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School calendar flexibility, gun rights among items on local legislators’ radar when session starts

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — When the N.C. General Assembly cranks up later this month, there’s at least one item that most of Rowan County’s legislators hope to accomplish — school calendar flexibility.

Officially, the General Assembly’s session started last week, but it was mostly ceremonial. On Jan. 25, legislators will head back to Raleigh to start the 2017 long session. In interviews with the Salisbury Post about the upcoming session, three of Rowan County’s four legislators said they either planned to introduce or support legislation to give local school systems the ability to set their own starting and ending dates.

Other items that legislators plan to introduce this year include: legislation to address the opioid epidemic and allowing firefighters and other first responders to carry a concealed gun.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34, was the only legislator for Rowan County who didn’t want to discuss specific, new pieces of legislation he planned to introduce. Brock said he would be involved in crafting this year’s farm bill and a regulatory reform measure.

“We’ve got some major pieces of legislation, but we’re not ready to unveil them yet,” Brock said. “Tell your readers to stay tuned and pick up future copies of the paper.”

School calendar flexibility

Because of the departure of a member of the state senate — former Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville —  Rowan County’s legislators expressed confidence that school calendar flexibility might be passed into law. After seven terms, Apodaca resigned last year after saying he wouldn’t seek reelection. Multiple legislators for Rowan County said Apodaca blocked school calendar legislation from receiving serious consideration.

“I think we may see more support for it now than in the past,” Warren said about school calendar flexibility.

Ford says he’ll introduce a school calendar flexibility bill specific to Rowan County and Cabarrus County.

Sen. Tom McInnis, R-25, said he’ll push for calendar flexibility for school districts in his area, too.

“I’m hoping that’s going to have some traction because the main person who was against that for the longest time is no longer in the legislature,” McInnis said.

More so than a general bill about calendar flexibility, Warren said he plans to introduce a measure that will use a limited number of counties in a pilot program. The program would last for five years, Warren said.

He said the pilot program would allow state officials to determine how students and the economy are affected by allowing individual districts to set their own calendar. He plans to include Rowan County in the pilot program.

Calendar flexibility has seen opposition because of a perceived impact that the change might have on the state’s tourism economy.

Opioid epidemic

After injuring his arm last year, McInnis said he was inspired to introduce a bill related to the nationwide opioid epidemic. He was prescribed 60 oxycodone pills after having surgery on his arm. It was significantly more than he needed, he said.

If he had taken all of the pills, McInnis said he would have been addicted to the oxycodone pills.

“It seems that opiates are creating the epidemic of choice right now and it’s got to be turned around,” he said.

McInnis said he’s not sure about the exact details of the legislation. In a previous interview, McInnis said he wants to limit the number of pills people are prescribed at a time.

“We just need some legislation to stem the tide a little bit because that’s one of the big things that affects people … it’s affected pretty much every family to some degree,” he said.

Concealed carry for first responders

Warren and Ford said they plan to work on a bill that would ensure firefighters and other first responders can carry a concealed weapon.

Describing the bill, Ford said he decided to plan such a bill after talking with various people. He said some first responders already carry concealed and others would like to. Exact details haven’t been decided yet, Ford said. Making it a state law would “give a little uniformity,” he said.

The collaboration between Rowan County’s two State House members was a coincidence.

“Inadvertently, Harry and I talked to each other and found out we were working on some of the same things with firefighters,” Ford said.

Ford said he plans to work on other bills to “put more guns in the hands of good people.”

Relationship with Gov. Cooper

Unlike the previous four years, North Carolina now has a Democrat as governor. When asked about the future relationship between the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper, Brock stated his concerns as a pair of questions.

“Is Cooper still campaigning and does he think he is a king right now?” Brock asked. “Is he going to be the savior of Obamacare, which honestly he couldn’t do because he would break the law. He can’t do that as governor.”

Cooper recently made public his intent to seek a Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, which he said would provide new health care jobs and provide more people with coverage. Legislative leaders have called Cooper’s effort illegal. Rowan County’s legislators have expressed opposition to the idea because of potential costs state government could incur.

Brock said the legislature would continue to work on cutting taxes and making the state job-friendly.

“If he wants to go out there and be a politician and do a lot of hot air talk, just like with House Bill 2, then that’s fine,” Brock said. “He didn’t even get 50 percent (of the state’s vote total), so it’s not like he’s got a mandate.”

As for House Bill 2, Warren says he doesn’t believe a repeal will receive serious consideration this year.

“This is in the courts now and I think you’ll see less and less talk about it,” he said. “Even for groups like the Human Rights Campaign, their focus will be turning to Texas and other states that are considering similar bills.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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