(April 19) It’s been a busy week in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Among the highlights:
Boosting North Carolina businesses
This week, the House continued its efforts to jumpstart the economy by passing two bills that will increase economic activity in the state. House Bill 449 cuts through the red tape that prevents many North Carolina furniture companies from being permitted to bid on state government furniture contracts. Under this measure, furniture companies that reside and pay taxes in North Carolina would be given preference in state bidding — and would be more accessible to state agencies that want to purchase their furniture.
Under the bill, the companies and their products must go through the federal General Service Administration vetting process for quality, price, employment and environmental practices. Many North Carolina furniture companies — whose products are made here — are able to sell to the federal government (and to other states) but were previously shut-out of selling to the state of North Carolina. This legislation will fix that.
Protecting taxpayers in bond referenda
Also passed this week was House Bill 248, the Taxpayer Debt Information Act. It ensures that voters understand the true cost of a bond when it appears for voter approval on a local ballot by requiring both a total estimate of the principle and the anticipated interest that the new debt would incur. Sponsors of the bill say that the taxpayer has the right to be fully informed when voting on a bond request.
Working to Improve teacher life
Improving education in North Carolina continues to be a priority in the state House in Raleigh, as legislators voted this week to pass the Education Improvement Act of 2013 (HB719). The measure addresses teacher tenure and outlines the system for creating annual “report cards” for each school system. It also directs the State Board of Education to revamp their standards for teacher education programs, and requires professional development courses for teacher license renewal.
The act creates a probationary system that would keep tenured teachers in their current status — unless they had two consecutive years of bad reviews, at which point they’d be placed on probation; teachers on probation could be removed without recourse. The bill also creates a study commission of teachers, parents, administrators and policy makers that would review the entire education system, including employment issues (such as merit pay), and student success as it relates to new teaching methods. The study commission will be expected to deliver a proposal back to the General Assembly.
Also passing the North Carolina House this week was a measure that would cut down on the amount of administrative paperwork that teachers say interferes with their teaching time. House Bill 588, Public School Report/Flexibility, allows schools to propose eliminating redundant reporting procedures in their existing annual School Improvement Plan. Sponsors say that individual schools know best which reporting paperwork is unnecessary, and they should be given the opportunity to streamline their out-of-classroom work in order to spend more time with students. School superintendents would have to approve elimination of any reporting systems, to ensure that school progress is still appropriately monitored.
Closing sex-offender legal loopholes
Also this week, the General Assembly sent a bill protecting minors from human sex-trafficking crimes to Governor McCrory. The bill, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, would require offenders convicted in any human-trafficking of minors to register as a sex offender. Law enforcement groups actively support the bill, saying it is very difficult to prove that suspects are trafficking minors for the purpose of sexual servitude, even if the intent is clear.
Another bill that strengthens the sex offender registration system also passed the House this week. House Bill 333 allows counties to find an offender who registers in one county but takes up residency in another. In these cases, it has proven difficult for law enforcement officials to establish jurisdiction in apprehending the offender; this measure would clearly give authority to the county where the offender registered upon release.