Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 23, 2018

A highlight of last week at the North Carolina General Assembly was a meeting of a work group of the House Select Committee on School Safety.  The School Physical Safety Work Group met Tuesday to work on immediate solutions to make our schools as safe as possible.  The other work group is working on long term solutions such as psychologists and counselors.

We heard from the Executive Director of the N.C. Christian School Association, the former Chairman of the Governor’s Task Force on Safer Schools, and a director of the N.C. Center for Safer Schools of the Dept. of Public Instruction.  We also heard presentations by two sheriffs, Sam Page of Rockingham County and Asa Buck of Carteret County. 

One of the more interesting suggestions we heard in addition to the support of School Resource Officers is the appointment of a School Resource Detective in Carteret County.  Such a detective would be responsible for collecting, sharing, and coordinating information or “intel” on the tips that come in and may be important to preventing an incident.  It was determined that this was a failing in the Pageland, Florida school, that information was not shared or acted upon to head off that tragic incident.  I have been told that Brunswick County has such a detective scheduled to start this week.

One of the speakers asked that we consider more support in our legislation to allow more protection on church school property, as well as support of other non-public schools.  All the speakers had positive suggestions on making our schools safer and more difficult for evil doers to get into.

I was personally very grateful that our Brunswick County Teacher of the Year, Ms. Carolynn Phillips, decided to travel to Raleigh for this work group meeting.  She planned to bring back what she observed to the Teacher Advisory Committee (TAC), which is made up of Teachers of the Year from each of the nineteen schools in the Brunswick County School district.  It was a pleasure to introduce her during the work group meeting and to show her around the legislative buildings.

Friday, during a visit to Calabash, I was able to meet with another fire department to discuss their issues, including the funding that has resulted from the county fire fees that were enabled by the passage of House Bill 445.  The Calabash Fire Department has updated their equipment with most of the funds.  They are not a municipal department, but they serve the Towns of Calabash, Carolina Shores and part of Brunswick County.  I also learned that being so close to South Carolina, they also coordinate with fire departments there for the benefit and protection of people on both sides of the border.

This week will be active in Raleigh, with meetings of the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform, of which I am a member, and the House Select Committee on N.C. River Quality, of which I am a Chairman.  Additionally, budget discussions are starting in preparation for the short session, which begins May 16th.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 10, 2018

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly we met in committees or travelled to meetings almost every day, and we welcomed the new super cranes to the Port of Wilmington.

Beginning Monday, I met with the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions.  We heard reports on the economic impacts of transportation infrastructure.  First we heard from Chris Chung, the CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. on the role of transportation on business recruitment and site development.  Then the President of the NC Railroad Company, Scott Saylor, updated us on their economic development and strategies.  Director of the Aviation Division of NCDOT, Bobby Walston, presented the connection of airport infrastructure and economic development.  These presentations help us as we look at the budget adjustments in May and June to know if the investments we are making in transportation infrastructure are helping to develop our state’s economy, as well as continue the mobility and safety goals for NC’s citizens.  We then heard some legislative proposals from NCDOT for the short session.

After returning to the county Tuesday, Wednesday morning saw an interesting side trip in Wilmington.  The two super cranes that had arrived from China the previous week were being installed on the docks. About 15 stories tall, they will extend to almost 450 feet when the booms are raised.  They will handle the new classes of container ships that are coming through the Panama Canal by extending across 4 more rows of containers and 10 levels above deck.  This is 3 more levels above deck than the existing cranes could have handled.  The new ships can carry containers stacked 10 levels below deck and 10 levels above deck.  House Speaker Tim Moore and other representatives were there to observe and learn about the economic impact of doubling our volume of containers of export and import goods.

Heading from Wilmington to Raleigh after the port tour, I was in a key meeting of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee early Thursday morning.  As a chairman of this committee, I believe we get more good information for the House and Senate transportation chairs from this committee than from many other sources.  We heard an extensive presentation on dredging our coastal waters as it relates to the ferries, the shallow draft inlets and the navigation channels.  We also heard presentations from the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Dept. of Revenue (DOR), and the Global Transpark (GTP).  A lot of good information was presented on existing challenges, as well as future plans.  Our committee final report was adopted, as it was the committee’s last meeting before the short session, which begins May 16th.

A full week of focusing on transportation was interesting.  However, I am extremely interested next week on the next meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler- March 26, 2018

Again last week in the North Carolina General Assembly our Interim committees and Select committees were in full swing.  The first meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety was held on Wednesday.  As a member of the committee, I was very interested in how we would proceed on this extremely important subject.  It turned out to be a very productive all day meeting.

We heard presentations form the Task Force on Safer Schools, the State Bureau of Investigation, N.C. Emergency Management, the N.C. School Psychological Association, and Meridian Behavioral Health Services.  We also heard from a teacher who is Vice-Chair of the Task Force for Safer Schools about the SPKUP NC reporting app, and from two students about their perspectives on school safety.  I gained additional information on things we are already doing to improve school safety, but more importantly, on things we are not doing or could be doing better.

After these presentations and extensive questions from the committee, we went into a discussion in the form of what we in business used to call “brainstorming”.  Almost every committee member offered ideas for us to consider.  No idea was discarded, and a long list was made right in front of the committee room. 

One of our members had an interesting perspective on the process we are entering into.  He said we needed to focus on immediate short-term solutions to limit access to the schools, and on long-term solutions on prevention and intervention in cases of behavioral issues and mental illness.

I was able to offer examples and suggestions from the procedures in Brunswick County.  Our Sheriff’s Department has placed a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every public school.  This has been the case since the Monday after the Sandy Hook shooting.  There are also multiple ways that access is limited, such as being buzzed into the front door, magnetic passes for teachers to let classes into buildings, indicator lights when exterior doors are left open, instant communication with the Sheriff’s Department, and others.  We are ahead of most counties in the state.  I believe some of our officers and school leadership may be asked to testify to our committee.  No system is perfect, and I believe we always have to keep improving with new technology, training, and procedures.  I was also pleased at the spirit of cooperation, concern, and collegiality across party lines to seek solutions instead of playing politics in front of the media.

Interestingly enough, I was able to communicate with Chairman Charlie Miller of the Board of Education, who is also Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Dept. both during the meeting and afterward.  I look forward to sharing what we are doing with our Teacher Advisory Council Chairperson, who is our Teacher of the Year, and with the TAC, if she so chooses.  As I predicted before the meeting, I believe we will have comprehensive legislative proposals to present in the short session beginning in May.

Early Thursday morning I was able to share with the Southwest Mayors, meeting in Shallotte, some of what we are considering on school safety issues, and listen to their concerns on this and other topics.

Thursday and Friday, Brunswick County was visited by the N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore and House Majority Whip Jon Hardister.  They were speaking at political events here, but we were able to show them some of the local beach renourishment, the coastal economic progress, and of course our seafood and southeastern cooking.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – March 19, 2018

In the North Carolina General Assembly last week committees were in full swing and some were making the news.  My only committee that was meeting in Raleigh was the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform. 

Representative Craig Horn was chairing this meeting.  Some in Brunswick County may remember that Representative Horn is the Education Chairman who drove from his home in Union County to meet with our local officials in February to listen to their concerns about the class size bill, and explain what we were doing to address it.  About a week later we met in Session and passed House Bill 90, which delayed the implementation of the class size reduction and phased it in over four years.

At this task force meeting, we were considering the funding for charter schools.  We heard from six different charter schools from across the state.  We heard about funds that they feel are inadequate and that are not comparable to funding for traditional public schools.  Funds are different for many reasons; lack of transportation services, i.e. buses, less foodservice, too low a percentage of free and reduced lunch recipients, etc.

These presenters seemed to think it is a problem that funds flow through the local school system.  I raised a question based on hearing at a previous meeting that charter school proponents didn’t think direct payments from the state were a good idea.  I asked if neither method of funding flow is good, then what is a good method of getting the funds to the schools where they are needed?  I didn’t get a satisfactory answer.

After returning from Raleigh Thursday night, I was able to meet Friday with another fire department about their opinion of our House Bill 445, which enabled Brunswick County to raise fire fees last year.  Chief Drew of the Southport Fire Department and I had over an hour meeting, where I learned how they were using additional funds to upgrade some personnel and training.  I also was interested to learn more about how they obtained the equipment and resources that they need and how the state can assist them with this.

This week will see the first meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety.  I hope to share some of the excellent methods that our Sheriff and our school system are using to keep our children safe at school.  At the same time, I will be able to compare what others are doing, and how we can make security as perfect as possible.  I expect legislation will come from this committee to be considered in the short session, which begins May 16th. I also expect the state to enhance and assist our local school systems and law enforcement in their efforts.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – March 12, 2018

Rep. Frank Iler

With the North Carolina General Assembly being officially out of session, all of our time is spent in committee meetings and events both in Raleigh and back in our home districts.  Last week I attended plenty of both, we met with our transportation oversight committee in Raleigh, and I had meetings with groups and individuals in all parts of our district in Brunswick County.

Before leaving for Thursday meetings in Raleigh, I was privileged to attend a breakfast fundraiser in Southport on Tuesday for the Cape Fear Council of the Boy Scouts of America.  It is particularly rewarding to see the support for this important youth program, having experienced it personally as an Eagle Scout and having my son and grandsons as Eagles.

On Wednesday, the Mayors from the Southeastern part of the county met in Oak Island.  These local leaders share mutual concerns and ideas on a monthly basis, and I feel lucky to be able to listen to their views.  Later Wednesday, one of our active citizens in the northern part of Brunswick County and I met with an engineer closely involved in solving the drinking water issue for our region.  Much research work is being done on the issue of emerging contaminants, including GenX, that doesn’t always get published in the media.

In Raleigh on Thursday the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee met for three hours.  As it was my turn to chair the committee, it was good to have many presentations by the Department of Transportation and others. Some of the subjects included the assistance to schools to provide safer driveways on state roads, training in the construction trades for employees to build our infrastructure, the new passenger ferry to Ocracoke, and other key topics surrounding the efficient progress of the strategic transportation plan.  I also had three other meetings before heading back home Thursday night for another meeting.

Friday was initially an open day, but three individual meetings came up with the other two chairs of the River Quality committee in the morning, and later in the day with the Mayor of Shallotte, and the Chief of the Shallotte Fire Department. After a luncheon on Saturday, the total of meetings for the week was an even dozen.  Even while we are not in session, there is plenty going on to keep us occupied.

This week, depending on the snow in Raleigh, we expect to meet with the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform.  The following week will be the first meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety.

Iler Appointed by Speaker of the House Tim Moore to the House Select Committee on School Safety

Rep. Frank Iler

Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick County) announced that he was recently appointed by North Carolina Speaker of the House Tim Moore to serve on the House Select Committee on School Safety.

“I thank Speaker Moore for immediately creating this committee on school safety and appointing me as a member.  We do a superior job in Brunswick County with our School Resource Officer (SRO) deputies in every school and by hardening the access to our schools. I commend our Sheriff’s Department and our School System for the hard work they do to keep our students, teachers, and staff safe.  However, there is always room for improvement and more assistance from state government.  I look forward to sharing our methods across the state, learning from the best practices of others, and providing more resources to insure the safety of our students.”

The focus of this committee will be to review the safety standards and procedures followed by schools across North Carolina and to seek input from experts in a variety of fields related to school safety, including violence prevention, security, mental health, and emergency management.  The goal of the committee will be to develop comprehensive policies that will ensure the security of our state’s classrooms and education facilities.

“As parents, our highest priority is keeping our children safe,” said Speaker Moore, after announcing the creation of the committee.  “It starts with building safer schools in the capital construction phase and maintaining secure education facilities every day across North Carolina.  It is our duty to provide the highest level of physical security to our kids’ classrooms through access control, surveillance and training.  This committee will evaluate current state policy and examine recommendations to best protect our precious children and educators”

The House Select Committee on School Safety will hold its first meeting later this month. The House members appointed to the committee are a cross-section of members from across the state with a mix of experience in the areas of education, law enforcement, and mental health policy.  They will focus on short-term fixes which can be enacted quickly as well as long-term solutions in their quest to endure the safety of North Carolina’s schools.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – February 26, 2018

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we were not in session, but we had many committee meetings in Raleigh, two of which I am a member, I had a chance to meet with the Speaker of the House, and I had time for meetings back home in the district.

On Wednesday the House Select Committee on N.C. River Quality met in Raleigh.  As one of the Chairs, I was in attendance.  It was an interesting meeting, being in the wake of our recent session in which we were unable to agree on short-term measures to speed up the testing and remediation of our drinking water.  I expressed my concern over the way that occurred, and my hope for the immediate future.  There was some heated discussion, but also some positive testimony from the Department of Environmental Quality(DEQ) on some of the actions being taken in regard to the chemical companies and other polluters.  We also heard from UNCW and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority on the actions they have been taking in response to our previous allocations of funds to them for testing and analysis.  Near the end of the meeting there was a suggestion that the committee change its name to “Water Quality” instead of “River Quality” to include the scope of ground water in our wells and aquifers, as well as surface water in our rivers across the state.  I agree that all sources should be included to insure the quality of our drinking water.

Early Thursday morning I was able to accompany House Speaker Tim Moore when he spoke to the N.C. Press Association.  It was interesting to meet the publishers, editors, and others in attendance.  I was lucky to run into a local publisher of the State Port Pilot, Mr. Ed Harper.

Thursday was the meeting of the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform.  The main subject of the day was the handling of funds to public charter schools.  There are mixed opinions on whether or not the funds should flow through the local school districts, as they do now, or being paid directly to the charter schools.  The majority of opinions from experts on all sides of this issue appears to be that they should continue to flow through the districts, but be better accounted for in some way.  It was a consensus that the system is now overly complicated and confusing.

Returning Thursday night, I was able to attend the annual awards banquet of the Cape Fear Council of Governments, which provides services to a five county region.  It was good to see so many of our Mayors and other elected local officials from Brunswick County there, and was surprised to see I was the only legislator in attendance.

Having Monday, Friday and Saturday back in the district, I was able to meet with local citizens on a variety of issues.  On Monday I met individually with the advocate for the project to move the railroad crossing from downtown Wilmington to the Brunswick side of the river and across into the port area to the south.  Also, I was able to meet with an advocate for clean water in the Leland area, and plan a meeting soon with engineers working on the water issue.

Friday saw a meeting with a couple of citizens interested in our record of election reform, voter rights, and redistricting.  It is always good to have a civil discussion of issues, even if you don’t agree on everything.  We found some on which we could agree.  Saturday was the official day for precinct meetings in my political party. It was good to see new people getting involved.  Later, one gentleman met with me in Shallotte because of the urging of his industry advocates to get to know their local legislators.  I have always said one of the benefits of being involved as I am is the chance to make new friends with differing opinions.

This week should be relatively quiet, but the calendar for the balance of March is filling up quickly.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – February 19, 2018

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we passed the bill known as the “class size fix” for elementary schools, we continued to hold dozens of committee meetings, I was able to attend meetings back here in the district and candidate filing started all over the state.

After filing for office Monday, I left in mid-afternoon for Raleigh, due to an early session Tuesday morning.  A very important bill, House Bill 90 was on the calendar.  This bill was passed in the Senate the previous Friday by a bipartisan vote of 37 – 5.

House Bill 90 – Changes to Education and Election Laws came to the House floor at 10:00 last Tuesday morning.  This bill changes the implementation of class size reductions in Kindergarten – 3rd grade, phasing it in over four years, and provides an additional $245 million for teachers over the four years. It also provides funding to the county schools in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by diverting the “slush fund” that had been set up by the Governor and the pipeline builder through a Memo of Understanding.  In addition HB 90 provides funds to take care of the backlog in Pre-K education slots, fully funding this program for early childhood education.

The last provision in the bill provides a ninth member to the State Board of Election, an unaffiliated or third party member appointed by the Governor.  This gives him five of the nine members, and we believe meets the standard approved by the court in its recent decision.  HB 90 passed the House Tuesday on a bipartisan vote of 104 – 12, and was presented to the Governor the same day.  It is expected that he will let it become law without his signature, rather than sign or veto it.

Many committee meetings were taking place last week both in the House and Senate.  I attended the Environmental Review Commission where the members heard about and discussed what is being done about electronic waste to keep it out of our landfills.  There are components and elements that can be recycled and others that are toxic and must be disposed of in an environmentally clean manner.

Back in the district Thursday morning, I was able to attend the meeting of the Southwest Brunswick Mayors in Shallotte, where they share ideas and common interests on a monthly basis. 

Thursday afternoon I was double-booked at the Brunswick Community College Board of Trustees retreat and the Brunswick County Schools – Teacher Advisory Committee (TAC).  I was able to slip away from BCC at 5:00 and speak to the TAC about House Bill 90, the class size bill we had just passed.  The TAC is a committee composed of the Teachers of the Year from our 19 BCS schools and chaired by the Brunswick Teacher of the Year, Carolynn Phillips. 

As mentioned, candidate filing for office began last Monday at noon and ends Wednesday, February 28th at noon.  As of the first week, at least 15 candidates had filed for the various elected county and state offices.

I expect to be back in Raleigh for at least two committee meetings this week. 

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – February 12, 2018

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we had a one day session with committee meetings and votes on the class size bill, we had movement in the Senate on the GenX/Emerging contaminants bill, and I was also able to attend some meetings in the district.

Monday of last week we were informed that we would be in Raleigh Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday for voting sessions.  This changed several times, but I still went to Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, although no votes were actually held that night. 

On Thursday we held a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting to review House Bill 90 – NC Truth in Education.  It had been revised so that it became the bill to fix the class size issue and address the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “slush fund” issue. It will delay the implementation of Kindergarten – 3rd grade class size reduction beyond the 2018-2019 school year and phase it in over four years.  It also appropriates an additional $240 million over the four years to make sure it is implemented without undue financial burden on local teachers and administrations. 

The bill also addresses the $68 million fund set up by a Memo of Understanding between the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the state.  Rather than a “slush fund” for the Governor to administer, the money will go into a fund for the counties affected by the pipeline to be used for their schools.  This is similar to the fines and forfeitures funds that go to the schools.

The Senate adopted the bill on Friday by a vote of 37-5.  According to House rules, it was determined that it was a “three day” bill and we will vote on it Tuesday. 

On Friday the Senate also adopted a version of House Bill 189, the GenX bill.  It will be on the House floor this Tuesday.

Prior to leaving Wednesday, I had two events here in the district.  Monday at noon the Brunswick Community College Board of Trustees hosted a lunch meeting for the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners.  We had a good presentation and discussion of current issues and future plans.  As a member of the Board of Trustees, I believe our relationships with the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education should be strong, for the benefit of the students, parents, and educators in the county.

The second event was a ribbon cutting Wednesday at the new District Office in Shallotte which I have established for the Southwest side of the district.  As I live on the Southeast side in Oak Island, this gives the citizens in the district two points of contact instead of one, closer to where they live.  They can schedule an appointment with me, check their voter registration, register to vote, and pick up literature at the office at 4745 Main Street in Shallotte.  The ribbon cutting was well attended by citizens, elected officials, and business leaders from the area.  This included 6 of our mayors, 5 from the Southwest area and one from Leland.  Food from Art Catering was enjoyed by many in the crowd of 50 or 60 citizens.  I immediately had to leave for Raleigh Wednesday afternoon.

This week, filing for office starts at noon Monday. I expect to be in Raleigh Tuesday for the final vote on House Bill 90 and consideration of the Senate version of House Bill 189.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – January 23, 2018

Rep. Frank Iler

Last week the General Assembly almost shut down due to 6 inches of snow in Raleigh. However, I was able to bring some of it here to Brunswick County.

Tuesday we had a distinguished visitor from the N.C. House education leadership, Representative Craig Horn of Union County.  Rep. Horn is Chairman of the House Education K-12 Committee, which handles all education bills dealing with our elementary and secondary schools in the state. He also chairs the Appropriations Committee on Education, which does the education budget. Currently he co-chairs the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform, which is looking at improving school funding.

Rep. Horn was in Brunswick County at my request specifically to meet with Chairman Charlie Miller and Vice Chair Catherine Cooke of the Board of Education and Chairman Frank Williams and Vice Chair Randy Thompson of the County Commissioners and explain what is going on with the class size issue. We could only legally meet with two members of each board, but other county and school staff members attended the meeting.  With the confusion and misinformation surrounding the history and future of the issue, I was convinced that he could bring some clarity to it. Brunswick is one of a handful of counties Craig chose to visit.  I appreciate our relationship, as I am a member of his Education Committee and his seatmate, sharing a desk on the floor of the House.

Craig explained the long history, including the three years notice that local school districts have had to plan for it, and has not been rushed, as some district boards have said.  He also explained how funds have been allocated that could be used for this purpose, and how some districts have used them for other purposes.  Then he volunteered what possible steps may be taken to resolve the remaining issues on class size, including additional funding.  He emphasized the urgency that something should be done in the coming month or two.

The leaders of the two boards expressed their appreciation for Rep. Horn driving the seven hour round trip to meet with us, and seemed to gain a better understanding of the steps we have taken and will take to ease the burden on local leaders and teachers.  They were pleased with Rep. Horn’s commitment to listening to local leaders and his desire to work out a solution that will reduce class size without putting an undue burden on local schools.

I, for one, remember when I first went to Raleigh the education establishment was asking for smaller classes in grades K through 3.  Now it seems to be the opposite. Our goal is to do what is in the best interest of the individual student so that they have the best chance to read at grade level by 3rd grade.

Since my two committees scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday were cancelled due to the snow, I was able to attend meetings here in the district that I would have missed.  The Brunswick Shoreline Protection Consortium met at 10:00 on Wednesday and got updates from the Corps of Engineers, the Director of NC Beach, Inlet, and Waterway Association, and me on what is taking place to improve our beaches and inlets.  Thursday the Southwest Brunswick mayors met in Shallotte, where they communicated and shared ideas among themselves.  It is always good to hear directly from these leaders.  I was also able to spend more time in the new district office in Shallotte on Thursday.

This week we have been called back into session on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I hope to see some action on our House Bill 189 on water quality by the Senate and movement by both chambers on class size.  I am sure redistricting will also be a topic.  As they say, “Stay tuned”.