Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A note from Sen. Ellie Kinnaird

Dear Friends,              

Two big pieces of news this week: the bills Gov. Perdue has vetoed and the release of the Congressional maps.  I’ll go through the vetoed bills in next week’s newsletter.

The pertinent story on the Congressional maps for Orange and Person counties are the changes to their districts.  What is startling about David Price’s 4th District is that no longer is it tied to a common “community of interest” of the Triangle, which is one of the criteria in drawing the lines, but reaches from Hillsborough in Orange County to Fayetteville in Cumberland County!  I’m not sure those military folks feel a common tie to the peaceniks in Orange County.  

Representative Miller’s district encompassing Person County is about the same as his present district, with the addition of some strongly Republican precincts in Wake County.  David won’t have any trouble being elected since his district is packed with Democrats, but Brad will have a hard time with the new precincts.  Talk about gerrymandering.  The districts look like a scoop of the weirdest looking sea creatures ever seen pasted on a map ofNorth Carolina.  The map is available online for those who want to see it.          

State legislative districts are drawn entirely differently because the Republicans 10 years ago objected to the Democrats' map using the same tactics and went to court.  What resulted is that counties must be kept whole and be contiguous.  Were that so in the Congressional districts.

Now for more wrap up of bills passed.                         

As a result of the Study bill, some good issues will be thoroughly looked at.  The Department of Commerce in conjunction with the NC Utilities Commission and the NC Solar Center—that was the program that was cut out of the House budget and fortunately restored in the Senate budget—will study the recruitment of offshore wind turbine and solar manufacturers.  This will encourage job creation and recruitment of industries to North Carolina that are thriving in Europe and China.  We need to develop that industry here.

What seemed like a good idea turned into one of controversy.  One of our Democratic Senators along with several House members sponsored a bill called the Founding Principles Act to require the teachings of the founders of our country.  It would explain the structure of government, the separation of powers with checks and balances, equal justice under the law, due process, individual rights as set forth in the Bill of Rights, among other subjects.  But it had a few stumbling blocks, which we thought we had removed.  But in the end there was a hue and cry that this was a subterfuge by the far right to inject the teaching of religion and the exalting of private property into the high school curriculum. (A passing grade is required in the course.)  There is also concern that it will replace existing courses that are broader in scope.

Parking when visiting a museum or the capital will cost more.  Currently it so $ per hour but will double to $2.  (When is a tax not a tax—well about $100 million of these fees in the budget?)  That might be a burden on a family, but luckily, the museums are still free.

Former incarcerated people can now earn a certificate that will allow them to obtain a professional license to get employment.  Finding a decent job when a person has a conviction is very difficult and leads to the revolving door to prison where housing a prisoner costs $27,000 a year.  Steady employment is critical in determining whether a person will commit another crime or become a productive member of society.  Without that help, most come back to prison within three years. This will change current law that anyone convicted of a felony is prohibited from obtaining licenses for about 700 occupations.  Law enforcement, faith and non-profit groups supported the bill. 

North Carolina has allowed countless special message license plates.  This year, the controversy grew over two issues: the color and pictures of background of the plates people are so fond of and adding a Choose Life plate.   Because there are such a large variety of plates, law enforcement can’t always tell the are North Carolina plates.  They would like a single, uniform, instantly recognizable plate. I contend that people who buy such plates aren’t likely to be criminals.   (I ran a plate for libraries some years ago, but they didn’t sell the required 300.  All you library lovers help us out.)    

The other controversy was over the Choose Life plate. I spoke against it because no plate has ever carried a political or controversial message. Those of us opposed to the plate offered an amendment that would have said Respect Choice, but it failed to pass.   I voted against the bill that passed easily with but one Republican dissent, and the Governor signed it into law.

Another controversial bill, even within our Democratic Caucus, was the E-verify bill. This bill requires employers to use a federal system called E-Verify to confirm that the people they hire are in the country legally.  There are two large exemptions: it only applies to employers of 25 workers or more.  That might exempt landscapers, janitor services, even some small restaurants. Contractors could also hire sub-contractors with fewer than 25 people as a subterfuge. The other exemption is for agricultural employers who hire workers for only up to 90 days.  

There are those who feel that employers take advantage of workers they know are here illegally, and underpay (or sometimes don’t even pay them), thus driving down wages for legal workers.  An African-American construction worker told me he would often approach an employer to ask for work, only to be told they weren’t hiring, but the next day he would see several Hispanic workers there. 

On the other side, when illegal workers are deported because of this program, it breaks up families.  Large companies already use E-verify so the loop-holes mean that not much will change.  Finally, the system is not always accurate, leading to some who are here legally being wrongly tagged as illegals. 

Since Congress isn’t likely to pass meaningful immigration legislation, I think one of the best solutions is to pass the Dream Act.  This would allow children who were brought here by their parents at a young age and have graduated from high school to either attend college or go into the military and obtain citizenship.  I have urged our two U.S. Senators to pass this bill.  Sen. Hagan was one of the deciding votes that killed it last time around, but some say she is softening.

As we enjoyed this weekend commemorating the founding of our country, please remember that, within the last two weeks, 27 of our military in Afghanistan and Iraq have died.


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