Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – August 7, 2017

Last Thursday, August 3rd, was the day the North Carolina House and Senate were called into special session twice.  We were expecting to vote on overrides to four bills vetoed by the Governor, we found the override votes were delayed due to members not attending, and we handled several other bills in one long day.

The Governor had vetoed four bills during July: House Bill 140 – Dental Plans Provider Contracts/Transparency; HB 205 – WC for Inmates/Newsprint Employees; HB 511 – Game Nights/Nonprofit Fundraiser; and HB 576 – Allow Aerosolization of Leachate.  These are significant bills to our dentists, newspapers, charitable fundraisers, and our landfill operations. We understand that the override votes will likely take place in a special session beginning August 24th.

We had to convene at 10:00 last Thursday due to a proclamation from the Governor. We had already stated in our adjournment resolution in June that we would convene in special session beginning at 12:00 noon.  We hastily adjourned the first session and moved on to the noon session.

After noon we took up a variety of bills dealing with regulatory reform, environmental reform, and revenue laws changes.  We also voted on House Bill 770 – Various Clarifying Changes, a far-ranging bill that contained an important provision for our schools. It places more emphasis on student growth, so that true progress can better be measured in the A – F grades assigned to schools. 

Last week I found out that I had been appointed by the Speaker to the Justus – Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force.  I have since learned that this is a national model of a task force to address heart disease and stroke and has existed since 1995. Their accomplishments are listed on their website. I suppose my own personal experience with heart issues and surgery in 2003 led to my being considered for this mission.  I welcome this opportunity and look forward to serving on the distinguished 27 member task force.

The next articles I plan to write will be during the special session during the latter part of August and early September.  The purpose of this session will be to draw and vote on new legislative districts as directed by the courts, as well as the veto overrides.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – June 26, 2017

Last week in the North House of Representatives we passed the long-awaited state budget, we passed a bill involving domestic violence and murder, and we got an idea of our adjournment date for this year.

The negotiated state budget for 2017 – 2019 was released last Monday and scheduled for votes in the House and Senate.  The House has a rule it has to be out two days before a vote, so we voted on it Wednesday and Thursday, while the Senate voted Tuesday and Wednesday.  It requires votes on two separate days.  Known as Senate Bill 257 – Appropriations Act of 2017, it consumes about 900 pages including the “money report”.  This budget spends $23 billion in 2017-18 and $23.7 in 2018-19.  This is a 3.1% increase in the first year and 2.7% increase in the second year.  This is within the guideline of population growth and inflation.  It provides teachers 3.3% and 6.3% average increases in the two years for a total of 9.6% above the 2016-17 budget.  Increases are in the budget for principals, other state employees, and a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for state retirees. Other highlights include: almost $1 billion increase in Education, a 4% increase in Justice and Public Safety (your law enforcement and court system), and 2% in the second year in Health and Human Services (with Medicaid more under control after years of runaway increases).  To view the entire budget go to www.ncleg.net and enter SB257 in the appropriate search line at the top of the home page.

The budget passed the House by 77 – 40 on Wednesday and 77 – 38 on Thursday.  It had already passed the Senate by 39 – 11 on Wednesday.  It was presented to the Governor on Thursday.  He has 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.  Should he veto it, the vote count was well over the three-fifths required for an override of the veto.  So we can expect this budget to become law without change.

Senate Bill 600 – Britny’s Law was passed Thursday in the House.  It calls for considering of a pattern of past domestic abuse in whether to charge first degree murder of a spouse, girl or boyfriend, or other domestic partner.  It is named for Britny Puryear, a young mother of a five month old, who was murdered by her boyfriend and father of her child.  He was charged and convicted of second degree murder and will be out of prison possibly in twenty years.  This law will allow a prosecutor to consider the pattern of domestic violence as premeditation, and to charge first degree murder.  This will include possible penalties of life in prison without parole or the death penalty.  Britny’s law passed the House 110 – 2 and the Senate 48 – 0.  The 2 no votes were due to opposition to the death penalty.

We were informed that we will attempt to adjourn by July 1st.  It may take an extended week and late night votes, but it is a worthy goal to wrap up the peoples’ business in a timely manner.  We handled about 100 bills last week in the House and Senate, and I expect many more this week.

It is interesting to receive some of the comments on this column, which I have written each week we are in session since going to Raleigh.  It is intended to inform readers on some of the key issues with which we are dealing that might be of interest to them.  It is not intended to be a laundry list of the dozens of bills we handle each day on the floor or in committees, or a list of the committee meetings, and meetings with constituents and lobbyists every hour on the hour.  It is also not intended to be a campaign piece in which I tout how busy I am, or how important my issues are to the history of the world.  One comment last week implied that we weren’t very busy, because my article apparently to her was all we did.  Anyone can view the calendar for both chambers, the committee agendas, the members’ record, and the text of all the bills at www.ncleg.net .

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – June 19, 2017

The North Carolina House of Representatives was busy last week.  We honored a beloved deceased former member of the House, we passed a major regulatory reform bill, and we had a special House page helping us for the week.

While the full Appropriations Committee chairs and top leaders from the House and Senate put the finishing touches on the 2017 – 2019 state budget, both chambers got busy on the bills that remain to be handled.  We were assured that we were close to having a final budget on which to vote this week.

Committees got busy passing bills and sending them to the floor of each chamber.  However, we paused on Wednesday to honor a past member of the House with whom many of us had served.  Representative Ruth Samuelson served in the House from 2007 to 2014. So I served about five years with her.  Ruth retired to go into charity fundraising and then was taken by cancer at the young age of 57.  She was a strong leader, a talented negotiator, and a friendly, Christian influence on her colleagues.  One of her passions was abortion, and she led us on giving women more information before they choose to abort a baby.  House Joint Resolution 765- Honor Ruth Samuelson, Former Member was read aloud.  Many of the members who served with Ruth spoke to the resolution, praising her talent and demeanor.  It was very emotional for us all.

Thursday, we took up Senate Bill 16 – Business and Agency Regulatory Reform Act of 2017.  This bill has over 20 provisions, many of interest to us on the coast: making the rule-making process more open; studying the setting up of arbitration panels for disputes between local governments and developers, as well as disputes concerning property owner associations; storm water issues; pool electrical safety; pet kennel rules; alarm system sales rules; inspection of back-up lights during vehicle inspection procedures; and many others.  The goal is to simplify the making of rules, as well as give citizens more access into the process.

I was very fortunate the week before Father’s Day to have my granddaughter as a page for the House.  Elisabeth Iler, who actually lives in Mooresville in Iredell County, served with a large page class last week.  They were able to see more debate and voting on the House floor than other recent groups.  I encourage any high school students or parents to consider paging in the House or Senate next session.  Applications for the 2018 session will be taken starting in January, and the procedures are on the legislature’s web site, www.ncleg.net .  You may also read our bills and get other information on this site.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – June 12, 2017

Last week in the North Carolina House of Representatives we worked into the night in budget conference meetings with the Senate, we debated and passed a controversial gun bill, and we passed an energy bill almost unanimously.

As expected, the Senate did NOT concur with the budget bill, Senate Bill 257, as we sent it back over to them. This vote was on Monday night.  Conferees were appointed in each chamber immediately, and I was appointed as a House conferee on the Transportation budget.  We began meeting early Tuesday morning with the Senate Transportation Appropriations chairs, who are the Senate conferees.   As the conference committees met and resolved the differences between the House and Senate budgets, they met with the full Appropriations chairs late in the week to present their results.  It is hoped that a final budget can be completed this week, if all issues can be resolved.

On Wednesday House Bill 746 – Omnibus Gun Changes was debated and passed the House on a split vote.  While I support bills to loosen overly restrictive gun laws, I was concerned about the provision that allows 18 year olds to carry concealed without a concealed carry permit.  The Sheriff’s Association took no position on the bill, but many law enforcement officials opposed it.  I discussed it with our sheriff and decided that a vote against this particular bill at this time was the right thing to do.  I did not speak against it, and it passed by a vote of 65 – 54.  The follow-up vote on third reading Thursday was similar, 64-51. A particular provision to allow carrying on campuses had been removed, as had several other provisions.  I had been concerned about that provision also, hoping that if it stayed in that the boards of trustees would be able to decide what groups, such as faculty or staff, should be allowed to carry.  I was just as glad that it was taken out, but still concerned about the 18 year old provision.

Also Wednesday we passed House bill 589 – Competitive Energy Solution For North Carolina.  This bill protects energy consumers and rate-payers while also establishing market-based principles.  So it is good for both companies that produce the energy and users of energy, which is often a hard balance to achieve. It should also make North Carolina more competitive in attracting new industry and jobs.  I voted for it and it passed almost unanimously 108 – 11.

We had visitors from back home during the week.  The Cape Fear chapter of SEANC (State Employees Association of N.C.) visited Wednesday, as well as Chairman Frank Williams of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners.  I had another special guest on Thursday, author Kevin Duffus, who researches and writes the history of the coast.   He presented me with a copy of his latest book, The Story of Cape Fear and Bald Head Island.  I had met Kevin on one of my visits with my brother in Belhaven and came to admire his work and dedication to our history, going back to the time of the Native Americans, European explorers and settlers.

We expect to have a final consensus budget this week, and move some of the bills that have been waiting during the budget process.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – June 5, 2017

Last week in the North Carolina House of Representatives we spent almost every waking hour on the 2017 – 2019 state budget, we handled approximately 100 amendments to the budget, and approved the House budget in the early hours Friday morning.

Even before the week started I was privileged to visit Belville Elementary School the previous Friday at the request of one of the outstanding school parent volunteers.  Also meeting the Principal, Dr. Rick Hessman, and Ms. Jessica Swencki from the central office, I was able to get a good tour of the classrooms that will be impacted by the reduced class size legislation that has passed and which is still in progress. 

The week started early Tuesday, where we adjourned for important committee meetings and came back for an afternoon session filled with bills involving broadband siting, a sex offender registry fee, tax policy, and other important subjects. 

Wednesday was selected for the all day House Appropriations Committee meeting to present the House budget and take amendments from the more than 70 members of the committee.  We started at 8:30 and were able to finish by 4:30.  Frequently, this meeting can go well past dinner hour.  We were able to handle 60 amendments and vote the bill out in record time.  I was involved in presenting the transportation portion of the budget, but had comments on the education budget, particularly on two items.  One provision brings back the Teaching Fellows program, which I supported.  I expressed some concern over Community Colleges joining their Information Technology (IT) system with the state’s IT department (DIT).  The colleges don’t think it is helpful at this time.  This was later corrected by amendment. 

After being voted out of committee, Senate Bill 257 – Appropriations Act of 2017, better known as the budget, moved to the House floor on Thursday.  After handling 40 more amendments  in the late afternoon and night it passed second reading about 10:00 by a vote of 82 – 34.  It was a bipartisan vote with 12 Democrats joining 70 Republicans to pass it.  Friday morning we reconvened after midnight and voted it out 80 – 31 around 12:30.

The House general fund budget spends $22.9 billion in 2017-2018 and $23.8 billion in 2018-2019.  Education comprises 57% of the budget in both years.  The Medicaid portions are $3.7 billion in the first year and $3.8 billion in the second.  With Education taking 57%, Health and Human Services taking 23%, and Justice and Public Safety taking 12%, this allows 8% to run all the other departments of state government, except transportation.

Transportation is a separate budget, funded by the motor fuels taxes, highway use taxes on vehicle sales, and DMV fees.  Transportation spends $2.3 billion in the Highway Fund to maintain roads, bridges, ferries, and all other related infrastructure.  The Highway Trust Fund, which builds new roads, bridges and other infrastructure spends $1.5 billion in the first year and $1.6 billion in the second.  Some additional federal funds can supplement this construction.

The budget now goes to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and we expect them to not concur. Conferees will be appointed, and we will negotiate the differences to come up with a consensus budget to be adopted by both chambers.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – May 30, 2017

Last week in the North Carolina House of Representatives we had a session at the old Capitol building to honor the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, we finished the individual sections of the House state budget, and we passed the budget sections out of committees.

The week started early on Monday afternoon for me when I had to attend a special ethics class for General Assembly members who also serve on state boards.  My service on the Brunswick Community College Board of Trustees puts me in that category, and the requirements on attending ethics classes are strict. 

Immediately after the ethics class the Transportations Appropriations Committee chairs were meeting in our continuing effort to finish the Transportation portion of the House budget.  We were finished and had our last meeting with the chairs of the full Appropriations Committee by Wednesday.  The plan was to pass our budget by Thursday out of the full House Appropriations Committee on Transportation.  As we were meeting constantly, there were only a few votes on bills in the House and in committees.

However, on Wednesday we had a special event to honor the first Declaration of Independence.  We met in the old Capitol building in the same seats as generations of legislators had met for nearly 200 years until 1963.  House Resolution 922 – Observe Mecklenburg Independence Day was read, debated, and passed unanimously.  A group of Mecklenburg elected representatives met on May 19, 1775 and reacted to the news that colonists had been killed by the British in Lexington by drafting five resolutions declaring freedom for the residents of Mecklenburg from Great Britain. It passed and was read on the courthouse steps in Charlotte the next day, May 20, 1775.  This date is immortalized on the North Carolina flag and state seal.

Also on Wednesday, while we were waiting for our turn with the full chairs, I was able to have visitors such as the home builders from our area and three other groups of citizens.  A special treat was a surprise visit from Mayor Walt Eccard of Shallotte.  As usual, he was advocating for our whole area, particularly in regards to the sales tax distribution plan in the proposed budgets.  Also, as Chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization connected to the Grand Strand, he had good updated information on the study area for North Carolina’s portion of the Carolina Bays Parkway.  It is more comprehensive than the original maps from 2005, and takes into account the development areas, as well as environmental concerns.  We also had a chance to share lunch, where I was able to introduce Walt to some of my House and Senate colleagues.

Finally, on Thursday, after approval of the full Appropriations chairs on Wednesday, our excellent staff had our House Transportation budget ready for approval of the full Transportation Appropriations Committee.  After a great presentation by said staff, discussion by the committee, and consideration of several amendments it passed, mainly on a party line vote. 

This week, the entire House budget will be published by Tuesday, and an all day House Appropriations meeting on Wednesday will see it amended and passed.  Floor votes should take place on Thursday and Friday, and it will go back to the Senate for concurrence.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – May 22, 2017

Last week was an unusual week in the North Carolina House of Representatives We worked into the night on the state budget, we passed bills concerning juvenile justice and shared medical expenses, and I was able to attend an important event two states away.        

This article is being written on a beautiful Saturday morning in north Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.  I will explain near the end.

With the Senate having sent their budget to the House at the end of the prior week, we got to work early Tuesday morning and had constant appropriations meetings into the early or late evening for most of the week.  Each of the “area” appropriations committee chairs were meeting separately and then reporting to the “full” chairs periodically.  In my case, I was meeting with the other appropriations chairs on transportation.  Our budget comes from the highway use tax when one buys a car, the motor fuel tax at the gas pump, and other fees related to vehicle usage.  It also includes boating fees and boat fuel tax, as well as some federal funds.  What many citizens don’t realize is that this is separate from the general fund budget, which is funded by income taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes and fees.  The transportation budget is averaging about $4 billion, while the general fund budget for everything else is about $23 billion.  With the $4 billion, all highways must be built and maintained, ferries, ports and trains must operate, dredging must take place, roadsides must be maintained, and all other transportation needs must be funded.

During the week we also passed two important bills on the House floor.  House Bill 280 – Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act raises the age of juveniles to include 16 and 17 year olds on misdemeanors and minor felonies.  It was thoroughly vetted in the Appropriations and Judiciary committees, and passed the House by a vote of 104 – 8.  House Bill 295 – Health Care Sharing Expenses Deductions makes the monthly or annual contributions to a health care expense sharing fund deductible on state income taxes, the same as premiums on health insurance.  These funds have the same function as health insurance, and now will be treated the same.  It passed unanimously 114 – 0.

On a personal note, I was able to break away Thursday afternoon to travel to suburban Atlanta, Georgia.  The occasion was the graduation from high school of my late wife’s granddaughter, Meredith.  Having known Meredith and her family long before she was born, I naturally claim her as my own granddaughter.  The graduation ceremony of 100 graduates from her Christian academy last night was very moving, helping us focus on those things that are important to us, such as family, friends, education, and determination to accomplish a goal.  She was recognized as top ten in her class.  She is moving on to the University of Georgia, just a short distance up the road in Athens, and will certainly continue to excel both inside and outside the classroom. 

I will now be driving back to North Carolina for another granddaughter’s soccer game in Iredell County, then home to Brunswick County.

This week I will be back in Raleigh by Monday, and will be focused on getting the budget approved by all the necessary committees and ready for the House floor.  I have to thank my fellow transportation appropriations chairs and our talented staff in fiscal research and bill drafting for the extremely hard work and long hours last week and in the days to come.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – May 15, 2017

Last week in the North Carolina House of Representatives we overrode the Governor’s veto on a bill for the fourth time, we handled bills concerning the juvenile justice system and restaurants, and we saw the senate pass their budget and send it to us in the House.

Our committees started meeting again last week and sent bills to the House floor for final votes.  But first, a vote was scheduled on Wednesday for a veto override on House Bill 467 – Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies.  This bill dealt with the ability of a homeowner to sue a farm operation by capping the compensatory damages to the loss in property value.  This is due to repetitive lawsuits for a temporary nuisance.  They still have the ability to sue for permanent nuisance, receive unlimited punitive damages, get injunctive relief, sue for trespass, environmental issues, and what lawyers call strict liability.  The veto was overridden by a vote of 74 – 40 in the House.  The next day the Senate overrode it by 30 – 18.  So the bill becomes law “notwithstanding the objections of the Governor”.

House Bill 280 – Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act came to the House Appropriations Committee Thursday morning.  It moves the age of juveniles in the justice system up to include 16 and 17 year olds.  This way they will get more counseling services and not be incarcerated with adults.  This applies to misdemeanor charges and minor felonies.  This issue had come up before, but this time it had wide support from county officials and some Sheriffs and District Attorneys, including Brunswick County.  However, many concerns were expressed about the funding to pay for the additional staff and other resources to deal with the change.  It is expected that the funding will follow through the budget process.  HB 280 received strong support in the Appropriations Committee and should be on the House floor for a vote this week.

A bill of interest to our small business people in the restaurant industry came over from the Senate and was passed on Thursday.  Senate Bill 24 – Allow Restaurants to Use Outdoor Grills allows outdoor grills under strict conditions.  It passed by a unanimous vote of 113 – 0.

At the end of the week the Senate finished its version of the budget bill, Senate Bill 257 – Appropriations Act of 2017, on two votes Thursday and Friday.  It now comes to the House, and we will be meeting early and often to finish the House version and send it back to the Senate.  As usual, we expect it to go into a conference committee to work out the differences.  The weather in Raleigh is expected to heat up this week and the budget talks will be heating up also.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – May 8, 2017

Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly we hosted the UNC Tarheels national champion basketball team, we had a short week in the House of Representatives while the Senate worked on the state budget, and I was able to spend more time back in the district talking to our citizens.

Last Wednesday, we were honored to host the UNC Tarheels men’s basketball team in a joint session with the N.C. Senate.  The Senators came over to the House, and we heard about ten testimonies from our members about the accomplishments of the team and its individual members, both on and off the court.  Coach Roy Williams then spoke to us about the uniqueness of the team and how they rose from a challenging season to win the national NCAA championship.  He mentioned his passion for education and encouraged us to make it a priority.  It was a proud time for all North Carolinians, whether or not they attended UNC.

Having had a huge prior week of committee meetings and floor sessions during “crossover week”, most House committees took a break last week while we wait for the Senate bills that crossed over to come into our committees.  The Senate was working very hard on the state budget in hopes that they will pass it over to the House buy the end of this week.  Then our Finance and Appropriations committees will be meeting almost every day to craft the House version.  Having met earlier with many Senators, the House budget writers hope to have a smooth process and stay on schedule for a June 30th budget.

Given more time back home last week, I was able to attend more events and meet with groups of citizens and individuals.  Starting on the previous Saturday, I was privileged to unveil a road sign to be placed at the entrance to Southport that honors Quinton McCracken.  Mr. McCracken was a star athlete at South Brunswick High School, at Duke University, and in Major League Baseball.  It is important to recognize our accomplished local citizens that go on to become good role models for us and our youth.  The same day I was at the other side of the county at a fund raiser for the Museum of Coastal Carolina at Ocean Isle Beach, called the Winefest. I saw many of our leaders and other citizens from that area.

On Monday, I was in the northernmost corner of the county at Brunswick Forest, speaking and discussing issues with a group of residents.  We discussed many things, but they were very concerned about the environment and education.  I share their concerns, although we may disagree sometimes on the methods or details.

After visiting all three corners of the county during the week, on Friday I was able to attend the Brunswick County Republican Party’s Lincoln – Reagan Dinner.  There, many of our leaders in the county were able to hear Senator Phil Berger, President Pro Tem of the N.C. Senate.  Senator Berger, a good friend from Eden, NC, spoke of the accomplishments since becoming the President Pro Tem in 2011.

This week I expect to see the budget from the Senate and get back to work on it.  Many bills that crossed over from the Senate, as well as bills not subject to crossover should be coming through our committees very soon.

Legislative Update from Rep. Frank Iler – May 1, 2017

Last week in the North Carolina House of Representatives: we had “crossover week,” which meant double committee meetings and long floor sessions, we passed over 150 bills, including two overrides of the Governor’s veto, and we still spent time with important visitors from home.

The week started earlier than usual with committee meetings on Monday, beginning at noon.  We had a two hour House Transportation Committee meeting, as well as another hour meeting on Tuesday.  I also had multiple Education, Elections, Environment, and Insurance committee meetings sandwiched between each other all week.  During crossover week, we must pass all bills that we want to get to the Senate this session by the deadline, except bills with a Finance or Appropriations referral, such as the budget bill.  This deadline was Thursday.  After meeting in committees all morning, the floor sessions started around 2:00 and lasted into the night.  Tuesday we were finished at 10:15, and Wednesday it was 11:30.  Having handled over 100 bills in these two days alone, we were able to start early Thursday and adjourn soon after 4:00 p.m.

Without listing all the bills we passed individually, some of the key issues were as follows: Override of the Governor’s vetoes on the bipartisan boards of election and reducing the Court of Appeals to 12 judges; restoring free speech to college campuses; insuring that cities comply with immigration laws; law enforcement bills dealing with cameras, process servers, and whistleblowers; putting a right to work amendment into the N.C. Constitution; and giving local school districts more flexibility on reducing class sizes in the kindergarten through third grade classes (the famous House Bill 13).  There were many other bills dealing with veterans, active military, medical and mental health, criminal penalties, etc.

Tuesday night we got a dinner break and I was able to attend a reception that the N.C. Association of Realtors hosted at the N.C. Museum of History, which is right across Jones Street from the Legislative Building.  It was great to see a group of our realtors from across Brunswick County, and to discuss their legislative priorities.  This is a very active group, and one with which I like to stay in touch. Between the real estate sales and the vacation rentals, they manage a huge portion of our economy in this area. 

This week I anticipate a looser schedule for the House while the Senate works hard on its final draft of their budget.  Very soon they will send it over, and my early mornings will be filled with budget meetings.  So far we are staying on track to have the two-year budget for the state by June 30th.  We will also be considering the many Senate bills that crossed over to the House and are being assigned to our committees for approval.