Last week started with breakfast with the Richmond Community College Board of Trustees, President Dale McInnis and staff. We discussed the needs of the community college and various new programs recently started at RCC on the Richmond and Scotland campuses. Later that day, I attended the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh, where I sat down with business leaders from across the state, manufacturing leaders, and economic developers. The forum, themed “Manufacturing Works” focused on the importance of manufacturing to our state’s economy and ways we can attract companies in growth industries and how we can be more business friendly. At the forum I was pleased to visit with Perry Williams, former defensive back for N.C. State University and then the New York Giants. Perry is a success story from our district. He grew up and still resides in Richmond County and has two Super Bowl wins under his belt. Since retiring from football, he has largely focused his time and efforts on student mentorship opportunities he has created with programs like Keep in Touch and Make a Difference, as well as serving as an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, where he teaches leadership and ethics courses.
On Tuesday, I started the day with breakfast with members of the N.C. National Guard Association, who are interested in Tuition Assistance in order to provide more National Guardsmen with the opportunity to further their education. I know that you join me in thanking our citizen-soldiers for their sacrifice and dedication to our country. I serve on the Senate Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee; we met this week with Secretary Sharon Decker — Department of Commerce, Secretary John Skvarla — Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Secretary Steve Troxler, Department of Agriculture to hear ways in which these state departments are driving job creation and economic growth. Secretary Troxler emphasized the $72 billion or more impact of agribusiness in our state. As a follow up, I met with Senate and House colleagues this week to join the Joint Agriculture and Rural Caucus. One of our missions is to educate legislators from large cities about the importance of rural NC to the future success of NC.
I met on Tuesday and Wednesday with the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources to begin preliminary budget presentations – which consists of briefings on each line item of this portion of the state budget. In the coming weeks we will be hearing from each state agency and their budget needs for the coming year.
Wednesday evening, I traveled to Stanly County to the Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting. I enjoyed joining in this celebration of the Chamber’s accomplishments for the year, including the addition of over 200 new members. One highlight was recognition of the Stanly County Citizen of the Year — Mr. David Grigg, an outstanding leader in Stanly County for many years.
The guest speaker, Jimmy Cusano provided excellent remarks and shared a positive message about working together as a community. He had us on our feet moving and being active, even to the point of calling me out to do push-ups. Have you ever tried to do push-ups in a business suit and tie?
Thursday consisted of a breakfast meeting with National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), an organization with over 8000 NC members and then a meeting with the Home Builders Association of NC where we discussed the importance of home ownership and the need for helping our real estate market recover from the recession.
I am so grateful to each of you who have visited, emailed, and called this week to share your policy concerns. We had considerable floor debate and discussion on House Bill 4 — Unemployment Insurance Fund Program & Solvency Changes, the unemployment insurance reform bill. It was obvious to me that changes were needed in our unemployment insurance program. I am concerned about the impact of this bill on the unemployed people of our state — who are unemployed through no fault of their own. I spoke up for our rural communities on the Senate floor and offered an amendment to improve this bill by insuring unemployed workers for a longer period regardless of the state average unemployment rate, because I realize that finding a job in rural N.C. is more difficult than in the larger cities.
Unfortunately, my amendment failed as did several other amendments offered that I felt would have improved this bill. At the end of the day, I voted for the bill because I realized the need to repay the federal government $2.5 billion owed, the need to focus more on reemployment and retraining our workforce, and to do everything in our power to attract more business and industry to our district, while still providing a safety net for people. This was a difficult bill for me. Although, it will mean higher taxes on employers and a reduction in weekly payments to the unemployed, the legislation will not reduce the weekly payment amount to those who were making $36,400 or less before qualifying for unemployment. There are also features in this bill to re-employ and re-train people for work, which is our primary objective. Despite my concerns, my vote for this bill was to support a balanced approach that I felt was a necessary step toward economic recovery. Please know that I am sympathetic to those without a job and those who are struggling. I will continue to work hard to help create job opportunities for our citizens and help you gain the skills needed to re-enter the workforce. This bill having passed the Senate by a final vote of 36-12 was then sent to Governor Pat McCrory for his signature.
Please contact me at my email address, Gene.McLaurin@ncleg.net or by phone at 919-733-5953. I welcome your ideas and suggestions. If you would like to keep track of what’s going on in the N.C. House and Senate daily, please visit the NCGA website: www.ncleg.net. If you would like to be added to our email listserv, please email Katie Stanley with request at email@example.com.