News

Co-chairs discuss scope of legislative committee to study school safety

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the appointments Tuesday to a new House Select Committee on School Safety.  Moore says the legislative panel will seek expert input on securing the state’s classrooms and education facilities in the wake of a shooting in Parkland, Florida last week that left 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Rep. John Torbett and Rep. David Lewis outlined the scope of the committee’s work at a press conference in Shelby.

Recommendations are expected by the short session in May.

The following House members will serve on the Select Committee on School Safety

Representative David Lewis, Co-Chair Representative Nelson Dollar Representative Brenden Jones
Representative John Torbett, Co-Chair Representative Jeffrey Elmore Representative  Donny Lambeth
Representative John Faircloth, Vice-Chair Representative Elmer Floyd Representative Marvin Lucas
Representative John Bell Representative Rosa Gill Representative Chris Malone
Representative Larry Bell Representative Holly Grange Representative Allen McNeill
Representative Mary Ann Black Representative Pricey Harrison Representative Rodney Moore
Representative Jamie Boles Representative Kelly Hastings Representative Garland Pierce
Representative William Brawley Representative Cody Henson Representative Stephen Ross
Representative Dana Bumgardner Representative Yvonne Holley Representative Jason Saine
Representative Justin Burr Representative Craig Horn Representative Sarah Stevens
Representative Carla Cunningham Representative Pat Hurley Representative Larry Strickland
Representative Ted Davis Representative Verla Insko Representative Harry Warren
Representative Jimmy Dixon Representative Darren Jackson Representative Donna White
Representative Josh Dobson Representative Linda Johnson
Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. 12 years of negligence. 1 million gallons of manure. A $64,000 fine. A Jones County hog farm is out of business — for now.

On a sultry day last September, Megan Stilley arrived at Lanier Farms, a large swine operation in rural Jones County. An environmental specialist with the state’s Division of Water Resources, Stilley investigates complaints of illegal spills and other environmental violations. The people responsible are rarely glad to see her.

Shortly before noon, Doug Lanier and two of his farmhands met Stilley at the site. He was upset that news of his farm’s illegal discharge the day prior into the Trent River — eventually determined to be 1 million gallons of feces-laden wastewater — had been posted on Facebook by a local TV station.

A terse verbal exchange ensued. “At that point,” Stilley later wrote in her inspection notes, “I felt uncomfortable being there alone.”[Read more…]

*** Bonus read:

2. Special update: Controversial bill on class size, pipeline fund, elections/ethics board merger heads to the Governor

An omnibus bill alleviating some of the headaches associated with North Carolina’s class size crisis easily passed the state House by a 104-12 margin Tuesday, despite continuing opposition from top Democrats on its controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Board of Elections provisions.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who helped to assemble last week’s compromise conference report on House Bill 90, said the bill gives districts “much requested” time to prepare for the state’s new K-3 class sizes by phasing in its caps on average and maximum class size over the next four years.

The legislation, which also creates a $61 million recurring funding allocation for arts, music and physical education teachers, comes after years of mounting pressure on the Republican-dominated General Assembly to either ease their 2016 class size mandate or provide additional funding to save those so-called “enhancement” teaching positions. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

3. Keeping up with the…judicial maps – There are now more than there are Kardashians

Lawmakers late last week released two new versions of a judicial redistricting bill, making these the eighth and ninth maps released since last summer.

The two new maps, dubbed “Option B” and “Option C” are nearly identical with the only change made to district lines in Durham County.

The maps differ from “Option A,” the proposal released a little over two weeks ago, in all of the larger metropolitan counties and in the two districts encompassing Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties.

Lawmakers also added several district court judges, subtracted a few, and added one superior court judge in the new proposals. [Read more…]

4.Taking cynicism to new levels
The General Assembly’s latest mashup legislation is an example of government at its worst

In the complex world of modern politics, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which difficult compromises must be made. Sometimes, the circumstances are such that there simply isn’t any way for elected leaders to proceed without making multiple accommodations to multiple parties.

Hence, among other things, the distasteful but sometimes necessary phenomenon of the so-called “Christmas Tree” bill that is packed with all kinds of disparate provisions that have only one thing in common: they’re necessary to secure the votes of enough lawmakers to get essential underlying provisions passed into law. Such bills may often go too far and be fraught with problems, but at least they’re typically driven by a spirit of pragmatism and negotiation. [Read more…]

*** Bonus commentary:

5. Legislators hope to find a compromise and a new home for UNC’s controversial Confederate statue

Students, faculty and staff at UNC continue to protest the Chapel Hill campus’ Confederate monument, “Silent Sam.” The North Carolina Historical Commission continues to grapple with whether it can legally remove the statue.

When the General Assembly reconvenes in mid-May, a group of Democratic state lawmakers say they’ll attempt what might be the impossible: a compromise solution.

“There certainly are not the votes in the General Assembly to remove it from campus,” said N.C. Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange). “We’re working on a bill to move it inside somewhere – somewhere it can be safe and there won’t be the confrontations over it.”

Insko suggests the campus’ Wilson Library or Ackland Art Museum might be good locations –  places the statue could still be available to the public and a reminder of the history it represents, but not in its current place at the entrance to the campus. [Read more...]

News

NC congressional delegation denounces Florida school shooting; Rep. Price demands vote on gun violence bills

Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida claimed at least 17 lives. Authorities say the 19-year-old suspect had been expelled from the school last year.

The following reaction is from North Carolina’s Congressional delegation:

Education

Next fix for legislators to address – the nurse-to-student ratio in NC’s public schools

Legislators headed home Tuesday, wrapping-up the special session with a controversial fix to the unfunded class-size mandate. And with that issue off the front burner for now, lawmakers might want to revisit a recent legislative study that found the state would need to spend up to $79 million a year to meet the recommended school nurse-to-student ratio.

Currently only 46 of the state’s 115 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) meet the ratio of one school nurse for every 750 students.

More often than not, the average school nurse in North Carolina covers two to three schools, with the ratio of one nurse for every 1,086 students.

Add to that the challenge of keeping up with a growing number of students with asthma, diabetes, food allergies and other chronic health conditions.

If you missed it over the weekend, take time to listen to Rob Schofield’s interview with Liz Newlin of the School Nurse Association of North Carolina as they discusses the growing demands on these professionals and how the lack of resources impacts classroom instruction:

Read the Final Report: Meeting Current Standards for School Nurses Statewide May Cost Up to $79 Million Annually

Commentary

Editorial: Why is Senator Berger ignoring a serious public-safety concern?

The StarNews Editorial Board bluntly asks in its Tuesday paper: Does Berger even care about GenX?

The newspaper that first broke the story of the emerging contaminant in the Cape Fear last year notes that it is long past due for Senate leadership to act.

Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

With voter outcry growing and crossing traditional partisan lines (a toxic chemical in your drinking water has a way of doing that), the House recently passed a bill that provides a much-needed boost to DEQ, enabling the overburdened and underfunded agency to respond more effectively to the GenX contamination, which has widened in both scope and geography.

But [Senate leader Phil ] Berger — the state’s most powerful political leader — is having none of it. We don’t know what his motives are, but we suspect they are simply political, related to the larger effort to make our traditionally moderate state a testing ground for laissez-faire government and faith that the invisible hand of the market will balance any corporate excesses like, say, contaminating the drinking water of a good chunk of the state’s population with a toxic chemical that, by design, pretty much never decomposes.

The good news is, the House now seems committed to better funding for DEQ, at least for the GenX response. In the Senate, Berger rules with an iron fist. So we have no doubt that he could turn the switch in an instant and have the chamber take up the House bill, quickly get it approved, and give DEQ the resources it needs to do its job.

Meanwhile, we are thinking about the folks we see with shopping carts full of nothing but bottled water; the kids who come over to play with our children, instructed not to drink the water; those affected by the economic uncertainty GenX has caused, including possible lost job opportunities after new companies nixed Wilmington as a location, or existing businesses opted not to expand here.

We are thinking, too, about those who now can’t help but look back at cancers and other illnesses — even deaths — with new questions; there’s no proof of any connection with little-studied GenX, we know; but we understand the questions and the fear.

What we don’t understand is Berger’s callous response to the very legitimate concerns of the good people of Southeastern North Carolina. Come down here and meet some of them, Sen. Berger. Maybe that would persuade you to act.

For now, we guess we’re supposed to believe Berger and Chemours have got our backs.

We have, however, spotted the “invisible hand” that’s supposed to help protect us. It’s flying high in Raleigh — symbolically, of course — directed toward Southeastern North Carolina, and with a certain finger extended upward.

Without a change of heart by Senator Berger, the earliest the General Assembly might revisit the GenX issue would be mid-May when they reconvene.

Read the Star News full editorial here.