08/16/09 — Local legislators say session's success was mixed

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Local legislators say session's success was mixed

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 16, 2009 2:00 AM

With the 2009 General Assembly adjourning Tuesday, local legislators left Raleigh with mixed feelings about how the session went.

It was, they said, a difficult seven months as the state's budget hardships overshadowed many of the other issues, such as annexation, that were on the Legislature's radar screen.

"Right now I don't know that I'd call it good or bad. It was a tough session," Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said.

"We tried to make the best out of a bad situation," Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, said about the state budget. "It was the worst situation I've had since I've been here -- 10 years."

Braxton said it was with great reluctance that he voted for the budget's final version.

"I was satisfied with it. I was not pleased with it. I had said I was not going to vote for a tax increase, and I voted against the first budget, but as time went on and revenues were coming in slower and slower ... I just didn't feel like (the cuts) were in the best interest of the state," he said. "Everything is a compromise. I thought we did the best we could with what we had to work with."

For Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, and Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, however, the budget was symptomatic of a failed session.

"I don't think some of the right choices were made," Sager said.

Beyond the budget, he explained, he disagreed with the passage of the Racial Justice Act, the school bullying bill and the sex education bill, just to name a few.

"They're bad bills because of the way they're written," he said.

For example, he continued, the Racial Justice Act has "more to do with making the death penalty illegal than it does racial justice," and the bullying bill should have simply made bullying illegal period, rather than singling out specific groups of people for protection.

He also said that he disagreed with the Legislature approving several economic development incentive packages, particularly in light of the current budget situation.

However, other legislators thought some good things were accomplished.

Bell said he was pleased to see the Racial Justice Act pass -- "Being an African American who grew up in the '50s, '60s and '70s, that was quite an accomplishment for me. I think we did some good things."

Braxton also said he was happy with the compromise that was reached on the state's Beach Plan -- "a good pro-active thing to do."

And, Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, also had several bills he was pleased to see approved, including one regulating how fireworks are handled and transported following the accident on Ocracoke Island that left four Wayne County residents dead and another severely injured.

"We were able to make that a safer process," he said.

His other signature piece of legislation, though, will have to wait until the short session beginning in May.

A bill to increase regulation commercial dog breeding operations, which he introduced after a puppy mill was raided and shut down in Wayne County, passed the Senate, but was held up in the House. However, Sager said he expects to be high on their agenda when they return to Raleigh.

"We're going to keep working on that," Davis said. "I've just tried to be responsive. These are challenging and difficult times for our county and state, and I've tried to listen to concerns and respond to those."

Also likely to be high on the General Assembly's agenda is annexation reform, which was approved by the House, but held up in the Senate.

"It could still be brought up, but I don't think the Senate will pass it because Tony Rand (D-Cumberland, majority leader) and Marc Basnight (D-Dare, president pro tempore) are not in favor of doing anything about it," Sager said.

However, Davis said he does expect it to come up for discussion.

In the meantime, though, several issues are scheduled to be the subject of legislative study commissions, including a bill introduced by Sager regarding drug testing for those people working in assisted living facilities.

Also to be studied is the state's tax system -- something all legislators are looking forward to seeing the results of.

"Let's see what comes out of that," Davis said.

However, the budget is likely to be the main topic of discussion again next year, Sager said -- and this time he hopes the state takes a closer look at its spending, particularly in its continuation budget.

"We need to be doing zero-based budgeting where we start from scratch every year," he said.

Unfortunately though, Rouzer said, he's not expecting any great strides.

"I was not surprised by anything that took place this session. The tax hike and band-aid approach to shoring up the budget deficit reflects the same old thinking that put us in this mess to begin with," he said. "We need to have major structural reform of our government and I hope that realization will begin to take hold during the short session next year."