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Teacher pay increase in state budget, puppy mill bill stalls

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

After many weeks of debate, North Carolina is moving forward with a budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Governor Pat McCrory signed the state government budget bill on Thursday, a bill which gives teachers and state employees significant pay raises for the first time in several years.
According to the Associated Press, the republican governor’s action “officially authorizes adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget law approved last summer.”
In doing so, most state workers will receive a $1,000 raise, while public school teachers will receive approximately 7 percent average increases to their pay. Since 2008, teachers and state employees had received only one raise since 2008 — a 1.2-percent increase in 2012.
Under the new base pay scale, a North Carolina teacher with a bachelor’s degree will receive $33,000 annually during their first four years of teaching. During years five to nine, teachers will expect a base pay of $36,500.
The Associated Press said the biggest raises will be visible for teachers moving into their fifth or sixth year on the job, receiving an 18.5-percent increase in base pay.
“We’re rewarding them for the first time in many years in a sufficient and effective way, and we’re showing them respect,” McCrory said.
“It’s a victory for the people of North Carolina,” he said, referencing the budget.
“I laid out specific parameters throughout this process, including significant pay increase for teachers, no reduction of teacher assistants, preservation of Medicaid eligibility standards and no tax increases, and this budget does just that. I’d like to thank the dedicated staff and the General Assembly for the countless hours of work that was put into this budget.”
Items not approved in this year’s budget included proposed legislation against puppy mills. Rep. Jason Saine (R, District 97), who represents Lincoln County, served as a leading force behind the bill. According to Saine, the proposed regulations remained in contention to the very end, with House Speaker Thom Tillis pushing for the transfer of the Division of Animal Welfare to the Department of Public Safety, thus removing the division from the Department of Agriculture.
“This was the position supported by the Governor and would have been a way to effectively move forward on addressing the ‘puppy mill’ issue here in our state,” he said.
Earlier this year, Sen. Bill Rabon, chairman of the Finance Committee, was quoted making unsavory remarks regarding the proposed bill during a private meeting with animal welfare advocates and the Brunswick County sheriff, calling the agenda item an “abomination” and declaring it dead for the 2014 legislative session.
A Southport veterinarian, Rabon said the legislation would do little to improve animal welfare, pledging instead to work toward a tougher bill that would ban animal gas chambers and fund a statewide abuse line by 2015.
Media outlets were informed of Rabon’s comments after animal welfare advocates recorded the Jan. 16 conversation and sent the transcript to media outlets when it became apparent he would stonewall the legislation.
“As to whether their behavior was unethical is a matter of opinion, but I want to be clear that this was not about the sponsors of the legislation,” Saine said. “Sen. Rabon, though we disagree on the issue, has worked with me on other issues in the budget. It is unfortunate that the actions of a few in attempts to persuade their senator contributed to the bill not being heard in the Senate.”
While Saine said he was disappointed the proposed legislation did not move forward in the senate, he plans to continue advocating for the humane treatment of animals.
“This is something I feel passionate about and I intend to continue to be a strong advocate for humane treatment of these animals and a protector of the consumers who purchase these dogs with health issues associated with puppy mills,” he said. “Failure to act on the senate’s part will not mean the issues go away. We cannot continue to ignore this problem and reward the bad actors in our state.
“Though we have come up short on this legislation this session, we have made great strides in awareness and accomplished something that I was told could never happen by many senior legislators,” he said. “I was told that the bill would never make it out of committee, yet it passed out of Judiciary B Committee unanimously and with bipartisan support. I was told that the bill would never pass on the floor of the House, yet it received an overwhelming and bipartisan vote of 101-14 last year. We simply have to continue to educate and advocate to continue this series of victories in order for our state to have effective tools with which to deal with this issue.”

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