it still passed the House by 90 – 27, and was sent to the Governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 686 – Appointments Bill 2019 contains the appointments of the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem to dozens of boards and commissions across the state.  It received wide support from both political parties and was approved 79 – 37, after some debate, and became law.  The main appointment from Brunswick County is Tom Adams’ reappointment to the N.C. Ports Authority.  He resides in Ocean Isle Beach and is former Chairman of the N.C. Ports Authority.  Also, I was reappointed to the Justus – Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force for a second two – year term.

In addition, I would like to publicly thank the Brunswick County Board of Education for reappointing me to the Brunswick Community College Board of Trustees.  It is fulfilling work with dedicated trustees and staff members at BCC, and I have been there for longer than I have served in the N.C. House.

Many committees were meeting last week, including Finance, Insurance, Health, and Education K-12 committees.  Some of the bills we were considering included House Bill 922 – Enhance Insurance Coverage/Education Buildings, Senate Bill 315 – N.C. Farm Act of 2019,  and Senate Bill 5 – School Safety Omnibus.

We will continue meeting until the budget is approved, and we are not yet sure when that will be accomplished, since the Governor’s veto occurred.

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