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Citizens receive legislative update

JACKSON – Northampton County officials and citizens got a chance to get a personal update on the latest issues from their local legislators.

On Wednesday evening, Senator Ed Jones (D-4th) and Representative Michael Wray (D-27th) participated in a forum, briefed the public on the General Assembly’s 2007 legislative session and took questions.

Among the hot topics discussed by the legislators were Medicaid relief, education, healthcare and the environment.

Medicaid

Perhaps the music to everyone’s ears during the forum was hearing about the three year phase out that will relieve counties of Medicaid costs.

“Medicaid relief, that’s a fact,” said Wray. “With permanent Medicaid relief, we freed up more than $500 million in local dollars for schools, economic development and other critical needs.”

Northampton County Department of Social Services Director Al Wentzy thanked both Jones and Wray for passing the plan.

Education

At the top of the list for education was attraction and retention of teachers.

“We strengthened out efforts to attract and retain the very best educators throughout our education system by providing a five percent salary increase for teachers as well as community college and university faculty,” said Jones.

Jones also spoke of a Senate bill that requires local boards of education to adopt written policies prohibiting the use of tobacco products by anyone in public school buildings, facilities, campuses, or any school properties.

The Senator also talked about a Senate bill that bans cell phone use by school bus drivers. The bill also makes the act a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of at least $100.

Jones said the Senate tried to expand that legislation to include banning young people from using a cell phone and driving but to no avail.

Other points of interest included:

* Smaller class sizes to help give younger students the individualized attention.

* Funded scholarships for low to moderate income students to graduate from college debt-free.

* Invested in More at Four pre-kindergarten education to prepare at-risk four-year-olds.

During questions, Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathi Gibson, questioned the legislators about a project the school district was a part of that would help attract math and science teachers with a bonus of $10,000-$15,000. Northampton County was in that project until they received $1 million from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Warren County took the place of Northampton in the project.

Dr. Gibson said the school system needs to recruit teachers in these fields in particular because of NCCAR (North Carolina Center for Automotive Research).

“It’s just an issue for you to think about,” said Dr. Gibson.

Both Jones and Wray ask Dr. Gibson to email them information about the teacher incentive project.

Jones also brought up the Hertford Pointe Apartments in Ahoskie and suggested that as a project the schools should look into.

Dr. Gibson informed Jones that was an issue the board had discussed. She reported Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews had met with the credit union to talk about the issue.

Health Care

“We provided health coverage for uninsured children and provided additional funding to expand the number of eligible children of working families,” said Wray.

Wray also talked about providing funding to make North Carolina a nationwide leader in cancer research.

“Cancer touches everybody,” he said.

Other points of interests included:

* Required group health insurance providers to cover treatments for many major illnesses at the same level they cover physical illnesses.

* Provided funds to help senior citizens gain access to more affordable prescription drugs.

Economy

Points of interest:

* The capping of the gas tax to help consumers with rising fuel costs.

* Cut taxes for small businesses owners.

* Enacted the state’s first earned income tax credit to reduce child poverty, increase effective wages and cut taxes for as many as 700,000 struggling families.

* Invested in critical economic-growth initiatives to help attract new jobs and employers and help existing businesses grow and prosper.

Environment

Points of interest:

* Permanently banned hog lagoons while ensuring the sustainability of hog farms and farmers for years to come.

* Regulations for the construction of landfills to protect natural resources.

* Invested $120 million to protect natural resources and lands for future generations.

* Enacted landmark clean energy efficiency standards to reduce the burden on foreign oil, helping to cut pollution and lower greenhouse gases.

Jones and Wray spoke about their localized efforts which benefited Northampton County including, securing funding for NCCAR and introducing a hotel/motel occupancy act.