My Legislative Accomplishments in 2015
While Democrats and Republicans fight over some major issues in the General Assembly, we also work together on hundreds of smaller things each year. During the 2015 session, I sponsored three bills that became law. In each case, I worked with one or two Republican co-sponsors to help move these bills through the legislative process.
H607 Allow Protected Consumer Security Freezes. Can you imagine having your child’s identity stolen and their credit trashed…but not knowing it until they try to sign up for a college loan? That has happened in North Carolina. This bill would allow parents to place a credit freeze on their child’s social security number. It would allow the same protection for any adult who has a legal guardian, such as someone who is disabled or incapacitated. When new parents receive their child’s birth certificate, they will also receive notice of their ability to place a proactive security freeze on their child’s credit. Everyone can begin to use this new protection beginning on January 1.
H556 The Achieving A Better Life Expectancy (ABLE) Act. Many parents are familiar with 529 College Savings Accounts. They provide a tax-protected way to save money for your children’s college education. The ABLE Act establishes 529A accounts that parents can use to set aside money to help care for their disabled children once the have grown up. Parents of children with autism, Down Syndrome, or other lifelong limitations now have an easy way to set aside money to help their child live independently just as a brother or sister might do when they go off to college.
HB126 Mortgage Origination Support Registration. This is a pretty simple bill that sets up a process for mortgage processors and underwriters to register with the State Banking Commission without having to become mortgage brokers. The bill would bring North Carolina into compliance with existing federal laws. It includes a provision for registration fees that has a sliding scale based on the size of the business and would make the registration process self-financing. It should help keep the costs of buying and selling a home a little bit lower.
I’m very proud that two of these bills specifically help children and disabled adults. As the only social worker in the legislature, I was glad to work on bills that will directly help people whom I have served professionally.
What didn’t get done? The House passed three bills (1, 2, 3) I worked on related to supporting caregivers of aging adults, and while the Senate has not yet heard these bills they could be taken up in next year’s session. I worked with several other Democrats to introduce a bill that would put some teeth in efforts to reduce racial profiling by law enforcement, but that bill never received a hearing because of stiff opposition from conservatives and law enforcement groups. Similarly, no hearing was even granted to a bill designed to protect workers who take pregnancy leave or another that would have made it harder to have pay differences between men and women in the same workplace. House leadership killed a bill I drafted which would have allowed firearm protections for people who seek a civil restraining order. That disappointed me because I think that a simple law change in that case could prevent another harassment killing like the one of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill last year.
I drafted a handful of education bills that didn’t make it into law. Dozens of lawmakers filed bills to give their local school districts calendar flexibility, but they were all killed. The Senate buried two of my bills after the House passed them. One would have modified the Read to Achieve program, and the other would have given school districts more flexibility in their timeline for offering standardized tests. The House gave a hearing to a bill I drafted to address sexual assault on college campuses, but no vote was allowed. The House never even discussed a proposal I drafted to adjust the School Performance Grades that are now giving every school a grade of A-F.
Very few legislators are able to get all of their bills through, and it is especially hard for someone in his first term and in the minority party. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish in my first term. Many veterans have told me that some of their signature bills took several years to pass, and so those things left undone become part of what I will focus on in years to come.
This was originally published in Graig’s monthly column in the News of Orange.