Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly was short and to the point.  The weather in Raleigh turned cold and blustery, and the House and Senate were both ready to complete our business and get back home to our districts for the holidays.

Before travelling to Raleigh, I was honored to be able to attend two Veterans’ Day   events on Monday.  Belville held an unveiling of their new monument in honor of all the services. Over 1000 people attended the ceremony at 11:00 in their riverfront park, and the monument was unveiled by veteran Mike Allen, Mayor of Belville, with the river in the background.

At 3:00 p.m., Shallotte unveiled their new monuments at Mulberry Park.  Again, I was honored to attend and say a few words on behalf of our veterans.  They have separate monuments honoring veterans of different wars from World War I to Iraq.  It was a community effort of several years to raise the funds and bring it into being.

Congratulations to both Belville and Shallotte for these fitting tributes to our warriors who protected our freedoms over the years.  We heard the true statement several times during the day that, “Freedom is not Free.”

After hearing that we would not have a voting session on Tuesday or Wednesday, I was able on Wednesday to speak to the Brunswick Chamber of Commerce leadership class.  I shared information on what we do in Raleigh, how a bill is passed, and how the new court – ordered district maps have changed our county’s House districts.

Getting to Raleigh, we found that our House Redistricting Committee had finished their work on the court – ordered Congressional districts, and we were to vote on them Thursday.  We also had two important bills allocating funds for disaster relief.

House Bill 1029 changes all 13 Congressional districts across the state.  Our District 7 had a minor change that did not impact Brunswick County.  It passed on a party line vote of 55 – 46.

House Bill 200 – 2019 Storm Recovery/Various Budget Corrections allocates almost $200 million additional funds to the recovery efforts from Hurricanes Dorian and Florence.  Most of this is from the Savings Reserve or “Rainy Day Fund”, as well as better than expected funds from tax collections in this positive economic climate.  It passed 100 – 1.

Senate Bill 356 – DOT Cash and Accountability allocates funds to the Department of Transportation to reimburse some of the many emergency repairs and debris removal they had to do after the last three major hurricanes, Matthew, Florence, and Dorian.  Most of the funds come from the Build NC Bonds.  The bill also establishes the Transportation Emergency Fund inside the DOT budget, so that more funds can be budgeted for disaster relief than in prior years.  This should help relieve the stress on the General Maintenance Reserve, which has been almost depleted during some of the recent storms.  It passed House 99 – 3.  Both of these bills passed the Senate and went to the Governor.

We were excited to see an adjournment resolution that called for us to adjourn until January 14th.  It appears the never – ending session will at least have a two-month break for the holidays, so we can be back in our home districts during this season.

Back home on Saturday, I was able to attend the Homeless Coalition soup lunch.  It was good to hear about all the volunteer work that our citizens are doing for the homeless and hungry among us.  The need is growing and more effort is needed, but we have some really dedicated people working on this important effort.

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. — [Nov. 12, 2019]  — State Representative Frank Iler of Brunswick County announced today that he will seek a new term in the recently re-drawn House District 17. Prior to the recent court-mandated redistricting, District 17 included all of Brunswick County’s beaches and the southernmost parts of Leland. The newly re-drawn district runs up both sides of Highway 17 from the South Carolina state line to the Brunswick and Cape Fear Rivers in northern Brunswick County, touches the entire border between Brunswick and Columbus Counties and includes all of Leland.

“After the court-mandated redistricting dramatically reshaped District 17, I thoughtfully and prayerfully considered how I could best continue to serve Brunswick County,” said Rep. Iler. “Today, I am announcing my intentions to run in the newly re-drawn district because I believe experience matters.”

“My experience representing all parts of Brunswick for one or more terms provides me with the unique insight required to effectively serve both our coastal and inland communities,” Iler continued. “During my more than two decades as a Brunswick County resident, I’ve met and worked with citizens and leaders from all corners of Brunswick County. While portions of the county may be outside the district lines, I’ve worked with and helped Brunswick County communities and residents across the entire county. I’ve made it a habit to get around our county as much as possible, as my last four cars will attest. When re-elected, I will continue to work for all of Brunswick County, regardless of how the voting lines are drawn.”

“During my tenure in the legislature I’ve served in both the minority and majority,” Iler added. “We’ve made North Carolina one of the most economically competitive states in the nation. We created a data-driven system that takes the politics out of transportation funding, and we’ve passed record teacher raises. I’m seeking re-election because there is still much work to be done. When re-elected, I’ll continue to focus on our roads, our schools, our retirees, and our children.”

While the weather in Raleigh was unsettled last week, the atmosphere inside the North Carolina General Assembly was hot and blustery.  Bills were focused on increasing educator pay, storm recovery funds, tax reform, and making sure non-citizens don’t vote in our elections.  I supported these bills, as I believe they are good policy and are needed by our citizens.

Educator pay was the subject of two bills, Senate Bill 354 – Strengthening Educator Pay Act and House Bill 231 – UNC and Community College Pay/Retiree Bonus.  These bills add almost $250 million additional dollars to the 2019 – 2021 budget, House Bill 966, if the budget becomes law.  They include certified teachers, non-certified personnel, assistant principals, UNC faculty, and community college faculty.  These bills passed the House on party line votes with all Republicans and 3 Democrats voting for them. One Republican voted no on House Bill 231.  They had already passed the Senate, and were presented to the Governor last Friday for his signature.  They are contingent on the budget becoming law.  We were able to pass these increases due to the strong economy increasing the revenue collected by the state.

House Bill 1023 – Storm Recovery Act of 2019 allocates funds from the Savings Reserve, the “Rainy Day Fund”, to a variety of storm recovery operations in response to not only Hurricane Florence but also Hurricane Dorian.  It is the fourth storm recovery bill since Florence, and adds almost $250 million to the total relief from the Rainy Day Fund.  For the first time, funds were allocated to the Dept. of Transportation for their clean-up and repair work after the storms.  It passed 109 – 0 and went to the Senate for their approval.  It is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

Film grants were back up for discussion as we took up Senate Bill 578 – Reduce Franchise Tax/Expand Film Grants.  It reduces the franchise tax paid by small businesses, which is a tax they have to pay whether or not they are profitable.  The film grant is expanded in the bill to include smaller production companies.  It gives them the same opportunity to qualify as the large companies.  It passed on a party line vote of 61 – 49.  Having already passed the Senate, it went to the Governor on Friday for his signature.

Two bills dealt with voting rolls and absentee ballots.  Senate Bill 683 – Combat Absentee Ballot Fraud strengthens the procedures for submitting absentee ballots and restores the last Saturday of early voting.  It passed almost unanimously and went to the Governor Thursday for his signature.  Senate Bill 250 – Remove Foreign Citizens from Voting Rolls requires that jurors that are excused from jury duty due to not being U.S. citizens have their names retained and removed from voter rolls by the local Board of Elections.  It passed on a party line vote of 59 – 51 and went to the Governor on Friday.

The House and Senate voted late Thursday to adjourn until November 13th.  We expect to have to deal with the Congressional districts at that time.  Maybe we can end the session after that, unless other pressing business forces us to come back in December or January.

After a week back in our districts, the N.C. House of Representatives returned to Raleigh last week.  While the atmosphere at the North Carolina General Assembly was warming up with important committee meetings and bill debates, some very important events were also taking place in Brunswick County.

Last Monday, Brunswick County’s Manager, Ann Hardy, was honored on the occasion of her retirement.  She has served in various important positions in our school system and our county government, and most of the past decade as our County Manager.  I was honored to be able to assist in the presentation of the Long Leaf Pine award to Ann, along with Rep. Deb Butler, who represents part of our county.  It is the highest civilian award the state and the Governor can bestow on one of our citizens, and is usually for public and civic service.  Ann has always put the county and its citizens at the forefront in her service, and has always been responsive to my request for information.  She also has been a watchdog for Brunswick, pointing out to me any legislation that will impact the county.  Ann’s last day on the job is this Thursday, and we all wish her well on her future retirement and endeavors.

There were some important committee meetings during last week that were considering tax policy, fair legislative and congressional redistricting, and financial relief for the excessive disaster funds that the Department of Transportation has expended the past two years.

On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to confirm the nomination of Reggie Holley to the UNC Board of Governors.  Mr. Holley is a native of eastern NC, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Dole, and the husband of our Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis. He has been a citizen of Brunswick County for a long time, and is active in Raleigh as a highly respected lobbyist for some outstanding clients.  After very positive comments from both sides of the aisle, House Resolution 1022, the act that confirmed his nomination, passed the House 101 – 0.

I was able on Wednesday to chair the Appropriations Committee on Transportation to consider House Bill 967 – DOT Financial Preservation and Accountability Act.  This bill reimburses the Department of Transportation for expenses from Hurricanes and other disasters, as well as the massive court judgements resulting from the Map Act.  These two money drains on our transportation funds each exceed $300 million so far.  This is having impacts on our infrastructure projects being pushed back and on the general maintenance of our highways and DOT divisions.  After some discussion, it passed with only one negative vote, and moves to the full Appropriations Committee.

On Thursday we took up House Bill 398 – Information Technology Budget/2019-2021 Fiscal Biennium.  It funds the IT budget portion of the budget we passed in June and the Governor vetoed in July.  After much debate it passed along party lines by 54 – 49 and now goes to the Senate for their approval.

The House Redistricting Committee met to consider the three fair redistricting bills previously filed in the House.  They were for discussion only, but I sat in the meeting as a non-member, but as a cosponsor of House Bill 140 – The FAIR Act.  FAIR stands for Fairness and Integrity in Redistricting.  The discussion was bipartisan and thorough.

Back in the district on Saturday, I was happy to participate in a ceremony to award the Eagle Scout rank to Caleb Vanasse in Calabash.  This is something that is earned by the young person over a period of years, not won in a contest.  It is very close to my family’s tradition, so I consider it a privilege, not an obligation, to honor the young person on this occasion.  A certificate I presented from the House of Representatives is a small token of such an accomplishment in a young person’s life.  The Vanasse family and Troop 201 had a very impressive ceremony planned and carried out on this special occasion. Congratulations Caleb!

A parent or Scoutmaster of an Eagle to be presented may contact my office to be sure we are aware of it and are invited to honor them.

While meetings were going on several days last week in the North Carolina General Assembly, most of the action on the House floor was on Wednesday.  We passed parts of the 2019 – 2021 budget, also known as “mini-budgets”.  This has been necessary since the Governor vetoed the state budget bill back in June.

Since House Bill 966 – 2019 Appropriations Act was vetoed, the various departments have not had a new budget for 2019 – 2020 or 2020 – 2021.  We are four months into the fiscal year, which started July 1st, and the departments are operating on the old budget from 2018 – 2019.

On Wednesday, we passed House Bill 100 – DOT Budget for 2019 -2021 Biennium.  This bill includes virtually all the provisions and appropriations that were contained in the transportation budget which we passed in June.  This will give the Department of Transportation more certainty of what they should be spending rather than operating with a budget based on 2018 – 2019.  It passed 107 – 3 in the House.  Since the Senate had already passed it 44 – 0, it was sent to the Governor for his signature on Friday.

We also passed a “mini-budget” for community colleges in the House on Wednesday.  Senate Bill 61 – Community Colleges Budget/2019-2021 Biennium had been sent over from the Senate as a license plate bill, but it was changed to reflect the budget provisions and appropriations in the Community College budget passed in June and vetoed by the Governor.  It appropriates approximately $1.2 billion in each of the fiscal years, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.  However, it does not include the capital funds allocation of $400 million for construction and renovation which were in the capital section of the budget.  Of this amount, Brunswick Community College would have been eligible for $2.2 million.  These funds can still be allocated if the budget veto is overridden.  This bill passed 110 – 0, and it goes back to the Senate for their approval.

One other important bill, Senate Bill 579 – Prison Reform Act of 2019, directs a study of management structures within the Department of Public Safety to find ways to improve the adult and juvenile justice systems in the state.  It passed 109 – 0 and goes back to the Senate for their approval.

We expect to conclude most of our work in the General Assembly in the next two weeks.  As they say, “Stay tuned.”

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.

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.

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.

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, , 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.

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.