02/15/09 — State reps to focus on agriculture, education and military issues

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State reps to focus on agriculture, education and military issues

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 15, 2009 2:00 AM

A week after the state Senate announced its committee assignments, the House has done the same, and all of Wayne County representatives are pleased with where they ended up.

Leading the list is Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, the senior delegate representing Wayne County, who is once again chairman of the Education committee and vice chairman of the Agriculture, Pensions and Retirement committees, as well as the education appropriations subcommittee.

And with the budget dominating this year's session, he said his biggest goal will be to "try to make sure we don't make any major cuts in education," which currently receives approximately $11 billion of the state's $21 billion budget.

In particular, he said, school systems that receive low-wealth funding, like Wayne, have been asking that those revenue streams remain intact.

"Many of them depend on it wholeheartedly," he said.

Other issues expected to be heard in the education committees include expansion of the state's charter school cap and the need to define the job duties of state Superintendent June Atkinson.

But, he explained, as chairman, he has a fair amount of leeway to direct the committee's work -- deciding whether a controversial bill is worth the fight and making sure that most bills arrive on legislators' desks with fiscal notes attached.

"Usually we look at the bills and direct them to the subcommittee under which it falls. That gives you pretty good control to set the agenda," he said.

He and Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, also will have the ability this year to help set the agenda on the House Agriculture committee where both are vice chairmen, largely because of the heavy emphasis on agriculture in both their districts.

"I think right now what we need to do is help farmers by not overloading them with state regulations while they're struggling to make a profit," Braxton said.

It's the same philosophy he plans to take to the Commerce, Small Business and Entrepreneurship committee as well.

Another committee that Braxton is hoping to make a difference on is Mental Health Reform.

"There's a real need for legislators to get involved in these issues and try to sort them out, and I have a lot of these facilities in my district," he said. "I want to make sure the tax dollars and the Medicaid dollars that we allot to these community support programs and state hospitals are spent wisely and that they're accountable."

Braxton also will be on the Local Government II committee as chairman.

"The reason there's two committees is because there are so many local bills," he explained. "These are bills that are local government issues for specific counties and cities. These are not state issues."

And finally, while the county's freshman delegate, Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, didn't get any leadership positions, he did end up on three of the committees he wanted -- Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs, Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform, and Aging.

"I'm very pleased," he said. "The other one I would have liked to have been on was Agriculture, but we've got plenty of representation."

He also expects to be busy enough in the ones he got.

He's already signed on as a primary co-sponsor to two military related bills, including one to allow active duty personnel to hunt or fish without a license while on leave of 30 days or less, and one to give reservists 30 days after being released from active duty to renew expired drivers' licenses.

"We're just trying to show we're military friendly," he said.

He's also looking at legislation for the election committee, including a bill to extend legislative terms to four years and a possible bill to require photo identification at the polls.

"I'm hoping to convince people we need photo identification," he said. "It's an issue that's been quite controversial for several years, but every board of election I've talked to thinks it needs to be passed."

Still, he said, at the end of the day everything's going to come down to money -- one reason he's also pleased to be on the Appropriations committee.

"The one thing I've learned is that we're all struggling for answers," he said. "We've got some tough decisions to make, and not all of them are going to please all the people."

Bell's committees:

*Agriculture -- vice chairman

*Alcoholic Beverage Control


*Appropriations Subcommittee on Education -- vice chairman

*Education -- chairman


*Pensions and Retirement -- vice chairman

*Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House

*University Board of Gov-ernors Nominating

Braxton's committees:

*Agriculture -- vice chairman

*Commerce, Small Business and Entrepreneurship


*Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs

*Local Government II -- chairman

*Mental Health Reform


Sager's committees:



*Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources

*Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform

*Energy and Energy Efficiency

*Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs

*State Government/State Personnel