Session to eye teacher pay hikes – daily advance bp gas prices chicago

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The General Assembly will reconvene primarily to tweak the state budget, but will also take up various legislative priorities. Lawmakers’ aim is to have the “short” session live up to its name; the hope is they’ll be finished by mid-July, if not earlier.

In their adjustment of the final months of the state’s biennial budget, lawmakers will have a $357 million budget surplus to work with. The House and Senate have already agreed the new state budget will total $23.9 billion, according to a joint statement last week by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

Smith said the investment is greatly needed; legislative research recently found 58 school districts need to build new schools in the next three years. She also noted some school districts will need expanded facilities to meet a legislative mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3.

Smith also said lawmakers need to support the expansion of rural broadband to close the “digital divide” between children who live in urban areas and those who live in rural areas. She also wants more funding for teacher assistants, she said. The state has eliminated thousands of teacher assistant positions in recent years, but they’re needed, especially in K-3 classrooms, she said.

Smith also said she wants to work on ways to promote small businesses, including through grants, and strongly supports additional funding for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality so it can expand water quality testing throughout eastern North Carolina. The issue has taken on new urgency following reports last year of widespread GenX and “emerging contaminants” pollution in eastern North Carolina’s waters.

Smith said she also hopes lawmakers will take strides toward non-partisan redistricting. Because the state has spent millions of dollars on unsuccessful litigation to defend partisan legislative districts, she believes legislative leaders should support an independent redistricting commission. She hopes public engagement will push that reform forward.

Steinburg also said he’s concerned about under-staffing at rural clerk of court offices. Based on speaking with local clerks of court, he said their staffing is so minimal their workload is disproportionate compared to that of urban clerks’, even with smaller caseloads. That problem may not get solved until next year’s long session, however, he said.

Steinburg said enhancing school safety is also a high priority for him. The issue has weighed on state and local officials since a deadly school shooting in Florida earlier this year. Steinburg stopped short of supporting Cooper’s school safety proposals, but said all ideas should be considered.

Steinburg also supports more funding for school construction. Camden County needs $30 million for a new school and other school districts are facing expensive needs, he noted. He said he needs to further study proposals on school bond referendums, however.

Steinburg also said he expects the short session to adjourn before July 4, adding it’s unlikely either party will propose controversial, time-consuming legislation. Many lawmakers want to get back to their districts to campaign for re-election, he noted.

State Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, said in an email Friday he expects “our top issues will be teacher and state employee pay raises.” Another priority for him will be broadband access to “underserved, rural, Tier 1 counties,” he said. Tier 1 is a state designation for economically struggling counties; better-off counties are either Tier 2 or Tier 3.