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.

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

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly was our second week of the new 2019 – 2020 session.  It started slowly, but picked up speed on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  

Tuesdays are going to be committee days this session, and most of our floor votes will be on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Last week only a few of our committees were meeting due to few bills being filed so far.  So we had time to meet with various groups and individuals advocating for different issues. For example, one meeting was with representatives of the RV (Recreational Vehicle) industry seeking to pass laws differentiating their dealers from franchise automobile dealers.  Another was with Common Cause about redistricting reform, which revealed that we may have more ideas about districts in common than not.  In all, I had at least a dozen such meetings.

We are having our Bill Drafting Department work on bills we have requested.  They research existing laws and determine what changes are needed to accomplish what we are seeking to do. A couple of examples of my bills in process are a local bill for Sunset Beach storm water funds and a statewide bill to make the Loggerhead Sea Turtle the official saltwater reptile of North Carolina.  These may be filed in the next week or two, along with others.

One committee that met was the Education K-12 Committee.  We had two bills up for discussion on school calendar flexibility.  They will expand the school year and shorten the summer break.  These bills are always a major concern for our tourism industry on the coast.  There are several of these local bills being filed, and they will be very controversial.

On Wednesday, we had House floor votes on the permanent rules of the House for 2019 and appointments to the bipartisan Ethics Commission.  The House rules debate was very long and passed by a vote of 70 – 47.  The ethics appointments bill was almost unanimous at 116 – 1 in the House and 45 – 0 in the Senate.

By Thursday, many discussions were taking place on the upcoming budget negotiations.  As a Vice Chair, I met with the Chairs and Vice Chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, where we planned the calendar for assembling and passing the budget earlier than in past sessions.  As Chairs of the Appropriations Committee on Transportation, we also met separately with our committee staff to set the stage for our transportation budget.  This budget is separate from the general fund budget, and spends almost $4 billion each year on transportation maintenance and construction.

There have been almost 40 bills filed in the House so far. I expect many more to be ready to file this week. 

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

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly included committee assignments for the 2019 – 2020 session and some early bill filings.  There were two floor sessions, but only one procedural vote.

After missing the January 9th swearing in ceremony in Raleigh due to medical reasons, I had been sworn in on January 18th at the Brunswick County courthouse by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis.  After arriving in Raleigh last Tuesday, it was good to begin to get to know some of our new member colleagues and refresh acquaintances with veteran legislators.  We will be working closely together every week at least through June. We say that every General Assembly is different, and the 2019 – 2020 session will be no exception.

My committee assignments for this session were confirmed after some discussion over the temporary assignments.  I will be a Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Chairman of Appropriations for Transportation, and a Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The other standing committees to which I am assigned are Education K-12, Environment, Commerce, and Insurance.  By way of explanation, these standing committees handle the bills that are filed and assigned to the relative committee by the Speaker.  Any bill with money appropriated must also go through the Appropriations Committee.  The biggest bill the Appropriations Committee will handle will be the state budget, which this session will start in the House and then go to the Senate.  We will spend a large amount of time on the budget.

We also began filing bills last week.  Only a few were filed, but one which I filed is similar to one last session which did not pass.  The new number and title are House Bill 17 – Local Option Meals Tax/Brunswick County Municipalities.  The bill allows towns in Brunswick County to vote by referendum of the people or resolution of the governing board to tax prepared meals and beverages in restaurants to help pay for beach renourishment or infrastructure/facilities.  It is ½ percent, which would amount to 10 cents on a $20 dollar tab.

Two of our towns had asked for this during the last session and several others have mentioned it.  Many towns in our state and others have much larger meals taxes.  Just in South Carolina you will pay up to 9 to 13 cents total tax in restaurants, whereas this will amount to up to 7 cents total sales and meals tax in our restaurants.  This is an option for the towns, and does not impact businesses located in the county outside of town limits.  It is evident that it will impact our tourist visitors, who enjoy our beaches and facilities, more than our permanent residents, who may eat out less than our visitors.

This in no way impacts one’s normal groceries.  It will impact delicatessens in grocery stores that are selling prepared meals, but not any of the groceries off the shelf. There are many exceptions for meals served with a hotel room or B & B, meals provided at no charge to employees, vending machines, etc. One other idea that it has anything to do with an occupancy tax is incorrect. 

A cursory reading of the short bill will answer most questions. It is available at www.ncleg.net , as are all the bills that are being filed both in this session and previous sessions.

We expect to be in session each week Monday through Thursday at least through June.  I hope to continue these updates on a weekly basis, as I have since joining the House.

Legislative Update for Rep. Frank Iler – Dec.10, 2018

Each week in the North Carolina General Assembly this month feels like it should be the last for this session, but we keep coming back. When we adjourned the short session in late June and set a date of November 27th to return, most of us assumed it would be for a week. Then,Hurricane Florence happened. After two weeks, it appears we will be back another week or two.  Hurricane relief and voter photo ID bills have dominated the discussion, the committee meetings and the votes so far.

Senate Bill 823 –Hurricane Florence/Supplemental Act appropriates an additional $299.8 million to hurricane relief and funds to match federal dollars for agricultural damage,commercial fishing losses, stream debris removal, derelict vessels study,school and college repairs, courthouse and county building repairs, and other losses. Senate Bill 823 passed the Senate 44 – 0 and the House 103-0, and it was signed by the Governor on December 3rd.

This is the third installment of the $849.4 million allocated originally, and leaves $94.7 million to be appropriated in 2019. However, there is more availability in the Savings Reserve Fund, which was built up to $2 billion over the last five years.  There is a requirement in the bill to build the fund back up over the next five years.

The other major bill, Senate Bill 824 – Implementation of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment,passed the Senate, was amended by the House, and sent back to the Senate.  It spells out the various forms of ID that will be accepted at the polls when voting. After amendments, it passed the House 67 – 40 last Wednesday, passed the Senate 25-7 on Thursday, and was presented to the Governor the same day.  It is expected he may veto it, causing us to return to session to override his veto.

There were two resolutions adopted by the House honoring the lives of two law enforcement officers.  NC State Trooper Kevin Conner was killed in the line of duty recently in Columbus County, and Greensboro Police Officer was killed in an accident in Guilford County responding to an emergency call.  These were House Resolution 1104 and House Resolution 1116, respectively.

Last Thursday, the House Select Committee on School Safety met and presented their report for the next session of the House, which begins in January.  As a member of this committee I was very interested in this report and voted for it. The key findings and recommendations included expansion of school safety grants, studying mental health screening, civic responsibility education, and expanded first aid training. It also recommends reintroduction of school safety legislation from the 2017 session, and continuing committee study and recommendations to the General Assembly.

We had various routine bills dealing with technical corrections, board appointments, and local issues.  We anticipate returning on Tuesday, December 11th, weather permitting, and possibly Monday, December 17th, for possible veto override votes.  Final adjournment is expected before Christmas.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – Oct. 22, 2018

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly began and ended on Monday the 15th.  We expanded the legislation for Hurricane Florence recovery that we had begun two weeks earlier before returning to our districts in time for early voting, which started Wednesday.  A lot of work had gone on for two weeks, along with close communication among the House, Senate, and the Governor’s office.
 
The results of the work and coordination came out as Senate Bill 3 – 2018 Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Act.  There was also an identical companion bill, House Bill 3, but it was decided to take up the Senate bill instead.  Senator Rabon was a sponsor of the bill, and I was a sponsor of the House bill.  Senate Bill 3 passed the Senate 43 – 0, and passed the House 111 – 0.  We finished and adjourned around 9:00 p.m. Monday night.
 
Senate Bill 3 makes available $849 million for Hurricane Florence recovery, and appropriates $394.5 million at this time.  Of the $849 million the Savings Reserve or “Rainy Day Fund” provides over $700 million.  Other availability comes from the lottery, highway funds, and other smaller funds.
 
Some of the appropriations include:

  • $65 million for state match for Federal Disaster Assistance,
  • $65 million for state match for Federal Transportation Assistance,
  • $20 million for state match for USDA federal farmer assistance,
  • $95 million for repair and renovation of public school facilities, 3 university campuses, and   affected    community colleges,
  • $16.5 million for grants for tuition, etc., to keep students in school,
  • $5 million to DHHS for behavioral health services in affected counties,
  • $.5 million for independent rural hospitals,
  • $2 million for mosquito abatement,
  • $4.5 million for the SNAP and EPAP programs, nutrition and prescription drugs,
  • $2 million for coastal beach and dredging assessment,
  • $1.6 million commercial fishing assistance, and $.4 million marine debris cleanup,
  • $5 million small business recovery,
  • $50 million agriculture recovery,
  • $33 million housing recovery,
  • $28 million local government infrastructure and staff assistance, and
  • $ .9 million assistance to volunteer fire departments.

There is established an Office of Recovery and Resiliency under the Dept. of Public Safety to better facilitate disaster recovery and public information.  This bill has an initial appropriation of $2 million to establish the office.
 
All these appropriations are the first steps in recovery in these different areas.  In November, after more assessments come in, we will be back to consider the balance of the funds for Hurricane Florence and also respond to Hurricane Michael.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – Oct. 8, 2018

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly could be described as “short and sweet”.  It was short due to the large amount of work done in advance by the bill drafters and the legislative leaders.  It could be called “sweet” due to the preliminary agreement by those leaders and the Governor that something had to be done quickly for our citizens struggling with the effects of Hurricane Florence.

As you undoubtedly know, our schools had tremendous water damage and interruption of weeks with no classes.  Many homes and whole neighborhoods that had never flooded before were horribly impacted with record flood levels.  Many of our towns and communities lost roads, dams, sewer and storm water systems, and utilities.  Even the voting locations were damaged that had been planned for Election Day and early voting.

The House and Senate convened last Tuesday, October 2nd.  Our committees quickly reviewed the legislation that was being proposed, and voted out two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate.  The afternoon floor sessions also went well, due to the spirit of urgency and cooperation.

House Bill 4 – Hurricane Florence Emergency Response Act established a new fund to deal with some of the impacts.  It was evident that this was a first step, or “down payment” on what will be needed once the full impact costs are known.  It allocates $56.5 million from the Savings Reserve to the new Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund. It provides $6.5 million of it to pay school lunch employees and $50 million to match federal funds and other costs in the counties that are designated under a major disaster declaration by the President of the U.S.

HB 4 also designates that the legislature will review these needs for further appropriations in 2018 and 2019.  Further, local Boards of Election must extend registration to vote until October 15th, and may change voting locations due to damaged facilities.  The bill also addresses mosquito control, waiver of many DMV fees, and waiver of homeowners’ recovery fees by building inspectors.

I was one of the primary sponsors of HB 4, and it passed the House 109–0 and the Senate 46-0.

We also passed Senate Bill 2 – School Calendar & Pay/Hurricane Florence gave flexibility to local school systems to excuse up to 20 days of missed school days, or to make up school days missed, or any combination of these two options.  It also provides that teachers and employees will receive their regular pay, as if school had been in session.  It also allocates the $6.5 million provided in HB 4 for lunchroom workers, who are normally paid from federal lunch programs only when meals are served. The final provision in SB 2 allows student teachers to qualify, even if they missed days of practice teaching due to Hurricane Florence.

Senator Rabon was one of the primary sponsors of SB 2, and it passed the Senate 45–0 and the House 109–0.

We will reconvene on Monday, October 15, and we expect to consider much more comprehensive assessments of damages due to Florence.  We have $2 billion in the Savings Reserve Fund, or “Rainy Day Fund”, and I anticipate a large portion of it will be required to recover from the major damages.

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