Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – June 4, 2018

It seems the last two weeks in the North Carolina General Assembly have been all about the budget, but we also have been filing local bills and bills that were recommended by study committees.

As to the budget, we passed the 2018 – 2019 budget last week in the House and the Senate.  It is now in the hands of the Governor.  He can sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.  This is the earliest anyone can remember in recent years the budget has been done, almost a month ahead of the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1st

The budget bill, Senate Bill 99 – Appropriations Act of 2018, went to the Senate floor last Wednesday for a vote.  It passed 36 – 14 on second reading and also 36 – 14 on third reading Thursday.  In the House it passed 72 – 45 Thursday on second reading and 66 – 44 on third reading Friday.  Some of our House members had Friday plans and were not there for the final vote.  However, I was there.

Some of the highlights of the budget: investment of over $700 million additional in our schools; a 6.5% raise for teachers, a 2% raise for other state employees, and 1% increase for retirees;  An 8% raise for Highway Patrol, who have not had a raise in several years, and a raise for correctional officers; all these law enforcement and first responders get an increase in their death benefit, retroactive, to take care of the families of the prison officers and employees who were killed the past year; Additional $60 million in disaster relief for Hurricane Mathew and wildfires, bringing the total to over $360 million; Over $35 million to support school safety on the local level; Over $10 million to support efforts to identify contaminants in our drinking water and eliminate known contaminants; Tax relief for 99% of North Carolinians who will pay less or no state tax.

In addition to the budget, there were dozens of local bills filed.  I filed House Bill 1027 – Bald Head Island/Village Dept. Public Safety which allows the Bald Head Island police to enforce the long established No-Wake Zone there.  This will supplement the enforcement now provided by the Sheriff Dept. and the Wildlife Resource Commission.

A bill for Oak Island was also filed last week.  House Bill 1028 – Oak Island Charter Amendment changes the town charter, to better define the role of the Town Manager and allow the Town Manager to reside outside the town limits.

There were many bills filed from interim committees that address school safety, the safety of our drinking water, and transportation issues.  I am a sponsor of many of these bills, which will be coming forward in committees this week and the next few weeks.  For a list of these bills, one can go to the General Assembly web site at www.ncleg.net .  Click on the House, then click on House Member List, and click on my name.  Once on my page, click on Introduced Bills at the top for a complete list of the bills I have sponsored.  These new bills will be near the bottom of the list.

Legislative Update for Rep. Frank Iler – May 21, 2018

The beginning of the 2018 short session of the North Carolina General Assembly was last week.  We also rolled out legislation on school safety and water safety.  Budget discussions were also being held at the highest levels.

Wednesday we had 15,000 to 20,000 visitors from among our teachers across the state.  We had a good discussion with a group of four Teachers of the Year from the last five years.  We covered many of the topics currently in the education budget and in the news.

The first floor session of the 2018 short session was at noon Wednesday.  It involved the formality of the opening pledge of allegiance with a color guard from the Civil Air Patrol, and the singing of the National Anthem by the reigning Miss North Carolina, Victoria Huggins.  We were given the calendar for filing bills, which will range from May 30 to June 7, depending on the types of bills they are.

Thursday we had many bills filed on school safety.  House Bills 937 through 941 were filed, addressing subjects recommended by the House Select committee on School Safety.  They include School Resource Officer (SRO) training and additional funding, School risk management plans and building vulnerability assessments, and reporting on SROs to the N.C. Center for Safer Schools.  This is only the beginning of the school safety effort, but I believe it is a good start. 

One other bill on school safety had been filed and read in on Wednesday, and we had our first vote on it Thursday.  House Bill 933 – Reciprocity/School Psychologist Licensure will make it easier to license psychologists from other states if they have the national certification.  This should help with the backlog in hiring psychologists across the state. It passed the House by a unanimous vote of 113 – 0.  Many local bills were also filed.

House Bill 972 – Water Safety Act was filed Thursday and should be read in this week.  It martials the resources of the university scientific community as well as the government bureaucracies of the Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS). It brings them to bear on identifying known and unknown contaminants in our water sources and eliminating them.

The senior chairs of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate were also meeting to finalize the adjustments to the 2018 – 2019 budget.  We expect to have a full schedule the next few weeks on all these issues.

Legislative Update from Rep. Iler – May 14, 2018

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly budget meetings continued on Wednesday and Thursday, the House Select Committee on School Safety approved its report of recommendations, and most of the House and Senate members survived their primary elections.

As most of our readers know, there was a primary election held on Tuesday, May 8th. After 2 1/2 weeks of early voting and a long day of Election Day voting, there was still only a 10 % turnout of voters in Brunswick County.  However, here and across the state the majority of incumbent candidates prevailed in the vote counts. The attention will soon move to the general election in November.

Immediately after the vote totals came in Tuesday night, I had to be in Raleigh at 10:00 o’clock Wednesday morning to continue the budget negotiations with the chairs of the Appropriations Committee on Transportation from the House and Senate.  Brunswick County is well represented, as Senator Rabon and I are both involved in this group.  We met several hours in the morning and again in the afternoon.  We are very close to agreement on the budget to be presented to the full Appropriations Committee and to each chamber for floor votes and passage.  It should be passed early in the session, which convenes next Wednesday, May 16th.

The House Select Committee on School Safety met Thursday morning and approved its report, which included approximately 14 recommendations for legislation in the upcoming short session.  Some of the highlights are:

  • More support for School Resource Officers (SROs), to include additional funding
  • More training for SROs, continuing education requirements
  • Study a volunteer SRO program
  • Reciprocity with national certification on hiring school psychologists
  • Work to increase school counselors, psychologists, and nurses to the national per student ratios
  • Threat assessment teams in every public school
  • Study armed security options for non-public schools
  • Funding to expand the anonymous tip line Speak Up NC to the entire state.

As it was pointed out by the chairmen of the committee, this is only a start to protect the immediate physical safety as well as long term prevention of violence in our schools.  There was wholehearted bipartisan agreement on this point.  The report was approved in a unanimous voice vote, and will go into the committee process for action in the short session.

This Wednesday is the beginning of the short session.  I also plan to meet with a group of teachers just prior to the noon session on that day.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – May 7, 2018

Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly we met with the House Select Committee on School Safety, we met in several budget committee meetings, and we got ready for the short session.

Last Wednesday, May 2nd, I was in the Student Physical Safety and Security Working Group of the House Select Committee on School Safety.  We heard presentations on recommendations to go to the full committee on the 10th. They included additional training standards for School Resource Officers (SROs), additional funding to local school districts for SRO grants, and studying a volunteer SRO program.  Also, the recommendations included school risk management plans, school building vulnerability assessments, and reporting requirements to the Center for Safer Schools.  The proposed legislation can be viewed by going to the General Assembly home page at www.ncleg.net , and going to the committee website.

We were informed that we would have budget recommendations very soon after we convene on May 16th.  Preparation for this has already begun, including meetings with the senior chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, as well as the chairs of the House Appropriations Committee on Transportation.  I am a vice chairman of the former committee and chairman of the latter.  Both groups met Wednesday.  While the numbers are not finalized on how much revenue will be available for the second year of the biennial budget beginning July 1st, it appears there will not be a lot of adjustment to the budget, which was passed last year in the 2017 – 2019 budget process.

It is anticipated that we will be in budget meetings again this week, right after the primary election.  I am scheduled to be in a budget meeting at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, the 9th for budget talks.  Then, on Thursday, the 10th, the final meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety will convene.  We will consider recommendations from the two working groups, the one on physical safety and security and the one on student health.  I expect that legislation will come out of this meeting to be considered and passed in the short session.

As referred to earlier, the short session is scheduled to convene on May 16th.  I expect it will be a truly short session, ending in June.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – April 30, 2018

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly committees were meeting virtually every day, discussions were beginning on the budget adjustments, and new security measures were being installed.

Interim and select committees were finishing their business, in preparation for the beginning of the short session on May 16th.  Two committees on which I serve met Wednesday and Thursday. 

The Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform met Wednesday, and heard from an expert on education finance.  Dr. Marguerite Roza from Georgetown University spoke on the allocation of funds using a student-based formula rather than a staffing and categorical system.  Although North Carolina uses a student head count called Average Daily Membership (ADM), we specify staffing levels and add on categorical amounts for different student needs.  Dr. Roza pointed out our system can limit local flexibility, and she compared it to other states that use other methods.  In this committee we are looking for a system that is simpler, increases local flexibility, and maintains good accountability.  After a vigorous discussion, we adjourned until after the short session.  However, I am sure many of the ideas presented during these meetings will be on the minds of our education budget writers as they adjust the 2018 -2019 budget.

On Thursday the House Select Committee on N.C. River Quality met to hear reports from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), and University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).  While much progress has been made in the testing, identifying, and controlling of compounds in the drinking water in our region, much remains to be done to insure the continuous monitoring and insure the safety of our water.  I expect legislation during the short session to address these issues.

Thursday we also began discussions on the 2018 – 2019 adjustments to the 2017 – 2019 biennial budget.  This is an opportunity to adjust the second year of the two year state budget to reflect new income tax and sales tax projections.  Many budget meetings will be taking place in advance of the May 16th session start date.

As we went from building to building we could not help but notice the installation and testing of new security equipment going on.  Metal detectors were in evidence, as well as new doors on the parking garage underneath the legislative building.  These measures had been announced and may be long overdue, but it was disappointing to realize that they may be necessary for the safety of our members and staff in the General Assembly.  We like to be open to the public, whom we serve, but we know that only one evil person can take advantage of the openness to hurt innocent people.

This week, the committee meetings and budget discussions will continue.  I expect to meet with the House Select Committee on School Safety on Wednesday.

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.