As is the case every year, the General Assembly finds itself faced with dozens, if not hundreds, of pieces of new legislation to consider, or calls from groups to introduce legislation for various reasons.
It’s generally not until well after the legislators go home and the dust has settled that it becomes clear just what our state government has done in any given year, but there are several bills, or calls for bills, that certainly call for action.
One such proposal was from Colleen Sheehey-Church, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She visited Raleigh earlier this week, asking the General Assembly to expand the use of ignition interlock equipment in vehicles of individuals convicted of DWI or DUI offenses.
An ignition interlock system is a device that’s installed on a car and requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece, with the device then taking a blood-alcohol content reading. If the person’s blood alcohol levels are above a set level, the vehicle won’t start. According to the Associated Press, North Carolina now uses those devices for repeat DWI offenders or first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or higher.
Sheehey-Church, along with others supporting the measure, want them installed on the vehicles of all individuals convicted of drunk driving.
We support this request, and quite frankly consider it a no-brainer, and more lenient than drunk drivers deserve. If it were up to us, we’d have the state confiscate vehicles of those convicted of drunk driving, along with giving mandatory jail terms for second and subsequent offenders.
But that’s not on the table. What is being proposed is expansion of ignition interlock devices, and we can’t imagine any legislator would oppose this. The statistics are clear: those convicted of DWI or DUI have often driven under the influence of drugs or alcohol many times before finally being caught, and the overwhelming majority of them continue to do so after a conviction. Anything that can take drunk drivers off the roadways is a good move.
A second proposal initiated by several members of the legislature is a call for a bump in reimbursement rates for legislators. At present, legislators are reimbursed at the rate of $104 a day for living expenses, and 29 cents per mile for car travel. Those rates were set based on the maximum allowable under IRS guidelines in 1993.
The measure being considered would bump those rates to 54 cents per mile and $163 per day, which are the current maximum allowed figures under IRS regulations.
Given that many legislators make less than $14,000 a year in salary for their work, it’s not at all unreasonable that the reimbursement and mileage rates increase, particularly since the rates being used now are more than two decades old. Regardless of what we might think of a legislator’s politics, we think most folks would believe it reasonable that one shouldn’t actually lose money by serving in state government.
At the same time, there are countless teachers across North Carolina who end up having to buy classroom supplies out of their own pocket. While we don’t have a lot of sympathy for teachers moaning about pay, given that most make far more than the average North Carolinian, with far better insurance and retirement benefits, teachers shouldn’t have to pay from their own pocket to adequately supply their classrooms.
If legislators are determined to raise their reimbursement rates to at least cover their actual expenses, we have no problem with that move, so long as another measure is approved that allows teachers to be reimbursed for all classroom expenses — or the state pays for them upfront so teachers don’t have to seek reimbursement.
Until then, legislators can pay out of their own pocket as well.