Legislative update from Rep. Bert JonesPosted: March 4, 2011
It has continued to be a very busy time in the General Assembly. We face some huge tasks and a bold agenda to address our huge budget shortfall, stimulate job creation, and protect citizens’ rights in many areas. Here is a brief summary of some of the things I have been doing.
I am thrilled to report to you that I have been appointed to serve on the very important Redistricting Committee. This is a major task that must be carried out this year, as we will work to establish fair and legal districts for Congress, the State House, and the State Senate.
The Speaker has also appointed me to serve on the selection committee for the UNC Board of Governors. These people have a critical role in the oversight of our state university system, and I feel honored to be entrusted with this important responsibility.
One of my many committee assignments is the Health and Human Services Appropriations committee. We meet every morning to study this $4 billion portion of the state budget which overall exceeds $20 billion. Much of the HHS budget is spent in Medicaid, which we are working to try to streamline. It also includes public health, which is important both to relieve human suffering and to save money through prevention of more costly emergency room/hospital visits. Our challenge in making necessary reductions to the overall budget is the proverbial “not throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The “Human Services” portion of the budget contains several programs, such as the Smart Start and More at Four early childhood programs with which you are likely familiar. I anticipate that there will be consolidation of many programs, and in some cases elimination as efforts are made to avoid duplication and perhaps reduce the role of government in some areas that we simply cannot afford to subsidize. Needless to say, this is controversial and such efforts have strong opposition by some. Many government programs are now viewed as entitlements that some people feel they cannot do without. The breakdown of the family structure in our society (along with the idea of nongovernmental support) seems to permeate much of government spending in many instances.
I have cosponsored and voted for bills that promote fiscal responsibility in government, job creation in the private sector, better quality education, fairer elections, and citizen rights. Other such bills have begun in the Senate, and I will work for their passage when they come over to the House side. House Speaker Tillis and the Senate President Pro-Tem (our own Phil Berger from Rockingham County) have coordinated an excellent effort as some of the main agenda bills are being introduced in each chamber. Here are just a few of the bills I have referred to… there are too many to list them all.
The Balanced Budget Act, which addressed savings in the current budget. This sensible bill had widespread support, including from the State Employees Assn. of NC (SEANC) and the great majority of citizens polled. It was unfortunately vetoed by the governor, but we are still hopeful that most of the needed savings addressed by this bill can still be realized – perhaps through other piecemeal legislation.
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which if enacted earlier could have saved tens of billions of dollars, protected dedicated funds, lowered taxes, and kept us from accumulating so much debt. This would limit the rise of annual government spending and tie it to inflation and population increases. It would avoid the dramatic rise of excessive spending such as our state has experienced in the past twenty years.
The Healthcare Freedom Act, which will allow NC to join the majority of states trying to protect their citizens from the mandates of “Obamacare” that some courts have declared to be unconstitutional. It is projected that the effect of this federal act on businesses and jobs will be further devastating when ‘real unemployment’ (including those no longer looking for work) is already estimated at 20% or more.
The Castle Doctrine, and other bills that enhance the rights of law-abiding gun owners and protects our Second Amendment rights. Strong anti-gun laws punish law-abiding citizens, not the lawbreakers. A person that will break the law to commit murder will have no problem breaking the law to carry a concealed weapon. The Second Amendment was not passed for sportsmen. It was passed to allow citizens to protect themselves from those that would do them harm.
I have voted for several bills against forced annexation efforts that 48 states would not allow. I hope a moratorium on all forced annexation is passed soon, and then it is outlawed permanently. Citizens should have the right to vote whether they want to be annexed in North Carolina, as is done elsewhere. Others such as the League of Municipalities support forced annexation by claiming a right and need for cities to grow. I prefer for the citizens to decide.
I worked closely with my good friend Rep. Bryan Holloway (who also represents a portion of Rockingham County) to eliminate unnecessary EOG testing. This bill was supported by teachers, adminstrators, parents, and students (virtually everyone except the State Board of Education that adminsters the tests!) I also support lifting the cap on charter schools, as 20,000 students are currently on waiting lists. Obviously, this is an option that parents want. There is staunch opposition from those that believe this will negatively affect the current system of public education that has over 90% of the students. But, supporters believe that more choice and competition will improve the quality of education, and will also improve the plight of good teachers as there is more competition for their services. This can be an emotional and controversial issue, and there is an intense organizational effort in play to say the least.
I serve as vice-chairman on the Elections Committee. We will seek to pass a voter ID requirement this session. I have also personally been working to craft legislation to make elections fairer, simpler, and clearer… partly by repealing past attempts by some to manipulate the ballot to their liking. One bill would restore partisan judicial elections. Voters want to know the party of these statewide judges that they know very little about. Another bill would eliminate the straight-party ticket device (NC has the most confusing method in the nation for this), and rotate the order of names on the ballot (not always listing the same candidate or party first… which has been proven to be an advantage).
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act protects life and recognizes the crime committed against a preborn child when he is murdered along with his mother.
“Laura’s Law” (named for a child victim) would increase the penalties for repeat DWI offenders, and seek to protect law-abiding citizens on our highways.
We are also working on important tort reform legislation such as other states have done, to reduce frivolous lawsuits and reduce the huge amount of defensive medicine that is driving up the cost of healthcare.
I could report more (but time is short and I am committed to writing these myself). Our regular updates will continue. We also have a Townhall Meeting scheduled on Saturday, April 2 at 10:00 am at the Wentworth Town Hall on NC 65. Please come out if you can.
It is an honor and privilege to serve as your representative, and thank you for reminding me often of your prayers and encouragement. Please do not hesitate to contact me (information below) anytime you may need my assistance. I receive hundreds of messages a day from all over (sometimes from organizational efforts), but I am always happy to receive personally written messages from my constituents and our office attempts to respond to every one.