Each day we are in session in the N.C. Senate, we begin with prayer. Daily prayer helps all of us to give thanks to God and focus on what’s really important in our lives and in the lives of others. Recently, Tribal Elder Jerry Wolfe, of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, offered our daily prayer, and shared with us some of the customs of Native Americans. At the age of 90, Mr. Wolfe, a WWII Veteran, inspired us all through his prayer and his lifetime of service. This week, we passed a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 370, which guarantees our students have the right to pray as well.
Senate Bill 729 dealing with coal ash pond clean-up was released this past week for legislators and the public to review. The bill sets up a 15-year time table for Duke and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to follow. I have heard from many citizens who believe this allows too much time to deal with the clean-up of the 33 coal ash ponds at 14 sites throughout N.C. While I agree that we must have a specific timetable to clean up coal ash, customers should not be forced to pay higher utility bills. All North Carolinians should be assured when this legislation is passed that our state has taken the necessary steps to clean up coal ash and therefore protect our clean drinking water. Duke Energy’s Buck Plant where four of these coal ash ponds are located is on the Yadkin Pee Dee River in Rowan County. Several families who live near the Buck plant have contacted me this week to tell their stories and share their concerns. There is no better way to learn than to hear directly from those affected who live nearby these coal ash ponds. This is a high priority item for the legislature to deal with during the short session.
The House and Senate continue to be divided on the state budget. The budget proposals have major differences which includes pay raises for teachers, teacher assistants and state employees, as well as how much to reimburse hospitals and health care providers for providing treatment and services to the poor, disabled, and elderly. Many of you have written emails and called my office to relay your concerns and to share how the budget will impact your lives. Thank you for contacting me. This helps me to represent you and your families better. The state budget process continues and there will inevitably be rumors floating around for the next few weeks until the Senate and House Conferees negotiate a final budget that will come before us for a final vote. But until there is a conference report, the details are kept in private behind closed doors. I support a more open and transparent way of conducting the people’s business — especially when we’re talking about a $21 billion budget that impacts the lives of every North Carolina citizen. One of my priorities as your state senator is to continue advocating for more transparency in our budget negotiating process.
News reports this week were troubling as they relate to N.C.’s economic competitiveness under the current administration. Over 1,000 jobs are leaving Charlotte to locate just across the line in South Carolina. Also, a major tire company expected to hire about 1,700 employees announced their plans to locate in South Carolina, choosing the Palmetto state over N.C. I had a conversation this week with Secretary Sharon Decker about my concerns and relayed the need to make sure our rural communities are not left out of the process when competing for these good jobs.
I had the great pleasure to meet with an outstanding fifth grade teacher from our district this week to discuss ways to make K-12 education a priority, ways to recruit the best and brightest teachers, and strategies for keeping great teachers in the classroom. As many of you know, I made it a goal early on to visit every school in the district — so that I can hear directly from educators and students.
I had the opportunity to have lunch with Rep. Goodman, Rep. Pierce, and the Laurinburg/Scotland County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2014. As you can see in the photo we joined business, health, and education leaders in our district who are participating in the Leadership program to learn more about how local, state, and federal government works.
I attended the N.C. Rehabilitation Association’s Legislative Breakfast in Raleigh, and had the great pleasure to visit with Mr. Ike Carlyle and his parents Nancy and Mickey Bullard from Rockingham. Ike won the Small Business of the Year award from N.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Congratulations, Ike. We are so proud of you!