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State reps and senators make New Year's resolutions
Sanford Herald - 1/10/2019
Jan. 10--Ten days into 2019, state representatives and senators are likely gearing up for the new year by meeting with their fellow representatives, organizing staff and drafting to-do lists.
Like many of their constituents, Lee County lawmakers have their own New Year's resolutions in the form of policy goals they want implemented in the new legislative session.
Republican State Rep. John Sauls, who represents Lee and Harnett counties, said one of his priorities is to raise community college teacher pay.
"I'd like to see our community college teachers get a raise," he said. "They have to get master's degrees to teach, and some of them make less than other teachers that don't require that."
According to data from the North Carolina Community College System, the average pay for community college teachers during the 2017-18 school year was $50,293. Average pay for Central Carolina Community College teachers was $48,872.
This was less than the average pay for public school teachers in the same time period, which, according to a National Education Association report, was about $50,861.
Sauls said he would also like to see master's pay for public school teachers restored. The 10 to 15 percent pay increase for public school teachers with master's degrees was removed in 2013 by a Republican-dominated General Assembly, prior to Sauls' election.
From 2014 onward, only those teachers who started their master's degrees before the law took effect received master's-level pay. Sauls said the investment makes teachers better and it's important to offer incentives to keep them teaching in N.C.
"We don't want to lose our teachers," he said.
Sauls is coming back to the House after three terms and several special sessions late last year. As the veteran Sauls returns from an abbreviated break, however, newly-elected state Republican Sen. Jim Burgin is stepping onto the floor of the General Assembly for the first time.
Though he's been meeting with executive agency leaders to talk about what they want from the legislature, Burgin said, he doesn't yet have an office.
He was sworn in as a senator Saturday by state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby.
"We had a great crowd," he said. "We prayed and laughed ... everybody had a good time."
As far as his goals for the new year, Burgin said one of the things he wants to do is build small business in rural North Carolina.
In the agriculture industry, Burgin said he wants to see more farm products developed and manufactured in Lee, Harnett and Johnston counties, rather than just grown here.
"We do sweet potatoes, but we send a lot of them out in the raw state," he said. "I want to develop more businesses and jobs where we're actually processing those things, where we're making the sweet potato fries, the sweet potato souffles, the sweet potato chips."
Burgin mentioned tax incentives as a way to attract companies like Del Monte Foods to the state, saying they have been successful in the past.
"Instead of giving them money, we just don't charge them as much on the front end because of economic development investment," he said.
As new state representatives get settled before the General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 30, much of the focus among federal representatives in the new year has been on ending the government shutdown. Though resolving the deadlock has dominated discussion, legislators have already introduced some new issues for 2019.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker said one of his goals in 2019 is to continue work on criminal justice reform. Walker co-sponsored the bill, the FIRST STEP Act, that enacted major sentencing reforms and was recently signed into law.
"The most important provisions of the law deal with lowering recidivism and giving former offenders hope and opportunity for the future," he said in an email. "It promotes prisoner participation in job training, educational coursework, and faith-based programs to help them re-enter society."
Walker said he was most proud of the bipartisan nature of the bill. During the new session, he said he's aiming to lower the cost of health care and prescription medications, and continue work on tax reform.
In the Senate, Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis announced Tuesday that before the end of the week he plans to reintroduce the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act with Democratic senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham.
The bipartisan bill would make some existing Department of Justice regulations federal law, protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller and future special counsels from being fired without good cause.
Tillis said in a statement that he doesn't believe President Donald Trump intends to remove Mueller but thinks the legislation is "good government policy."
Reach Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup at 919-718-1217.
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