RALEIGH — Freshman Sen. Danny Britt introduced a bill Wednesday that seeks more than $2 million for the construction of a school of optometry at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Wednesday was a busy day for Robeson County’s new Republican senator as he put his name as primary sponsor on 14 bills.
Senate Bill 278 requests that $2.1 million be moved from the state’s General Fund to the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina for fiscal year 2017-2018 for the purpose of establishing an optometry program at UNCP.
There are no optometry schools in North Carolina, with the closest dedicated facility is at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Britt believes that there is a favorable environment for such a project to gain traction in the legislature and with the UNC Board of Governors.
“We are not going to finalize an optometry school with $2.1 million, but what this does, this helps to lay the groundwork for what we are going to need in the future and push the idea of an optometry school being started at UNCP,” Britt said.
This is not the first bid to bring an optometry school to Pembroke. Former Sen. David Weinstein at different times from 1998 to 2006 attempted but failed to get money to establish an optometry school at UNCP.
UNCP Chancellor Dr. Robin Cummings issued this statement on the rebooted effort: “Sen. Britt understands the important role of UNC Pembroke in his district and throughout our region and has shown great interest in supporting our success. His taking the action to initiate this conversation in the General Assembly is evidence of his desire to see UNCP make an even greater impact in Southeastern North Carolina.”
Optometrists take care of vision issues for people. Their salary range is between $100,000 and $130,000 but can vary widely.
Other bills Britt filed on Wednesday were:
— Senate Bill 247 looks to exempt 60 percent of the appraised value of solar energy electrical systems from property taxes, which would be a reduction from 80 percent.
“The energy company gets a 20 percent property tax break. What this would do is knock it down to 60, the landowner doesn’t lose any money and it is not less attractive to the energy companies, we still offer considerably better incentives than other states,” Britt said. “This is a bill to make it more fair to anybody who is paying property taxes in the county.”
The companion bill in the house, House Bill 171, is sponsored by Brenden Jones, who represents part of Robeson County.
— Senate Bill 277 increases the chances of local businesses winning bids for local government work. The bill allows a local government to accept the bid of a local business over that of an outsider if the bid is within 5 percent or $10,000 of the lowest bid. It also provides that contractors make a “good faith effort” to hire local people and give preference to local businesses when fulfilling the contract.
Other bills would provide: $40,000 to Robeson County to provide first responders with swift water rescue training and equipment; $150,000 for repairs to the Lumber River Walk that were caused by Hurricane Matthew: and an additional $300,000 in 2017-2018 fiscal year to Robeson Community College to train “fire, rescue and law enforcement personnel.”
Other bills change the classification of local ordinances, such as parking fines, so they are no longer punished as criminal misdemeanors, but rather as an ordinance violations; and enhance protections for the dissemination of explicit images with the consent of those who are depicted.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly