What a sad state of affairs

Senator Ellie Kinnaird runs down the sad state of the North Carolina General Assembly.

This is the year of the private sector in the legislature, with market fundamentalism on the ascent. One of the debates is whether North Carolina should take $400 + million dollars from the federal government to make a faster rail line between Charlotte and Raleigh. A Mecklenburg Representative from Charlotte says NC should not accept the money to upgrade the line as other states have done. (Even though Charlotte passed a tax twice to pay for their light rail line.) He and other opponents say the private sector should build the line, not taxpayers. However, that argument ignores the fact that the vast rail lines in our country were the product of both private investors (some called them robber barons) and the federal government that gave free land on which to build the railroads. According to a letter writer to the N & O, over a period of only 20 years in the 1800s, almost 130 million acres were given to various railroads. The chair of the House Transportation Committee says rail projects are a waste of money and the state should concentrate its resources on road work. Meantime, Orange County will add to the shoulders of its most popular country bike routes so that bicyclers can ride more safely.

For Earth Day, I and other elected officials were invited to join in a planting party at the Children’s Learning Center that provides services for children with learning disabilities. The garden was created from a parking lot into a bright playground with trees personally donated by a Partnership for Children staff member and garden supplies by a parent who has a garden center. He is passionate about teaching children about their relationship to the earth, where what we eat comes from and the beauty of flowers that they, themselves grow. The children planted the flowers and carefully watered each out of a watering can as they will every day during the summer.

I then attended a farewell party, complete with toasts, for the Zeiss projector that provided so many delightful and informative shows at the Morehead Planetarium. The first Morehead Planetarium Zeiss was installed in 1949, the second in 1969. It was supposed to last only 25 years, but thanks to excellent maintenance by the staff, it lasted 42 years. We also learned about secrets such as using a colander painted black with two light bulbs and a motor from a record player to display a shower of lights across the sky. They built a robot from a car windshield wiper motor and various common components that was every bit as good as R2D2. The evening ended with scenes from early shows and then segued into the flashy computer generated capability of today. (I liked the colander better.) Then a toast was lifted to the wonderful Zeiss that entertained so many for years. They didn’t tell us what they were going to do with the body - maybe display him in a museum somewhere.

On another green front, Greenpeace is pressuring the new tech businesses such as Facebook, Google and Apple to match their reputation for innovation with clean energy. Their massive computer services gobble up enormous amounts of energy. Last term the legislature gave incentives to Google, Facebook and Apple to set up “server farms” in the North Carolina mountains. (I voted against the incentives, the data on the effectiveness of taxpayer’s giveaways is mixed at best and actually loses jobs at its worst.) They settled where vacated textile mills already had big supplies of cheap electricity available. The problem is, they use Duke Energy’s dirty coal fired power plants and, if built, the nuclear plant in South Carolina. (The same one where Duke wants to put a surcharge on our bills now even though it won’t be ready for 15 years.) Interestingly this week, we passed a bill that gave Wake County municipalities permission to enter into leases for renewable energy facilities.

The gun bill of the week was to let Assistant District Attorneys and Investigators carry concealed weapons as they carry out their duties outside the court house. I gave my usual speech and confirmed what one of my colleagues had said at our last go-around, which is: it’s true, guns don’t kill people, people kill people - by the thousands. And wound them, and shoot others accidentally and make guns too easily accessible for suicides. This is going to be a long, hot summer, with more gun bills coming through, but I will continue to speak and vote against the bills. I am the lone vote since my colleague from Greensboro who always voted against the gun bills with me, retired last term.

On the health care front, we passed a good bill to enlarge the availability of the high-risk insurance pools for those with a serious, chronic illness. It also allows those on COBRA to participate. This population still pays a very high premium, but this does give them more options.

Then of course, there was Adopting Jamesville as the Official Herring Festival of North Carolina.

I found out yesterday that Person County suffered tornado damage to a school and home. We are all sorry for the damage, but grateful no one was hurt.