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Change In State Legislature Has To Be Well-Informed

By Ran Northam Posted April 26, 2013 at 3:05 am

CHAPEL HILL – There’s no question where local citizens stand when it comes to opinions about the current North Carolina State Legislature.

“How is the General Assembly doing?” asks Executive Committee Member of the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club, Jason Baker. “Terribly. Depressingly. There’s a lot of really negative words (that) come to mind.”

“When I think of the Legislation, it’s just how weary so many people are,” says Durham Tech Community College Executive Dean, Penny Gluck.

Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison says there is a growing trend that’s at the heart of the matter.

“Senator Ellie Kinnaird summed it up as, ‘so many nowadays don’t want to be informed’,” Mayor Pro Tem Harrison says. “The result is that they are ignoring, in some cases, what they are doing to different constituencies.”

One of the areas with the most focus of late has been all levels of education. Bills have been proposed that override decisions made by the governing board of UNC, mandating fundamentals in elementary education, and affecting the formula in which teachers are measured for tenure.

But Baker says, while it is an area of concern for him, there’s so much more.

“Municipal sovereignty has been under attack,” Baker says. “The environment has been under attack; more recently we’ve all seen the voting rights of North Carolinians have been steeply under attack in ways that we’ve never seen before.”

A bill passed in the House on Wednesday (April 24) that could make it through the Senate with the Republican majority that would require voters to present one of nine forms of state-issued ID starting in 2016.

Chapel Hill High School science teacher, Loren Hintz says the General Assembly just doesn’t get it.

“One thing which is very concerning is the whole tone of the conversation of the State Legislature,” Hintz says. “It really does seem like they resent the public education program, that they don’t understand what the current career status law is. There’s a lot of misconceptions, editorials in the newspaper, or opinion pieces that have a lot of inaccurate information. It’s really unfortunate.”

So, what are the solutions? Hintz says it’s going to take more than just a vote.

“The reality is that votes are necessary and important, but for a change to actually occur, it really requires groups of people to come together and advocate,” Hintz says. “In some cases, it just might be volunteers doing it and then eventually get legislation to pass it. But, voting itself without people communicating on a regular basis, change doesn’t happen.”

Janice Tyler is the director of the Orange County Department on Aging. She says getting the demographic which she serves out to vote isn’t a problem. In fact, her focus isn’t as much on the state level as it is on the Federal Government and sequestration.

“Just right before I came over here, we were crunching numbers of how we’re going to deal with that,” Tyler says. “What that means for us here at the local level is going to mean less rides for transportation, it’s going to mean less meals being served.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the youth. While they have their parents to advocate for them, it’s important to make sure that the ones who can’t vote themselves are watched over.

Annetta Streater is a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board. She says it’s not just about the regulations in schools, but also about the time away from the schools that allows the students to receive the important life lessons in order to be successful.

“One of the things people don’t know about this area is that there’s a wide economic gap amongst our community,” Streater says. “Its connection to education is very powerful when there is such a disparity between the haves and have-nots in our community. It is a big driver around the educational experiences that our children have.”

These comments and many more were made during the AfterRaleigh panel of the 2013 WCHL Chapel Hill – Carrboro – Orange County Community Forum. You can hear the ten-hour forum in its entirety by clicking here.

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