Economy, energy and oversight focus of interim

First Posted: 11/27/2013

Now that the North Carolina General Assembly is out of session, I often get asked, “What are you doing now? Are you glad to be home from Raleigh?”

In my case, I have been using this time to visit all five counties in my district — Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland and Stanly counties — and listening to what is on the minds of the people I serve and represent. I have seen first-hand how our educators are working longer hours, with fewer resources and are committed to educating our students and preparing them for a global economy. I have attended and spoken at several Farm Bureau and agriculture meetings and have attended numerous Chamber of Commerce meetings. I have met with senior citizen organizations and health care professionals. I have proudly met with veterans and thanked them for their service to provide the freedom we all have as Americans.

People are understandably frustrated with what is going on in Raleigh and Washington. My goal is to be available to you, to listen to your thoughts and ideas and to help you and your family or business deal with any issue related to state government. I am convinced the solutions to problems are not in Raleigh or Washington, they are in the district among our people.

Yes, I am happy to be home with my family, as well as back to work in the district. Donna and I are very blessed in more ways than I can ever describe. On Oct. 1, the most beautiful little girl was born, our granddaughter, Laurin Grace White. She joins her 2-year-old brother, Holden as being the best grandchildren in the world.

While I continue to attend to legislative business on a daily basis, I am in Raleigh a few days a month for Interim committee meetings. President Pro-Tempore Phil Berger (R-Eden) appointed me to serve on five interim legislative oversight committees.

The Workforce Development Oversight Committee has just begun to meet to discuss ways to avoid duplication and maximize the use of taxpayer dollars when providing services for our citizens in the way of identifying job opportunities and basic skills training, and preparing the unemployed and the underemployed for market needs. Our legislative Program Evaluation Division has studied these 22 programs and recommended ways to provide the most efficient and effective use taxpayer supported programs.

The Environmental Review Commission meets monthly to update legislators and the public on the important work this agency performs protecting our land, water and air. The agency’s mission is to study ways to increase efficiency within all state programs that seek to protect the public health and environment, study the handling of hazardous waste, study the operations and efficiency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, review any changes in federal law and to continually evaluate any and all related state level programs as directed by our General Statutes.

The Joint Legislative Economic Development Oversight Committee has also met several times to hear follow up presentations from our Department of Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker and her staff. They have discussed their plans to reorganize the department and many of its economic development functions. My objective on this committee is to make sure our rural counties are not forgotten about and that we receive the assistance we need to create jobs in this area of our state.

The Joint Legislative Energy Policy Oversight Committee has heard from various members of the N.C. Mining and Energy commission — an entity created over two years ago, tasked with the development and recommendation of rules and regulations related to hydraulic fracturing for purposes of extracting natural gas in North Carolina. The law requires the commission to present the recommendations to the legislature for final approval by October 2014 although some may be presented sooner.

The Legislative Research Commission Study Committee on Health Care Provider Practice Sustainability and Training/Additional Transparency in Health Care has just been appointed, and plans to enhance health care provider recruitment, retention, and distribution in order to increase access to medical care over the long term. As more and more people have access to health care, we must make sure that we are educating enough of doctors, physician assistants, nurses, family care practitioners, anesthesiologists, dentists, dental hygienists and more. This will allow us to seek input from the medical community and plan for our future.

The Department of Health and Human Services Oversight Committee met recently to discuss the progress of N.C. Tracks, N.C. Fast and other spending issues. This agency is struggling and although I am not a member of the committee, my staff and I have heard from many county Divisions of Social Services (DSS) to discuss the delays in service and technical glitches experienced when using N.C. Tracks and N.C. Fast.

These delays are affecting the poor, DSS staff, medical providers, non-profits and more. Committee members are questioning DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and other senior staff about the software glitches experienced by doctors, hospitals, ambulance and transport service companies and other medical providers. These software glitches are presenting great financial hardships for the medical community. Also discussed were spending issues related to the hiring of young inexperienced staffers who are making over $85,000 a year, and the maintenance of the state’s Medicaid system. I have spoken out publicly about my concerns and will continue to advocate for better oversight and improved service from this department.

These are just a few highlights from my work as your state senator. Creating jobs, improving educational opportunities, helping those among us who through no fault of their own need assistance and working in partnerships with local governments and the business community to help build stronger communities — these are my priorities as we work together to recover from the difficult economic times and improve the lives of the people of our district.