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Wednesday, October 23, 2019 11:16 AM

October 23, 2019 Newsletter

Gun Legislation

As the Senior Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I have previously stated that rather than dealing with various gun Bills that are presently pending in that Committee that might offer a partial solution to gun violence, there needs to be comprehensive reform that reviews and addresses the status of our current mental health services, social and criminal justice reforms, and existing gun laws. Addressing one symptom while not addressing all of the causes will do little to advert a future tragedy.

With that in mind, I previously met with Becky Ceartas, Executive Director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, to discuss potential legislation. Our discussion included Extreme Risk Protection Orders (Red Flag Laws) in general; House Bill 86, “Gun Violence Prevention Act”; and mental health issues.

On October 14, I met with New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon; Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram, who is also President of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association; and Sheriff’s Association General Counsel Eddie Caldwell. Our discussion included Extreme Risk Protection Orders, such as House Bill 86; Senate Bill 90, “Modify Handgun Permits”, which is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee; and mental health issues.

I intend to talk to other stakeholders so that hopefully legislation that can address the various symptoms of gun violence can be drafted and considered in the 2020 Legislative Short Session.

Southeast Area Technical High School (SEA-Tech)

 
On October 18, I had the privilege of speaking to the SEA-Tech Civics Class about the North Carolina General Assembly. I discussed the legislative process, what has been going on during the 2019 Legislative Long Session, and Bills that I have sponsored. I also answered questions from those in attendance. I then recorded an interview with the Journalism Class that was subsequently shown to the student body.

I was also honored to receive a Certificate of Appreciation signed by the teachers for the work that I have done on behalf of Sea-Tech in obtaining appropriations in the Budget to assist in the construction of the school.



 

Criminal Code Recodification

North Carolina’s lack of a streamlined, comprehensive, orderly, and principled criminal code results in costly inefficiencies in our criminal justice system, opportunities for unfairness, and undermines the effectiveness of the criminal law. To resolve this, there is presently an endeavor to address the multitude of different crimes that are located throughout various chapters of the North Carolina General Statutes.

In my capacities as the Senior Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a Chair of the House Justice and Public Safety Appropriations Committee and the House member of the General Statutes Commission, I was asked by Becki Gray of the John Locke Foundation to serve as a panelist at the Criminal Law Reform Summit that took place in Cary, North Carolina on October 21. The topic of my panel was where do we go from here to successfully address the problem. I was able to give suggestions based on my past experience as both a State and Federal prosecutor, as well as my legislative positions. The panel also answered questions from those in attendance. Cataloging all of the crimes and then eliminating those that are obsolete, unnecessary, redundant, and contain definitions that are inconsistent will be a huge endeavor. But with the involvement of all of the stakeholders, this monumental task can be accomplished as expeditiously as possible.

 



Friday, August 16, 2019 4:42 PM

North Carolina's Financial Status

Thanks to reducing both the Personal Income and Corporate Income Tax rates, as well as responsible regulatory reform, under Republican leadership in the General Assembly the State of North Carolina is in solid financial shape.

North Carolina has the best business climate in the United States and tops Forbes' Best States for Business ranking for the second straight year (2017 and 2018). In 2018, North Carolina was the only state to rank among the top 12 in the categories of business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate growth prospects, and quality of life.

Site Selection Magazine is a leading publication in corporate real estate, facility planning, location analysis, and more. The Magazine helps expansion planning decision-makers make informed choices. North Carolina was recognized for the second straight year (2017 and 2018) as the #1 global best to invest in the South Atlantic Region of the United States.

Business Facilities is a national publication serving corporate site selectors and economic development professionals for more than 50 years. Its rankings help businesses make location or relocation decisions. In the publication's annual rankings report for 2019, North Carolina is the top-ranked state for economic growth potential, second in installed solar capacity, and third in biotechnology strength in business facilities.

Finally, Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) ranked North Carolina 3rd in the United States in its latest national economic standings for 2018. "No state's economy is on more solid ground than the Tar Heel state".

North Carolina’s success is evidenced by new businesses continuing to come to our State, as well as existing businesses expanding here. I am very proud to represent House District 19 and will continue to work to preserve our present financial standing and expand our economy with job opportunities not only in New Hanover County, but the rest of the State.


Friday, August 9, 2019 4:41 PM

Fort Fisher Aquarium

The North Carolina Aquariums system includes facilities at Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island, and Jennette's Pier. The most popular of these facilities and the most visited attraction in southeastern North Carolina is the aquarium at Fort Fisher, having 493,603 visitors during 2018.

Annually, the Aquarium hosts more than 25,000 North Carolina school students, reaches an additional 10,000 students through its Outreach programs with traveling classrooms, and attracts over 120,000 participants to its educational programs, camps, and field trips. It is also an important resource for youth groups such as the 4-H, scouts, YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

The Aquarium is over 40 years old, having its last capital renovation in 2002. Since that time, it has had more than 6.4 million visitors.

Plans have been made for the renovation of the facility to include repairing the leaking roof, structural upgrades, updated displays, redesigned classroom spaces, a new otter habitat, a new large feature tank to display sand tiger sharks, and other improvements.

The expansion project will cost $20 million, of which the Aquarium plans to raise $5 million through a capital campaign by the North Carolina Aquarium Society and $5 million through admission receipts. The remaining $10 million is being requested from the State. I successfully lobbied for $5 million that was included in the proposed Budget, and I plan on seeking additional State funding in the future.

I support this project because like the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, the Aquarium provides an important tourist and educational attraction. The visitors may also eat at restaurants, stay overnight at hotels, buy gas, and shop with local merchants. These expenditures and resulting sales tax revenues have a positive economic impact on our local community.


Thursday, August 8, 2019 4:40 PM

Fort Fisher State Historic Site

The Civil War battle at Fort Fisher was the largest United States naval operation until D-Day during World War II. During World War II, the site housed an airstrip and served as an anti-aircraft training facility for Camp Davis at Holly Ridge.

The Fort Fisher State Historic Site is the most visited State Historic Site in North Carolina, attracting 926,064 visitors during fiscal year 2018 and 949,920 during fiscal year 2019. Many of the visitors are civic groups; school groups; summer camp programs such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Junior ROTC; nursing homes; military groups; and families.

To accommodate the various visitors at the Historic Site, funds are needed to build a new Visitor Center to provide additional space for exhibits, a larger auditorium to handle several school groups at once, a multipurpose space for classrooms, storage facilities for archives, and rental space for additional income. Funds are also needed to expand the earthworks exhibit, upgrade its parking lot, and build a new maintenance facility.

The proposed project to do these things will cost $20 million. I had previously lobbied for and obtained an appropriation of $12.5 million. The proposed Budget has $8 million in funding that I also lobbied for, which consists of $7.5 million for the project and $.5 million for an Underwater Archaeology Branch to be located on the site to preserve the State's maritime history.

Separate and apart from State funds, the Friends of Fort Fisher nonprofit support group will be responsible for raising an additional $2 to $3 million for new exhibits, as well as more replica artillery pieces.

I support the Historic Site project because it not only preserves our local history but also provides an important tourist attraction. The visitors may eat at restaurants, stay overnight at hotels, buy gas, and shop with local merchants. These expenditures and resulting sales tax revenues have a positive economic impact on our local community.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019 4:39 PM

Pending Gun Bill Legislation

I am the Senior Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where presently 3 different Democrat and 3 different Republican gun-related Bills have been referred.

The tragic events of last week once again highlight the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the underlying causes of such events. While it is easy for some to call for more restrictions to the 2nd Amendment, that alone is not the solution. If it was, Chicago, that has the toughest gun laws in the nation, would be the safest place in America rather than one of the most dangerous cities to live in.

Rather than dealing with numerous gun Bills that might offer a partial solution, we need comprehensive reform that reviews and addresses the status of our current mental health services, social and criminal justice reforms, and existing gun laws. Addressing one symptom while not addressing all the causes of this madness will do little to advert a future tragedy.

It is time for leaders in government at the local, state and federal levels to work together for the good of all our citizens instead of pandering to their political base.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019 4:34 PM

SEA-Tech

In the fall of 2017, New Hanover County Schools opened Southeast Area Technical High School (SEA-Tech), located on the North campus of Cape Fear Community College (CFCC), as a choice-based cooperative innovative high school available to students in the Wilmington Metro region of North Carolina.

In partnership with CFCC, SEA-Tech utilizes the cooperative innovative high school model to provide an early college experience to empower students to be college- and career-ready with options to enter the workforce at an advanced level or continue into a postsecondary training institution. Students at the school can earn a traditional high school diploma while having no-cost access to career-based credentials and certifications offered by CFCC.

The master plan for the facility includes spaces to further support many programs on-site, including:

(1) A culinary arts classroom to allow students to apprentice from a trained chef.
(2) A carpentry shop to allow students to develop hands-on skills for a career in residential construction.
(3) A makerspace to allow students to develop other hands-on skills such as 3D printing, soldering, and sewing.
(4) Public safety spaces to afford students the environment to learn emergency management training skills from trained emergency professionals.
(5) Computer labs to train students in health-science medical coding, hospitality and tourism, and sports management.
(6) A coffee bar to allow students to develop skills in entrepreneurship, by fostering planning and financial management, and implementing both production- and service-oriented skills.
(7) A career center with on-site counselors to help guide students with their path to real-world employment.

In addition to offering on-site academies for their curriculum, the on-site spaces are designed to further foster career development. Operable walls and mobile furniture will allow maximum flexibility. Interactive state-of-the-art flat panel display screens will bring technology to the forefront of learning in each core class.

The SEA-Tech campus has moved to a New Hanover County Schools–owned location (formerly the Rock Church) located one-half mile from the CFCC campus. This morning, I had an opportunity to tour the renovated building, which is still a work in progress. Classes will start tomorrow, and I cannot tell you how impressed I am with this facility and what it will mean to the students that will attend.

At the request of the local Board of Education, I have pursued state funding to assist SEA-Tech in expanding and growing in order to serve the employment needs of the surrounding region. With the assistance of House Speaker Tim Moore, I was able to obtain an appropriation of $3.15 million in the proposed budget to help with the SEA-Tech expansion. I support the SEA-Tech project because its innovative curriculum, in partnership with CFCC, will support the growth and development of the Cape Fear region.


Monday, August 5, 2019 4:38 PM

Human Trafficking Bill

I am happy to announce that House Bill 198, "Human Trafficking Commission Recommendations", for which I was the lead Primary Sponsor, has passed both Chambers of the General Assembly and has been signed by the Governor.

This legislation was needed to reduce the demand fueling human trafficking and to expand the avenues of post-conviction and civil relief available to victims. Among other things, the Bill authorizes a court to expunge certain nonviolent offense convictions for an adult victim of human trafficking if the offenses were committed due to either coercion or deception by a trafficker. The Bill also allows for the expunction of records alleging or adjudicating delinquency if a juvenile has been a victim of human trafficking.

I have been, and will continue to be, a strong advocate against this terrible act that has devastating consequences on those who have been victimized and forced to engage in such unlawful sexual conduct.


Thursday, June 27, 2019 4:34 PM

Local Budget Appropriations

The Budget for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 Fiscal Years has been passed by both the House and the Senate, and has been sent to the Governor.

I am happy to report that I was successful in lobbying for the following funding:

1. The Fort Fisher State Historic Site will receive $7.5 million in non-recurring funds toward construction of the new Visitor's Center and parking area. The total cost of the project is $20 million, of which I had been able to get previous appropriations of $12.5 million. The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will also receive $.5 million in non-recurring funds toward facilities for an Underwater Archaeology Branch to be located on the grounds of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. The total appropriation was $8 million.

2. The Fort Fisher Aquarium will receive $5 million in non-recurring funds for its proposed renovation and expansion project. I had previously requested $10 million, so I will continue to obtain the additional $5 million during future budget discussions.

3. The City of Wilmington previously initiated a Quick Response Team Pilot Project to treat opiate overdose victims who are in need of follow-up treatment, counseling, support, and other recovery services. The cost of the Project is $250,000 per fiscal year. I was previously able to obtain the necessary funding for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 fiscal years. There will now be an appropriation of $250,000 for the fiscal year 2020-2021 to allow the Project to expand to three years.

4. I had previously been successful in lobbying for $2.3 million non-recurring funds for the State Search and Rescue. They will now receive they will now receive $1 million in recurring funds and $1 million in non-recurring funds for the 2019-2020 fiscal year and $1 million in recurring funds for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The recurring funding is very important because it will continue in future budgets, unless changed by the General Assembly.

5. The Film Grant Program will continue to receive $31 million recurring funds with no sunset during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 fiscal years.

6. I had previously requested $8 million in funding for the construction of the SEA-Tech Vocational High School. When reviewing the breakdown of that cost, it was determined that $3.15 million was actually for construction. There will be an appropriation of $3.15 million to be applied to the actual construction cost of this Vocational High School.

It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve on behalf of House District 19. Since my appointment and subsequent elections, I have worked very diligently on behalf of those that I represent in my House District, as well as the rest of New Hanover County in the State of North Carolina, and I will continue to do so as long as I am in Raleigh.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019 4:33 PM

Bills Introduced This Session

The following is the status of some of the legislation that I have introduced during the 2019-2020 Legislative Long Session of the General Assembly. I will continue to keep you posted.

HB 32 - Collaborative Law

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill was recommended by the General Statutes Commission (GSC), of which I am a member. Collaborative Law is a voluntary alternative dispute resolution process in which parties make a good faith effort to resolve their dispute without the intervention of a court or tribunal. Like mediation, both sides are represented by an attorney; but unlike mediation, there is no third-party mediator. It adds an additional option to the dispute resolution procedures recognized in this state. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 33 - Adjust GSC Membership

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill changes the present statute to conform to the membership of the General Statutes Commission being reduced from 14 to 13 members; establishes the effective date of the 2-year terms of the members; and addresses the appointment procedure to fill an unexpired term due to a vacancy. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 44 - Fort Fisher Historic Site Funds

I am the sole primary sponsor. There are plans for improvements to this historic site, which will include a new visitors center; parking lot; and maintenance facility. I had successfully lobbied for previous appropriations of $400,000 for architectural plans as well as $12.5 million toward the $20 million cost of the project. This Bill requests the final $7.5 million for the project, as well as $500,000 for an Underwater Archaeological Branch to be located on the grounds of the site. The $8 million was included in the House Budget.

HB 51 - Official Azalea Festival

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill adopts and designates the North Carolina Azalea Festival held annually in Wilmington as the Official Azalea Festival in the State. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 52 - Wrightsville Beach Local Act Amendment

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill assists the Town of Wrightsville Beach in the construction of improvements in the area at the end of East Salisbury Street and adjacent to Johnnie Mercer's Pier. These improvements will include the use of the land as a public square or park (gazebos, boardwalks, public restrooms, outdoor showers and foot rinse facilities), as well as public beach access. All improvements will be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 89 - SEA-Tech CIHS Funds

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill requests an appropriation of $8 million to assist in the completion of a new vocational high school. Since this project involves state funds being used for an educational building that will be owned by the New Hanover County School System, funding will need to be obtained from a source or sources outside of the Budget. Hopefully, this will be accomplished by the end of the 2020-2021 Short Session.

HB 125 - GSC Revised Uniform Athlete Agents Act

I am the lead primary sponsor. This Bill expands and enhances existing protections for student athletes and educational institutions from the harm that can result from the predatory practices of some athlete agents who are drawn to the large amount of money at stake and deceive student athletes into entering into agency contracts with very unfavorable terms. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 159 - State Search and Rescue Funding

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill requested $2.3 million to purchase equipment, maintain equipment, and provide other items necessary to ensure statewide search and rescue services. The $2.3 million was included in the House Budget.

HB 198 - Human Trafficking Commission Recommendations

I am the lead primary sponsor. This bill provides additional needed legislative action to both reduce the demand fueling human trafficking and to expand the avenues of post-conviction and civil relief available to both adult and juvenile victims. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 225 (SB 127) - Protect Government Accountability

I am a primary sponsor of HB 225. SB 127, which is an identical Bill, was also introduced in the Senate, passed, and is presently in the House Rules Committee. Since that Senate bill crossed over to the House first, the House will address that Bill rather than HB 225. I will be supporting SB 127 when it comes up for consideration on the House floor.

HB 264 - GSC Technical Corrections 2019

I am the sole primary sponsor. This Bill makes various technical corrections to the General Statutes, as recommended by the General Statutes Commission. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 321 - Pilot Project to Treat Opioid Overdose

I am the sole primary sponsor. I had successfully lobbied for previous appropriations of $250,000 during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 fiscal years to fund this Project. This Bill requests an additional appropriation of $250,000 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Hopefully, after the project has established a successful three-year track record, that pilot project can be turned into a permanent program with recurring annual funding. The $250,000 was included in the House Budget.

HB 323 - Assess Costs of Local LEO Crime Lab Analysis

I am a primary sponsor. This Bill provides that the specific costs of a particular drug test will be paid by the offender and those funds will be committed to the general fund of the local government unit that either operates the laboratory or paid for the laboratory services. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 380 - Aerial Adventure Courses/Sanders' Law

I am the lead primary sponsor. Under the direction of the Department of Labor, this Bill governs the design, construction, installations, plans reviews, testing, inspection, certification, operation, use, maintenance, altercation, and relocation of aerial adventure courses (which includes zip lines) in this State. Currently, aerial adventure courses are not regulated by statute. The Bill passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

HB 461 - Funds for Fort Fisher Aquarium

I am the lead primary sponsor. There are plans for renovations to this particular aquarium, which include structural upgrades, updated displays, redesigned classroom space, a new otter habitat, a new large feature aquarium to display sand tiger sharks, and other improvements. The total cost for the project is $20 million, which consists of $5 million to be raised by the North Carolina Aquarium Society and $5 million through admission receipts. This Bill requests an appropriation of $10 million for the remaining balance of the project cost. The requested funding was not included in the House Budget, but I am presently working with the Senate to have the appropriation included in their budget.

HB 633 - Strengthen Criminal Gang Laws

I am the lead primary sponsor. This Bill revises both the current Criminal Gang Nuisance Act and the Criminal Gang Suppression Act, increases penalties for the use of a firearm in a criminal gang activity or a felony, and increases the penalty for possession of a firearm by a felon.


Friday, May 3, 2019 4:31 PM

House Budget

Today, the House passed HB 966, which is the recommended Budget for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 fiscal years. The Budget will now go to the Senate for consideration.

I was very proud to have been able to successfully lobby for the following funding to be included:

1. Kept the $31,000,000 for the Film Grant for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

2. Pursuant to HB 44 that I had filed, $8,000,000 for the Fort Fisher Historical Site Visitor Center. Including previous appropriations that I had successfully lobbied for, this brings the total State funding to $20,900,000 for this project.

3. Pursuant to HB 159 that I had filed, $2,500,000 for the State Search and Rescue Program.

4. Pursuant to HB 321 that I had filed, $250,000 for a third year of the Wilmington Opioid Pilot Project for a Quick Response Team.

5. As part of the Justice and Public Safety budget recommendations, an additional Assistant District Attorney position for the New Hanover/Pender County Prosecutorial Distirct 6.

6. Also as part of the Justice and Public Safety budget recommendations, an increase in funds to the Indigent Defense Services for an increase in the hourly rate for Court appointed lawyers.

Separate and apart from the above:

1. Pursuant to HB 461 that I had filed, the $10,000,000 appropriation that I had requested for the Fort Fisher Aquarium will hopefully be addressed later in the budget process.

2. Pursuant to HB 89 that I had filed, the $8,000,000 appropriation that I had requested for the SEA-Tech Vocational High School will hopefully be addressed with funds to be acquired outside this budget process.


Thursday, January 31, 2019 4:30 PM

January 31, 2019 Newsletter

The 2019 Long Session has begun.

I have been assigned Seat #15 in the House Chamber. This is an advancement from my previous Seat #27.

The Speaker of the House has appointed me to the following committees:

Judiciary, Senior Chair
Appropriations
Appropriations – Justice and Public Safety, Chair
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, Chair
Education – Universities, Vice-Chair
Elections and Ethics Law
Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House
General Statutes Commission
Legislative Research Commission
Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee
Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee

I appreciate the confidence that the Speaker has shown in appointing me to these various Committees and Commissions, and I look forward to working for the benefit of House District 19, as well as the rest of North Carolina.


Monday, January 28, 2019 4:18 PM

Getting Ready for the 2019 Legislative Long Session

The 2019 Legislative Long Session will begin on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. In preparation for this Session:

On January 3, I met with Wilmington Fire Department Chief Buddy Martinette and New Hanover County Fire Services Chief Donnie Hall to discuss the possibility of recurring funds for the State Search and Rescue Services.

On Tuesday, January 8, I attended a legislative breakfast with the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to discuss the County's legislative and budget priorities, which included the quality of our drinking water; supporting the film industry; developing a dedicated funding source for beach nourishment; and increased funding for transportation needs.

I am a member of the General Statutes Commission, which had previously discussed legislation dealing with athlete agents. On Thursday, January 10, I attended a meeting of the Commission on Fair Treatment of College Athletes in Raleigh and discussed a proposed Revised Uniform Athlete Agents Act.

On Friday, January 11, I attended a meeting of the General Statutes Commission in Raleigh and discussed the proposed Revised Uniform Athlete Agents Act. The Commission approved my moving forward to introduce a Bill pertaining to this Act during the 2019 Legislative Session.

On Wednesday, January 16, I met with members of the Carolina Beach Town Council to discuss issues concerning Freeman Park.

Also on January 16, I attended the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce Strategic Planning Workshop and discussed legislative issues affecting Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, which included beach nourishment and shallow-inlet dredging.

On Thursday, January 17, I attended the New Hanover County Schools Legislative Luncheon, where we discussed legislative and budget priorities, which included employee salary increases; continued funding for school safety initiatives; local calendar flexibility; and sales tax exemption.

On Friday, January 18, I met with members of the Carolina Beach Inlet Association and New Hanover County to discuss various issues dealing with shallow-inlet dredging.

On Thursday, January 24, I met with elected officials and representatives from New Hanover, Pender, Onslow, Duplin and Brunswick Counties in Burgaw to discuss Hurricane Florence issues, which included transportation; housing; private sector impacts/industry recruitment; and schools. I look forward to follow-up meetings with this group in order to develop solutions to successfully prepare for hurricanes and major storms in the future.

On Friday, January 25, I attended a New Hanover Regional Medical Center Legislative Briefing, which included discussions about various potential legislation that could affect the hospital; the increased cost of providing medical care; and Medicaid expansion.

In addition to the above, I look forward to future meetings to discuss legislative issues with the City of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Beach Communities Breakfast hosted by Wrightsville Beach.


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