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Lawmakers, commissioners meet

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State Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Friday, March 22, 2019

NASHVILLE — Nash County commissioners resumed their March meeting at a Legislative Dinner on Thursday night at the Nashville Exchange.

State Sen. RIck Horner, R-Nash, state Rep. Lisa Barnes, R-Nash, and state Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, met with Nash County commissioners and select Nash County staff members at the event. Bill Carver, president of Nash Community College and Shelton Jefferies, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools were also in attendance.

Each of the state lawmakers had a chance to present issues they are supporting in the General Assembly. Horner, a former member of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education, primarily focused on education issues. He said he is supporting a bill that would restore pay for a master’s degree to teachers in some instances and also is supporting a bill that would allow school to start in mid-August instead of at the end of the month. In addition, Horner said he is backing a bill that he feels would help solve the teacher shortage in Nash County and across the state.

“This bill would allow us to hire back retired teachers after a six-month separation to work full time in the school district. If the bill passes, retired teachers could earn their full retirement pay plus be paid $35,000 a year to work in Title 1 schools or schools with a D or F rating. If teachers teach in a STEM field or in special education, they could get $40,000 in addition to retirement pay.” Horner said.

Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools Superintendent Shelton Jefferies expressed enthusiasm for the plan.

“I will be doing a happy dance all the way back to my car,” Jefferies said.

Barnes, who resigned her post as a Nash County commissioner to begin serving her elected position as a state representative in January, said she is working to get adjusted to her new position. 

“Being a representative is much different than being a county commissioner, but I am enjoying it and learning a lot,” Barnes said. “My experience so far has been like drinking water out of a fire hose.”

Barnes said she is working on improving broadband access in the state and also is trying to change laws regarding hemp production in the state so they will more closely align with what is going on at the federal level.

Gailliard said he is having a different experience as a member of the minority party in the House of Representatives.

“My biggest surprise so far is that there seems to be more tension between the House and Senate than there is between the Republicans and the Democrats. I also didn’t realize I would be working a full-time job for $14,000 a year,” he said.

Gailliard also said expanding broadband access is near the top of his legislative priorities. 

The desire for expanded broadband aligns with one of the top legislative goals Nash County commissioners presented to the state lawmakers Thursday night. Board Chairman Robbie Davis said commissioners had been dealing with this issue for some time but seem to be making little progress.

“This issue is really impacting our economic development,” Davis said. 

Another issue that Davis said board members are passionate about is the transportation of mental health patients across the state. This event happens often in Nash County, Davis said, and places an unpredictable cost burden on the county. It also impacts deputies who have to be pulled off other assignments to transport mental health patients according to state law.

County commissioners are asking that this burden be shifted to the state rather than the county.

Other top legislative priorities requested by county commissioners include increasing legislation promoting opioid prevention initiatives, increasing support for public schools and fully reinstating lottery funding for school capital funds, extending the ‘hold harmless” provision in the new salary scale for principals and assistant principals so that those affected will not lose money under the new scale and opposing any unfunded mandates that shift state responsibilities to counties without the funds to cover them.

The meeting was recessed until March 26 when county commissioners will hold their budget retreat.

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