The Raleigh Report

Virginia (Blevins) Shephard
May 24, 2019
Tuesday, May 287th
May 27, 2019
The Raleigh Report

 

 

Memorial Day, a day to remember the fallen

 

We owe our freedoms and prosperity as Americans to the brave men and women who paid the ultimate price. 1 Lt. Jonathan Edds was one of the finest men I’ve ever known–a gentleman and a soldier. He and our daughter married about a month after his graduation from the US Military Academy (West Point). Every time I look at an American flag, I’m reminded of the flag handed to our daughter in the West Point Cemetery when he was buried. Memorial Day is personal for our family, we honor all fallen soldiers but specifically remember the huge void left by the death of 1 Lt. Jonathan Edds in Baghdad, August 17, 2007.

 

Sadness and pride
 

“Every name [of a fallen soldier] is a lightning stroke to some heart, and breaks like thunder over some home, and falls a long black shadow upon some hearthstone.”- Gettysburg Compiler, July 7, 1863

 

West Point graduate
1st Lt. Jonathan Edds. US Military Academy, West Point, graduate 2005. KIA (killed in action), Baghdad, August 17, 2007. One of the finest young men I have ever known. I’m proud to have been his father-in-law. Here he is pictured in his formal West Point uniform. Memorial day is a day to honor all who have fallen in military service to the country, but to those who have had family and friends die in service, every day is a sort of memorial day, for we can not forget their sacrifice.

 

 

My first bill to pass the General Assembly

 

Since the beginning of my tenure here at the NC General Assembly I have been advocating for the right of university students and government employees to use their identification cards for voting purposes. A bill I sponsored with three of my colleagues (House Bill 646) that addresses this issue just passed both chambers this week. The bill clarifies the approval process for getting these identification cards accepted by the State Board of Elections (BOE), as well as allowing an extended window of opportunity for that approval process to play out in time for the 2020 elections.

 

Earlier in the year, the BOE rejected most North Carolina university applications to allow their IDs to be used for voting. Only five of the 17 UNC system schools had their IDs approved.

 

With House Bill 646, additional time was extended for the universities and government entities to come into compliance for the upcoming general election in 2020.

 

The bill also allows local flexibility in determining early one-stop voting hours during municipal elections. Local officials had called for more latitude in determining hours because poll workers were under strain from working the state mandated shifts required of them.

 

The lead sponsor of the bill was Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County. In addition to me, Rep. Zack Hawkins of Durham and Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County were also prime sponsors.

 

Enhanced standards/pay for childcare workers

 

House Bill 882, which passed the House 111-0 earlier this month, is now under consideration by the Senate. This bipartisan bill seeks to raise standards for childcare workers and certified staff at childcare facilities across the state.

 

In order to assist childcare facilities in improving standards for its workers, $15 million is requested in the budget for implementing the standards and increased pay for workers.

 

Our young children deserve the best care, and those who teach them and take care of them should be able to earn a living wage while doing so.

 

The bill was introduced by Rep. Josh Dobson of Avery County, Rep. Maryann Black of Durham County, Rep. Craig Horn of Union County, and me. Many bipartisan co-sponsors signed on as well. My hope is that the Senate will understand the merit of this bill and support young children and the people who care for them.

 

In Ashe County, early childhood programs are supported by the Ashe County Partnership for Children in Jefferson. The Children’s Council supports programs in Watauga County.

 

Budget blues

 

The most important bill passed each year is the State Budget. The bill allocates around $24 billion of the money we pay in taxes in public education, health, public safety, and for other public purposes. The budget is a two-year spending plan and covers fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Typically, legislators will amend the two-year budget at its halfway point in next year’s session.

 

In North Carolina, each chamber alternates every two years which chamber gets first crack at writing the budget. This year, the House approved their budget first. Now it’s the Senate that is writing its version. Later this year, the two chambers will form a conference committee made up of members appointed by leadership to hammer out the differences. That version of the budget bill will then be subject to a vote in the House and Senate.

 

At this point the State Budget goes to the Governor who can sign it into law or veto it. If he vetoes, legislators can try to override the Governor’s veto or work out a new budget agreeable to him.

 

Earlier this month the State House passed its version of the State Budget (House Bill 966) on a 61 to 55 vote. I voted No.

 

All budgets have good and bad points, and this one is no different, but the bad outweighs the good in these key areas:

 

No Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid expansion will close the coverage gap for 500,000 North Carolinians and will help people lead healthier and better lives. It will help struggling rural hospitals and create health care jobs. No state that has expanded Medicaid has reversed course, but HB 966 does not include Medicaid expansion. I supported a motion to send the bill back to committee so Medicaid expansion could be included, but it failed.

 

A Tale of Two Teacher Raises

HB 966 increases teacher pay, and that is a good thing. Budget writers say it is an average 4.6% increase, but there’s a catch. In a highly unusual move, the pay raises do not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020, rather than July 1, 2019. This means teachers have to wait six months for the raise.

 

Limited Investments in Public School Resources

HB 966 makes some investments in important areas of our public schools, but I am disappointed that it repeatedly falls short while overfunding voucher programs that divert public money to private schools. I supported amendments to transfer voucher money to textbooks, digital resources, and local public schools, but those amendments were defeated.

 

Clean Water and Emerging Compounds

The NC Department of Environmental Quality requested $6 million in new funds to fight the growing problem of emerging compounds like Gen X in our drinking water. The House budget funds one-tenth of that request. I voted for an amendment to increase our investment in clean water, but it failed to pass.

 

Missed Opportunity to Invest in Community Colleges and Workforce Development

I supported amendments to invest in Finish Line Grants to help community college students finish school and in NC GROW community college scholarships for students pursuing in-demand degrees. Both amendments were defeated and are not funded in HB 966.

 

Tax Cuts for the Working Poor Instead of Wealthy Corporations

HB 966 cuts the franchise tax that corporations pay. I supported an amendment to keep the tax the same for businesses worth more than $250,000 and to use those funds to reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits low-income working families.

 

“Slap in the Face” State Employee and Retiree Compensation

·        Pay raise of 1% or $500, whichever is greater, for state employees.

·        Pay raises do not start until Jan. 1, 2020.

·        Retirees receive a 1% one-time payment, but not until Jan. 1, 2020.

 

Funding for Rural Job Creation Falls Short

There is good news in the House budget, such as $30 million for rural broadband, but we missed an opportunity to invest $26 million in locally-identified economic development projects, such as $1 million for the Appalachian Theater.

 

 

Rep. Russell on the go!

 

Teachers on the Mall

 

 

May 1 was Teacher Day at the NC General Assembly. NC educators marched down Fayetteville Street to the Legislative Building, then settled in for speeches and camaraderie on Halifax Mall. Above is a photo taken from the sixth floor of the Legislative Building. The sea of red tee-shirts that teachers wore was striking from any view.

 

Ashe County educators were represented on the mall. Here Rep. Russell meets with them to discuss their issues with the education budget.
Watauga County Schools were also represented. Rep. Russell wore his red shirt in support of teachers and education support staff.

 

 

 

Dr. Jim Deni, professor of psychology at Appalachian State University, visited with Rep. Russell at his Raleigh office on School Psychology Legislative Day and brought several of his graduate students with him.

 

 

 

The NC Craft Brewers Guild stopped by to discuss pending legislation with Rep. Russell. Local brewers Lynne and Andy Mason (far right, front) provided a hometown perspective. They are the owners and operators of Lost Province Brewing Company of Boone. Also visiting was Leah Wong Ashburn (left of Rep. Russell) who is the president and CEO of the regional Highland Brewing Co. headquartered in Asheville.

 

 

 

David Plouffe (far right) visited with members of the General Assembly to discuss Senate Bill 562, The Second Chance Act: An Act to Make Various Revisions to the Expunction Laws of the State. Also pictured are, from left, Rep. Evelyn Terry, Daphne Quinn, Rep. Russell, Rep. Marcia Morey, Rep. Graig Meyer, and Jennifer Watson Marsh who is president of the ACLU NC Board of Directors. Plouffe is a former senior advisor to President Obama.

 

 

 

April 30 was the day to “get your bike on” as the statewide advocacy organization BikeWalk NC came to the General Assembly to discuss transportation funding, design, and legislation. Pictured are Ted Silver (far right), program coordinator for Cycling Studies Minor at Lees-McRae College and chair of the Banner Elk Bike/Ped Committee; David Freireich of BikeWalk NC and a resident of Boone; and his daughter Lila.

 

 

In addition, I’ve met with the following individuals/organizations to learn more about how I can better serve District 93. I’d like to thank them all for taking the time to talk with me:

 

·     Dr. Sherri Everts, chancellor of Appalachian State University.

·     High Country Council of Governments Advisory Committee: spoke at their retreat in Burnsville on legislative committee work I am engaged in.

·     Dr. Adam Hege’s public health policy students on legislative advocacy.

·     Representatives from BAYADA Home Health Care during Home and Hospice Care’s annual Legislative Day.

·     NC Restaurant and Lodging Association Legislative Reception.

·     Informational breakfast for the Joint Caucus for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

·     NC Community Alternatives for Youth Legislative Reception.

·     NC Agricultural Products Reception and Dinner.

·     NC Orthopaedic Association Legislative Breakfast.

·     Kim Shepherd, CEO of SkyLine/SkyBest of West Jefferson, and Kenny Church, network engineering supervisor for SkyLine/SkyBest.

·     Dr. Charles Ford, ear, nose and throat physician from Boone, speaking with me about patient safety and outpatient surgery center reform.

·     Moms Rising Mother’s Day Breakfast for Legislators.

·     Melissa Soto, executive director of WAMY (Watauga/Avery/Mitchell/Yancey) Community Action, Inc.

·     Karen Gross of Watauga County on House Bill 983 which would provide funding for a Peer to Peer Wellness Center pilot program.

·     Carolina Farm Stewardship Association local organic breakfast.

·     Piedmont Triad Apartment Members staff on legislation to protect renters and landlords.

·     Chuck Mantooth, CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, and Rob Hudspeth, senior vice-president of system advancement at ARHS.

 

 

Teachers of the Year named

 

I was also keynote speaker at the Watauga County Schools’ Teacher of the Year Banquet. Congratulations go out to Mitchell Wright of Valle Crucis Elementary for winning that top honor. Also recognized at the banquet was Dr. Chris Blanton of Watauga High School as Principal of the Year. Kari Riddle of Parkway Elementary was named Rookie Teacher of the Year.

 

Ashe County Schools named Callie Lewis of Westwood Elementary as Teacher of the Year. Rookie Teacher of the Year was Jordan Nemeth of Mountain View Elementary. Robin Scott, a teacher assistant at Mountain View Elementary, was named Classified Employee of the Year. Christina Pennington also took honors as Support Staff/Supervisory Employee of the Year. Congratulations to all these exceptional educators and staff members at Ashe County Schools!

 

 

Tele-Town Hall

 

Three other legislators and I participated in a tele-town hall on gerrymandering and voting rights issues in April. Those who fielded calls with me on the issues were Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham County, Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed of Mecklenburg County, and Rep. Wesley Harris of Mecklenburg County. The event was hosted by the State Innovation Exchange.

 

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