02/13/07 — Local lawmakers receive assignments

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Local lawmakers receive assignments

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 13, 2007 1:52 PM

With more than 150 pieces of legislation already introduced in the state House, members finally got their committee assignments Monday, but, Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne County, said, they probably won't actually begin going through those bills until later this week or early next week.

"I think it'll probably be next week before we really get organized," he said.

In the meantime, he and his fellow Wayne County representatives are preparing for their assignments.

Leading the four-member delegation is Larry Bell, D-Sampson County, who also serves as one of three majority whips.

Chairing the education and the pensions and retirement committees, Bell also will be holding vice-chairmanships on the agriculture committee and the education appropriations subcommittee.

All are assignments he's excited about.

"Education is the big one," Bell said.

Among the issues he expects to see come through the 50-person committee are teacher pay increases and testing improvements. He also expects they will discuss the possibility of a bond referendum for school construction, even though that falls more under the umbrella of the finance committee.

"It's an interesting committee," he said. "If it can go through that big committee, we usually don't have a lot of trouble getting it through the House."

He said he figured he got the chairmanship based on his 36 years in education, six of them as superintendent of Sampson County Schools.

Another interesting committee for Bell will be the House Committee on Ethics, particularly as legislators and other public officials continue to work their way through the new rules this year. Possible revisions of those rules are already being discussed.

"I don't know how much revising will take place, but we'll be looking at the rules," he said.

Bell also will be joined on the education appropriations subcommittee by Pate.

"That's where most of the state's money goes, and I'm glad I'll have the opportunity to have a voice in that debate," Pate said.

He also said he's looking forward to working on the commerce, small business and entrepreneurship committee.

He explained that after spending several years on an interim committee looking at expanding the state's rail service, he feels a position on commerce will help him push for better rail connections in eastern North Carolina -- an important issue as the state's ports are improved and the need to ship cargo inland increases.

He'll be joined on that committee by freshman Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir County.

The two also will serve on one of the local government committees, along with Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin County.

All three have extensive experience in local government with Pate serving as mayor of Mount Olive for about 10 years, Braxton on the Kinston City Council for 11 years and Tucker in the Duplin County government for almost 30 years.

"Local government is what I know, so I'll be able to use my past knowledge to craft legislation to help our cities and counties," Tucker said, adding that even though this year's biggest local government issue -- new revenue streams for county governments -- won't be passing through their committee, they likely will be working to support it.

Braxton also is on a new House committee this year -- mental health reform.

"I wanted to be on mental health reform," he said. "Mental health is a real problem and I'd love to be involved in hopefully coming up with some solutions. I'm very pleased Speaker (Joe) Hackney (D-Orange County) gave that one to me."

But the one committee all four delegates are on is the House Committee on Agriculture, which both Bell and Braxton are vice-chairing.

"The economy of my area is mostly agriculture and agribusiness so I definitely wanted to be there," Tucker said.

Braxton added that while he's not sure if there's any pressing issues on the agriculture committee, he does think they'll be taking a look at how they can help preserve the state's family farms and how they can help the state continue to transition away from tobacco to alternative crops.