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North Carolina’s General Assembly has only been back in session for three full days, but things are already moving fast.

Leadership came into Raleigh with several clearly defined priorities, and have already started delivering on them.

Here are four key things that we’ve learned so far.

1) School safety measures are moving fast.

Just a week after a House study committee published its recommendations, a flurry of new bills would codify a number of those findings.

Thursday’s House calendar featured 8 newly introduced bills that touch on either physical security or student support. All of them come from influential Republicans, and most include House majority leader Rep. John Bell as a primary sponsor.

The bills take on added significance after the tragic shooting in Texas this weekend.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s on the table.

  • House Bill 933 lets North Carolina give school psychologist licenses to people who hold a national professional credential valid in 32 other states. Currently, a South Carolina school psychologist would need 70+ hours of additional training to get a license here. This is a signal that the General Assembly wants to increase funding for school psychologists and wants to be able to staff up quickly. This bill has already passed the House.
  • House Bill 932 requires school districts to set up an anonymous tip line to help identify threats. This program was already piloted in 5 counties with some success.
  • House Bill 934 directs school districts to set up threat assessment teams and figure out how they’re going to respond to students who could cause harm to their school.
  • House Bill 937 sets training standards for school resource officers.
  • House Bill 938 gets charter schools to set up risk management plans, including making sure law enforcement knows the layout of school buildings.
  • House Bill 939 will set up a framework for school districts to evaluate how safe their facilities are.
  • House Bill 940 directs school districts to report out by September 15 how many school resource officers they have and at what levels. This presumably would be used to help craft later legislation to fill in gaps.
  • House bill 941 allots $1.8 million to place school resource officers in more elementary and middle schools.

My guess is that most of what the General Assembly does on school safety will work its way into the budget adjustment legislation, but these bills provide a glimpse at some proposals in black and white.

Photo of Cary Elementary by Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr (Creative Commons)

2) North Carolina wants to compete harder for big economic development projects.

Raleigh is still in the running for Amazon’s second headquarters, and Apple is reportedly sniffing around for a big investment here as well.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore put out a joint statement saying they’ve come to an agreement on a budget provision that will sweeten the pot of what North Carolina is willing to offer companies looking to make such a big investment. Here’s the actual legislation.

This is a little complicated, but basically, it’s a minor tweak to reduce what the state considers a “transformative” project. These are currently defined as $4 billion in investment and 5,000+ jobs, and make companies eligible for some pretty lucrative cash incentives.

Today, through the state’s Jobs Development Investment Grant program, companies that bring them to the state are eligible to get 100% of their employee state personal income tax withholding for 25 years.

This new bill would lower the threshold to be transformative to $1 billion and 3,000 jobs. Plus it would extend the length of the grant to 30 years.

I’m not sure that by itself really moves the needle that much. But the most meaningful provision is also the shortest in the bill.

Right now, the state caps the amount of cash companies are eligible for at $6,500 per employee1. This new deal would end that cap, meaning that companies bringing in high-paying jobs are in line to get a lot more money from the state.

Interestingly, the bill also extends a North Carolina rule that diverts some of the money due to the company toward a fund that completes projects in rural parts of the state. For most economic incentives, at least 10% of the cash due goes to what’s called the “Utility Fund.” This wasn’t required for transformative projects, but now it would be.

This is in recognition that the state’s urban areas are the only ones truly competitive for economic development projects like this, but the whole state should benefit.

3) GenX won’t be ignored.

The General Assembly has lately been in the business of stripping Gov. Roy Cooper of power. Identical bills filed in the state House and Senate actually give Cooper more authority to take action in regards to the GenX contaminants found in eastern North Carolina.

[Longleaf story: What is GenX and how bad is it for North Carolina?]

Cape Fear River. Photo by Stuart Borrett via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The short version is that the N.C. governor is able to shut down companies that are repeat violators of pollutant discharge rules and require these companies to provide a permanent new water sources to people affected.

There’s also about $10 million in new funding to study these chemicals and test for them.

4) Republicans are going to fight back on teacher pay.

For a number of years now, the state GOP has been content to let the N.C. Association of Educators own the narrative around education funding and teacher pay. And basically, that narrative has been that Republicans are gutting public school funding and disrespecting teachers.

[Longleaf story: The impact N.C. Republicans have had on K-12 public education, explained]

After some 15,000 to 20,000 teachers marched on Raleigh this week, General Assembly leaders indicated that they’re going to start trying to counteract that narrative.

They’ve set up a website called NCTeacherRaise.com that lets teachers put in their years of service and tells them how much their pay has gone up.

I just don’t see this being effective. The education funding debate is way too emotional to be settled with facts and figures. I don’t understand why House and Senate leaders haven’t found some actual teachers to talk about the benefits they’ve seen.

Perhaps it’s telling that they haven’t found any. Or maybe they just haven’t tried.

Cover image of the General Assembly building by James Willamor via Flickr (Creative Commons


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