Week Nine: Session Wrap-Up (July 4-8)

 

Things are a lot quieter around the Department of Agriculture now that the legislators have gone home, but I won’t dwell on that. Instead, I will fill you in on what exactly we accomplished during this short session.

This week I helped Joy complete a session wrap up document that she will present to the Commissioner and his immediate staff. Below I will talk about some of the highlights.

HB 1030 – 2016 Appropriations Act

  • New Market Opportunities – $180,000 (Non recurring)
  • Healthy Food Small Retailers – $250,000 (Non recurring)
  • 9 Positions at NC Forest Service – DuPont State Recreational Forest
  • 1 Position at NCDA – Animal Welfare

Provisions

  • Elimination of Certain Vacant Positions
  • Spay/Neuter Program Eligibility
  • Healthy Food Small Retailer Program
  • Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Eligibility for DuPont Forest

SB 770 – NC Farm Act of 2016

  • Sleep Products Enforcement Authority
  • AERTS Authorization
  • Rendering Plant Inspection Streamline
  • Soil and Water Commission Training for All Supervisors
  • Technical Correction for Animal Shelter Fund Rule-Making
  • LEA Permissive Allowance for Local Preference in Food Procurement
  • Allow Chorionic Gonadotropin Injections for Veterinary Use
  • Establish Voluntary Assessment on Deer Feed – Cervid Farmers ONLY
  • Exempt Horticultural Uses from Sedimentation Pollution Control Act

HB 992 – Industrial Hemp Program

HB 1021 Amend Sex Offender Certain Premises

These are the things we accomplished in this session. You may recognize some of them from my previous posts. I will start at the top, with the budget. The positions at DuPont State Recreational Park are something that I heard about from the beginning of my internship. The park was part of the set for a movie we are all familiar with, The Hunger Games. Since the movie came out, attendance at the park as risen significantly and in order to keep up with the traffic and ensure the park is in optimal condition, we were asking for people to help fill that void. (The link for more info about the scenes shot at DuPont is at the bottom of the page)

Another project that was funded in the budget was the Corner Store Initiative, otherwise described as a project to refund convenience store owners who participate, by buying refrigeration or other coolers, so that they can sell fresh fruits and veggies to people in rural areas. We also got a provision that helped clarify who was in fact eligible for the spay/neuter program that our animal welfare division is responsible for. While there used to be hoops that had to be jumped through before a family could have their pet spayed or neutered, the process was made a little simpler with allowing Medicaid to be a form of eligibility.

The NC Farm Act would be next on the queue of accomplishments for this session. As you can see above, we were responsible for ten of the nineteen sections. A couple of the sections were technical items like giving NCDA the authority to make rules or enforce rules. Other sections had larger impacts like breaking down an inspection committee that needed to be restructured to work more efficiently or allowing local schools to pick a local farmer to source their food from for the Farm to School program. There were a few slightly controversial parts like allowing chorionic gonadotropin injections (which is a schedule III controlled substance) and a deer feed assessment, but with some conversations and explanations we were able to find middle ground on both issues.

The Industrial Hemp Program is a new pilot program that NCDA is looking forward to getting off the ground in the next year. This bill amended a few definitions and generally describes what all will be involved with the pilot program and how to move forward. In the beginning there will be an Industrial Hemp Commission who will be the rule making body and will help run the program under the NCDA. There will be licenses given for small plots and they will be carefully monitored by law enforcement. The program all hinges on research and will be based out of NC A&T and NCSU, assuming professors can be found to take on the project.

The final bill that was passed during the session (that we were rooting for) was a bill that amends where a sex offender can visit. One of our goals during session was to clear up any doubts about sex offenders being on the premises during the NC State Fair. Personally, this is one of my favorite times of the year. The bill was written to say that sex offenders were not allowed on the State Fairgrounds during the time the State Fair was being held, this holds true for the property that the Mountain State Fair is held on, as well as any agricultural fairs held within the state.

While that sounds like we got a ton accomplished this session, believe it or not, there were things left undone. But, that just gives us something to do when session starts back in January.

I hope you enjoyed this brief recap of what we did this session. It was very interesting to see how everything in state government and the general assembly works. I have a new appreciation for the people who are responsible for creating, writing and researching everything that goes in the budget and all the other bills that are passed (and the ones that aren’t).

 

DuPont Forest and the Hunger Games:  http://www.visithendersonvillenc.org/dupont-hunger-games-shots.pdf

 

 

Advertisements

Week Eight: Sine Die. (June 27 – July 1)

I have to start out by saying, this was my favorite week of the summer. Seeing everything fall into place and then the whirlwind of activity that is the end of session was awesome.

I’m going to do this week a little different than most. Towards the end of session, I started taking details notes about everything that went on. I came to realize that I may not have another opportunity like this and I wanted to get everything out of the experience that I could. In turn, I have been able to go back and really understand what was going on, and think more in depth about the strategies and reasoning behind what was happening in the Senate.

On Monday, they took up two controversial bills, HB 3 SCS (Omnibus Constitutional Amendments) and HB 100 SCS2 (Local Government Immigration Compliance). The constitutional amendments included prohibiting the condemnation of private property except for public use, amending the current taxpayer provisions (like decreasing the income tax cap from 10% to 5.5%), and adding the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. The biggest talking point proved to be the decrease of the income tax cap. Multiple senators stating that the cap was unconstitutional, that the State Treasurer warned against it and that it may put the state between a rock and a hard place in the future when they are pressed for money. The bill ended up passing none-the-less and stayed on the calendar for Tuesday. The true excitement of the week began on Monday with the budget conference report coming out!

Tuesday was fairly calm, just the normal session and a few subcommittee meetings. The budget conference report was voted on for its second reading in the Senate and passed.

Wednesday, the conference report for the budget was voted on for the third and final time in the Senate and sent to the House.  There were a few other bills floating around the chamber, but nothing very serious to the agriculture sector or that put up a debate. The one bill that did spark my interest however, was one that dealt with the licensure of professional engineers and the use of licenses in school system maintenance. While this may seem like such a trivial thing to most people, these ended up being two important pieces that will really make a difference to people applying for their PE and for the contractors and maintenance people working in schools who would like to use their licensure elsewhere too.

On Thursday, the excitement really started to build because there was buzz that session would be ending the following day, or possibly Saturday (if necessary). One of our big pieces of legislation that the Department wanted passed this session, the Industrial Hemp bill (HB 992), was passed, enrolled and sent to the Governor Thursday afternoon. I also attended a coveted Rules meeting (Apodaca, the chair, insists on having the meeting in the smallest committee room in the general assembly; conveniently the only room that doesn’t have a live stream.) During the Rules meeting I got the first glimpse at SJR 903 which was the adjournment resolution. At that point, the bill said that adjournment was Saturday July 2nd, 2016 but when Apodaca moved to amend the bill and changed the date to July 1st you could see relief and happiness fill the room. During session on Thursday, I was also able to see the beginning of the end, in the sense that the Senators had started to honor their own. Senator Rucho and Bingham were among the handful that did not seek reelection and they were presented with the Order of the Longleaf Pine. This is the highest order that can be bestowed on a North Carolinian from our Governor, it commends their service to the state and its people.

Friday was different from most Fridays, in that I did not attend my usual Co-Located Lab meeting (we did not have one because of the holiday) and instead headed straight downtown. We had a finance committee meeting bright and early and we never stopped going after that. Senate started session at 9:30 and went in and out throughout the day. The other big piece of legislation that the Department wanted, the NC Farm Act of 2016, was finally voted on, enrolled and sent to the Governor. Some senators gave their last words of the 2016 session, while others were still fighting to get their bills and voices heard.

I left around 3:30 on Friday to attend a closing ceremony for another leadership program that has been close to my heart for the past four years, the Shelton Leadership Challenge at NCWC. During the long drive to Rocky Mount, I decided that I wanted to see the end of session, whether that meant late Friday night or even into Saturday (and the weekend that I longed for). I think at that time, I changed the way I was viewing my internship and my time this summer. I wanted to see it all – the good and the not so good. I wanted to see what it would be like to be in my mentor, Joy’s, shoes. When I came back to session around 7:45 Friday night I was unsure of what to expect. I did know however, that I was excited to see the finale. Everything that I seen talked about, worked on in subcommittees and argued about on the floor was going to be settled in the next few hours. I will be honest with you, it was a lot of sitting and waiting, listening to the chambers and hoping that each bill heard made it through so that maybe the pieces we had in other ones would have a chance to be heard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out. When the Senate walked out close to 11:00 pm, everyone sitting outside the House chamber knew what that meant. It meant, whatever else got sent over to the Senate was not going to be heard. It was over. Sine die.

I am grateful for the time I got to spend in the final day with everyone over at the General Assembly and what I learned. When you see the same people day in, day out and week in, week out, you begin to get a glimpse of what the real world is going to be like. And I have loved it.

Week Seven (June 20 – 24)

I want to start this post out by saying, Happy 4th of July! (even though I’m two days late) It is important to remember the reason we are able to celebrate this day and spend time with our families and friends. With that said, I want to fill you in on my last two weeks.

For the most part this week was a typical one at the General Assembly. There were subcommittee meetings, bills flying around and of course the ever increasing “behind closed doors talks” of those lucky enough to be budget conferees. I spend most of my time in Senate session and this week wasn’t too different than the others. One of the big things we as a department got this week was a bill (HB 1021) put forth by Senator Buck Newton that would keep sex offenders away from the State Fairgrounds during the State Fair, as well as other fairgrounds during times that fairs were going on. This is something that the department has been looking into since last year’s fair and we were very happy to see it moving along. The committee substitute was passed and sent to the House, once they passed it the bill was sent to the Governor to sign. (on 6/29)

On Friday of this week I got to take a trip with the Administration Chief Deputy Commissioner, David Smith, to Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg Military Base. There, we attended a veteran’s career day sponsored by the North Carolina State Grange. You may be thinking, what is the NC State Grange? I’ll be honest, I wasn’t quite sure before this event. After some research though, I have come to see that the State Grange is a program that was started in 1875, before there was even a state Department of Agriculture. The Grange was meant to help farmers and their families build stronger communities and essentially “lobby” for things (back when I’m not sure many people know what “lobbying” was) like railroad regulation. There have been up and down years, but the Grange has been a large part of agriculture whether it be in business, education or simply bring people together and encouraging tolerance of those who may be of different religion, political preference or something else. The Grange was instrumental in forming 4-H and Future Farmers of America.

Four people spoke during the opening ceremony for the Veteran’s Career Day. The president of the Grange, Jimmy Gentry welcomed everyone and explained a little about what the day was going to look like. David Smith spoke about the role of agriculture in our society and what all (20 divisions!) the NC Department of Agriculture plays a hand in. The Honorable Bob Etheridge, FSA State Executive Director (USDA) spoke to the similarities between agriculture and the military. He told us how both had to be hard workers, diligent and patient – they had to give it their all, because they had no other choice. Dean Richard Linton, from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, spoke about how to get veterans back in school and the programs NC State has to offer. Secretary Cornell A Wilson, Jr. also spoke on behalf of the military in and around the Ft. Bragg area.

This was a great chance for me to get to see what our Chief Deputy Commissioner does, as well as see all the agricultural things that North Carolina has to offer. I can definitely see the tie ins between agriculture and the military, as they are the two strongest economic supporters of our state. I was honored to be a part of a day that was able to merge those to pieces and hopefully begin a long friendship between the two.

If you want to learn more about the State Grange: http://www.ncgrange.com/about-us/history

Week Six: Networking, Problem Solving and Life Advice (June 13 – 17)

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”

Week six was a busy one to say the least. I did the normal things like attend subcommittee meetings and go to session, but beyond that we cohosted a legislative reception with the Agribusiness Council, I listened as Mr. David Smith (Administrative Chief Deputy Commissioner) spoke to the pages about what the Dept. of Ag does, as well as give life advice and finally, I attended the weekly co-located lab meeting.

The Department of Agriculture had a couple of things moving in subcommittees and session this week, both on the House and Senate side. [Disclaimer, since there are two interns with the Department we tend to split up and each take a chamber – I have taken a liking to the Senate so that is where I tend to spend most of my time.]

In the House they took up the Regulatory Reform Act in the regulatory reform subcommittee this week, it is a senate bill that is trying to gain concurrence in the House. This bill covers a wide range of regulatory agendas with programs from all departments of state government. The agriculture regulations include things like repealing an outdated requirement that various classifications of milk be reported to the commissioner when sold, yard waste provisions and even the sale of pet turtles (fun fact: they have been known to carry salmonella). There is a similar house bill that has made its way to the senate and these two bills will likely be merged by the time it is all said and done. In session, the House took up the Industrial Hemp Program, Regulatory Reform and a Land Use Regulatory Changes just to name a few.

In the Senate we had Agriculture, Environmental and Natural Resources (AgNER) subcommittee meetings twice this week. We discussed HB 763 [Military Operations Protection Act of 2016], which did a handful of things for our State’s military. The part we pushed for was the establishment of a sentinel landscape committee. According to the sentinel landscape website provided by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior, a sentinel landscape is working or natural lands important to the Nation’s defense mission – places where preserving the working and rural character of key landscapes strengthens the economies of farms, ranches, and forests; conserves habitat and natural resources; and protects vital test and training missions conducted on those military installations that anchor such landscapes. Essentially, establishing this committee allows for precious land to be preserved in a way that not only benefits those who it belongs to but also the military which is an integral part of our state, both economically and defense wise. AgNER also discussed HB 593, which amends environmental laws ranging from storm water control design to erosion, horseshoeing and even regulation of certain reptiles. We had a Senate Finance meeting to discuss the money pieces of the NC Farm Act of 2016. The Select Committee on Nominations also met to confirm the Governor’s latest appointment for the Board of Agriculture, Dr. Ben Shelton of Olin, along with some special supreme court judges and appointments to the industrial commission.

In session a lot of different things were taken up. The Farm Act of 2016 was brought to the floor, amended slightly and passed on second reading. The Military Operations Protection Act of 2016 was brought to the floor and after a lengthy discussion was passed on the second reading. Another piece of legislation that I found most interesting was HB 657 SCS – Math Standard Course of Study. This bill will require schools to offer both types of math. The first being the newer common core “integrated math” which combines concepts of algebra I and II, geometry and even some statistics and English (complex word problems) that is supposed to better prepare students for STEM fields and college. Along with the old sequential version of algebra I, geometry and algebra II for students who may find the other unnecessary or too difficult to understand. There was much debate on this topic for two days. We heard from senators who are parents, those who have heard from their constituents and even a high school math teacher, Senator Smith-Ingrim. When she presented a “typical” math problem during one of her arguments I was impressed, and a little uneasy, because quite honestly, I don’t know if I could have solved the problem she presented. She used the problem to make her point, and she was commended for it. This bill ended up passing after a few amendments, 33 – 13 and sent to the House for concurrence.

I will wrap this week up with a brief overview of the legislative reception we hosted, as well as my time with the Chief Deputy Commissioner. The reception was held Wednesday night at the North Carolina History Museum and there were representatives from the House and Senate, as well as others from the agricultural world – NC Grange, the Farm Bureau and even NC State University. The Governor made an appearance and spoke for a few minutes, as did the Commissioner, Steve Troxler. They both touted the impact agriculture has on our state and how it is continually growing (yay!). On Thursday, we were able to listen as David Smith talk to this week’s governor’s pages. He asked them about their future – college choices, majors and the impact they wished to make. He also told them a little about the Department of Agriculture and his time in college. One thing I remember him saying was “enjoy college, I know I did” – it’s the best time of our lives. We have to go to class (of course), but also go on adventures, go cheer on your team at sporting events, try new things and always remember where you came from – there is never another time in our lives where we have so much freedom.

Until next week!

 

Articles on the Math Standard Course of Study Debate:

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article84034302.html

http://www.independenttribune.com/news/state/ap/pronged-approach-to-nc-math-earns-initial-senate-approval/article_c57d5155-f7ac-5e63-b006-6182394b2112.html#.V2H-xuALE04.twitter

IMG_5596

 

Week Five: A True Leader (June 6- 10)

I want to start this post by expressing my gratitude to the Dunn family who made this internship possible. Asst. Commissioner Dr. Richard Reich came by my office Wednesday just to check in and see how I was doing. We ended up talking about what I was learning and how long I had been here in my corner cubicle. When I told him that I was finishing up my fifth week, we were both a bit surprised. It doesn’t feel like I have been here for five weeks, but I can say without a doubt that I have seen, heard and learned so much in this short time and I can’t wait for the next five weeks.

This week had a little bit of everything in it.

It has become “normal” to attend various subcommittee meetings throughout the week, and this one was no different. One of the biggest pieces of legislation we kept an eye on this week is House Bill 992: Amend Industrial Hemp Program. This is a bill that the department has had a hand in since very early on. This week it was introduced in House Agriculture on Tuesday morning and discussed again on Thursday morning. The bill helps start a program in the state that will allow growers to obtain a license to grow industrial hemp if they are involved in a pilot program through a land grant university for research. This made it out of committee on Thursday and will be heard on the House floor on Monday night (hopefully).

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, I sat in on the Senate Session and was able to listen to Senators speak on and honor the lives of Senator Lindsay C. Warren, Jr. and Member John H. Kerr, III. The senators spoke in such a way that made me wish I had known these two fine men. They spoke not only to their character and achievement within the chambers, but also of their demeanor and actions outside the halls of the general assembly.

I learned that nothing you do while you are living on this Earth matters if you are disliked by your peers or any fellow human. To be a good leader you do not focus only on your own interests, but instead extend your hand to anyone in need. I heard numerous stories about Mr. Kerr getting things done when they needed to be. He was not a man who asked to be respected, but rather one who was respected for his actions and mannerisms. I saw this week what it means to be a true leader. When people of different backgrounds and parties come together to talk about your life and accomplishments, that is truly a life goal. I want to be remembered not only for the things I accomplish (whatever they may be), but for the way I carry myself and the way I treat others. That is what is important in life.

I once again spent my Friday at the Co-Located Lab meeting and got to see the progress the subcommittees were making. Last week we heard from each subcommittee as they have almost completed Phase 1. During this phase they were given a charge and asked to evaluate the facilities as they are now. They documented what each lab does, what materials and apparatuses they use and got a general understanding of what each labs needs to function. Soon they will start Phase 2 which will begin looking into the future. This will mean thinking about what the needs will be in 20, 30 or even 40 years for the tasks the labs complete. How will food testing be different than it is now? Will BSL 3 space be important as we move forward and see a rise in bioterrorism? Do we see the motor fuels or pesticide industries changing in the future, whether it be the way they concoct their solutions or even their purpose? I am looking forward to seeing what the subcommittees come up with and maybe even give input from a student perspective. Agriculture is different now than it was 30 years ago and it is ever changing, the future is ours and we must use it well.

IMG_5515

Taking a short walk from the Department of Ag building to the General Assembly for session.

Week Four: The Senate’s Budget (May 30 – June 3)

 

During the second week of our internship we kept a close eye on the House and their version of the budget. This past week, the Senate rolled out and voted on their version. To little surprise, they don’t exactly match up. This week, I will talk about some of the highlights and the shortfalls in regards to the Department of Agriculture or other state entities.

First off, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is Part 13 in the budget, on both the House and Senate side. This section covers everything Natural and Economic Resource related. (This is just a note for easy access when you’re trying to find specific parts online, or in the 180 page print copy.) This year we had a list of 6 priorities that we gave to the Governor, and key players in the House and Senate.

As a quick recap, on the House side we got: money for the NC Forest Service Equipment, positions at DuPont State Recreational Forest, a position for animal welfare within our department, and money for farmland preservation. We also received money for two capital projects which are improvements at DuPont State Recreational Forest and at the Western NC Ag Center.

On the Senate side however, we did not fare quite as well. We did receive the money for the NC Forest Service Equipment and money for farmland preservation, as well as funds for AgWRAP. (AgWRAP is the Agriculture Water Resources Assistance Program) We also received money for one capital project to continue building horse stalls in the western part of the state.

As one can see, these two budgets did not match up and there is some work to be done. During the upcoming week we will continue to talk with senators and representatives to let them know what our “must haves” are and see how we can move our money around to make sure we get the things we direly need. Ms. Hicks has put together a fact sheet of what we got and what our priorities are that we take with us when we visit with the members. A major part of her job is keeping everyone at the Department of Ag informed during this process, whether it be the Commissioner himself or his chief deputy, we make sure to that someone knows what we are doing and what our goals are during the process. We also make our way to the legislative building quite a bit to talk to people about what we need. Politics is about relationships and the members we tend to have the best relationships with would be our Ag Chairs. These members have helped us during the initial making of the budget and understand what we are asking and the agricultural purpose behind it.

Now that we have two budgets, this is only the beginning. The real fun will start during conference, which will start this coming week. This is when the house and senate send people to discuss, debate and eventually roll out a new version of the budget.

So, that is my little bit of budget knowledge, I will keep y’all updated on the conference progress this coming week!

 

May the odds be ever in your (our) favor.

Week Three: The NC Farm Act of 2016

What is the NC Farm Act exactly? Honestly, before this past week, I wasn’t really sure. I will start with something I do know about though: The Farm Bill; an over arching United States (Federal) piece of policy that focuses on agricultural and food programs. This can range from commodity prices to trade (both stateside and international) to research and even rural development. The Farm Bill is renewed about every five years, with other pieces of individual legislation about agricultural policies coming when needed. The Farm Bill is known as being comprehensive, and something the legislatures (and farmers) can count on for major policy changes.

The most recent Farm Bill was called The Agricultural Act of 2014 and it runs from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2018. This Bill has four big titles: nutrition, crop insurance, conservation and farm commodity that were responsible for 99% of the cost of estimated total mandatory expenses. An overwhelming portion (80%) of the moneys allocated were spent for nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – a replacement of the food stamp program. Overall, there were 12 titles in the Farm Bill: Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture, Crop Insurance and Miscellaneous – these are all very important to the agriculture industry for different reasons.

But let’s get back to North Carolina and its own Farm Act. It may seem like the federal government has it all covered in the Farm Bill, but that is not always the case. With North Carolina being such an agriculture based state (it’s an $84-billion-dollar industry for us) and with wanting to increase that number as we continue to grow, we must think about what else can be done.

Senate Bill 770: NC Farm Act of 2016 was introduced by Senator Brent Jackson and is comprised of twenty sections. I will just highlight a few of them. The first section allows the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to enforce a bedding sanitation program. This means that when a mattress is resold it must first be inspected by DACS and if the product has been adulterated or misbranded there can now be civil penalties. Another section now allows the Wildlife Resource Commission and employees of federal agencies with similar responsibilities to cull feral swine from aircraft, with written permission from the landowner.

One of my favorite subjects, food, was also mentioned in this year’s Farm Act. This time in the form of slight changes to the policies in the NC Farm to School Program. This is a program that works to get local produce into schools to be used for breakfast or lunch. The provision gives food grown in the state a percentage price preference in hopes that the program won’t have to look outside North Carolina to supply schools with nutritious produce.

Another key word mentioned in the Farm Act was drugs, specifically chorionic gonadotropin and removing it from the list of Schedule III controlled substances. This is a drug used to aid in the fertility of cattle, among other uses. This section caused some discussion because there have been times where it has been used by humans inappropriately and caused issues. The section states that the drug must be administered by a veterinary or there must be one on the premises when the drug is administered. When talking with one of my fellow students whose family is in the cattle business she said that this is not the most practical solution. Most likely, there will be more talk and change to this portion of the act.

Some of the other sections were more technical, adding certain activities to preexisting requirements, adding training time for certain positions or doing away with unneeded committees. The rest of the sections cover things like building permits and repairs to residential/farm structures, exemptions from the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act, tax exemptions (something I’m still trying to wrap my head around) and water pipes being in the same ditch with electrical wiring.

While this was just a snapshot of this year’s Farm Act, and it has not been voted on fully yet, I look forward to watching it move through the Senate and House, respectively. I never really took time to think about all the things that are covered in the term “agriculture” but after reading this bill and doing some research on the federal Farm Bill, I can safely say that I have no doubt that it is worth $84 billion dollars to North Carolina.

If you want to learn more about The Farm Bill (Federal), here is an awesome website: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22131.pdf

I have also included the link to The NC Farm Act of 2016 if you’re up for some light legislative reading: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2015&BillID=S770&submitButton=Go

Enjoy!

Week Two: Budgets, Votes and a Festival

If you had told me at the beginning of this past week that people could sit in one room from 9am – 4pm and talk about a budget the entire time I would have looked at you like you just told me pigs could fly. This past week, I was proven that this is indeed a thing, and it’s actually kind of interesting.

This week I got to see first hand what all goes into making a 22.2 billion dollar budget. (yes, billion with a B)  I saw subcommittee meetings and watched projects be proposed, discussed (debated) and eventually either be added or done away with. I have come to realize that some people are very passionate about their individual projects and others are more “by the book”, adding amendments for technical of clarification purposes. I got to see around 40-some amendments be added to a budget on Tuesday, only to be amended some more once it went to the floor on Wednesday. [side note: one of those amendments was $2 million for a plane for our forestry service, something the department desperately needed] Wednesday was my first experience with the House reading the budget on the floor, making amendments and finally making closing remarks (and by remarks, I mean 5-10 minute speeches either for or against the proposed budget). The budget passed with a 103-12 vote Wednesday night, and with the same numbers on Thursday morning for the final reading. This means that the budget is now sent to the Senate side to be poked and prodded (and most likely changed a little).

On Friday I got the chance to once again attend the co-located lab meeting and hear from a few of the members more about the new subgroups they have formed to focus on specific things like safety, IT and administrative tasks. I also learned about a trip they took earlier in the week to a lab in New York that is also co-located between food and drug and standards. The group got some awesome ideas and had a great discussion in preparation for the next phase of the project.

I also got to take a field trip Friday to the Got to be NC Festival (yay!) Aside from the normal festival fun I was able to meet with a handful of different people from the department. I learned about Aiden’s Law from one of the State Veterinarians and how all of the animals that are at the festival have to have certain paperwork and are on “display”, meaning they are not intended to be touched by the public. I met some people from marketing in charge of getting prepared for the Carolina Masonic Pig Jig ( a barbeque cook-off ) on Saturday, as well as a couple in charge of the Got to be NC merchandise sold in the Homegrown Fare expo. I also talked to the Director of Property and Construction about the different projects going on at the fairgrounds and what all is in store for the upcoming fair season. Overall, I had a blast meeting everyone and learning more about how much work it takes to put on a festival of this size (and this is small compared to the State Fair in October)!

Pro tip: don’t wait til the next week to write your blog (you forget things)

In the Beginning…

To be perfectly honest, this week flew by and I’m not sure whether to be happy or sad about that.

Coming in Monday morning I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew I would be dealing with agriculture policy and working from a state department point of view, but that was about it. We hit the ground running and never let up. I am working with Joy Hicks, the policy development analyst for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There are not words that will do her justice in regards to the job she does and what all I can learn from her this summer. I just know that I have to keep my ears and eyes open and take it all in.

This week consisted of a meeting with the Commissioner and his Assistant Commissioners and staff, meetings with Representatives and Senators, lobbyists and  other people in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. I attended House and Senate session on multiple occasions and I continue to be in awe of the distinguished proceedings that occur there. The amount of history and honor associated with those places is second to none. I also had the opportunity to sit in on appropriation subcommittee meetings and see how a budget is laid out. This can be a very busy and tense time for many people. This week I got to see a piece of the behind the scenes work that is involved in creating the state’s budget and this is only the beginning.

On Friday morning I was able to attend a meeting with the group that is charged with planning for the new Co-Located Lab that will house Food and Drug, Veterinary Services, Standards, Motor Fuels and Pesticides (all in one lab building). This new lab is being funded partially through the Connect NC Bond that was passed back in March. The members of this group have a huge task at hand, but I feel confident that the best possible people are working on this project. I look forward to watching the project move from the planning phase to the building  phase and hopefully one day being in the lab myself.

I have to keep reminding myself that this is just week one of a very adventurous summer and I can’t wait to see what else I can learn on this journey.

 

“Be a sponge. Soak in everything you see, hear and do.”