Graphic: 2014 ‘short session’ longest of past 10 years

When state lawmakers returned to work in the spring, few legislative observers would have predicted Aug. 20 for this year’s adjournment date, especially since the previous so-called “short session” of 2012 saw legislators leave Raleigh before the July Fourth holiday.

These even-numbered annual sessions – which begin in May and are primarily intended to make course corrections to the state budget – are quite a bit shorter than their “long-session” counterparts in odd-numbered years, which typically start in late January and run into mid or even late summer.

Before 2014, short sessions had been getting shorter, falling from 49 days in 2006 to 39 in 2008, 35 in 2010 and just 29 days in 2012. However, that trend was dramatically reversed during this year’s session, which lasted 56 days – almost doubling in length from the last short session.

Note that the number of “legislative days” refers to the total days in which the legislature is actually meeting – its “business days,” if you will – usually Monday through Thursday during weeks when lawmakers are in session.

The driving force behind this year’s long-lasting “short session” centered on a division between the Republican-controlled N.C. House and Senate over teacher pay raises, which was finally resolved after some tense negotiations.

And while the debate over upping educator salaries caused the session to drag on, passing a teacher pay raise before adjourning for the year was a pledge that legislative leaders seemed compelled to keep – even if it meant upending the definition of a “short” session.

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Governor’s Teacher Advisory Committee makes recommendations on testing

Members of the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Committee presented nine recommendations on testing standards and assessments to Gov. Pat McCrory during a meeting at the Executive Mansion on Thursday.

Made up of 24 teachers from various parts of the state and disciplines across the K-12 spectrum, the committee is tasked by McCrory with making recommendations on such issues as teacher pay, retention, teacher performance measures, testing and technology in the classroom

The following recommendations were made by the committee on Thursday, according to a release from the governor’s office:

• Prioritize student learning: The first and most important reason for assessment is to support student growth and achievement. Assessment practices should be structured around this fact.

• Use multiple measures: North Carolina’s testing system should include multiple measures of mastery to ensure robust evaluation of student learning.

• Strengthen teacher evaluation: Improve and supplement metrics used to evaluate an educator’s impact on student growth.

• Promote developmentally appropriate testing: Ensure that assessment systems are aligned with what we know about student developmental learning capacity and the environments in which students perform best.

• Reduce or eliminate redundant, impractical or weak assessments: Ensure all assessments implemented are necessary, aligned to standards and relevant to college and career-readiness.

• Respond to local needs: Allow for additional flexibility around assessment to ensure local priorities and needs are reflected in student learning.

• Ensure clear communication: Pursue adequate communication and engagement with educators and community regarding standards and assessments before implementing changes.

• Support capacity for online assessment: Ensure adequate resources and capacity in all schools before mandating online assessment.

• Improve “Read to Achieve” requirements: Modify assessment practices around “Read to Achieve” to promote strong implementation and student success.

“Burdensome testing deprives our students of the talent and creativity our teachers have spent their careers to develop,” McCrory said. “Just as they did on teacher pay, members of the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Committee looked at the issue of testing and have produced some innovative recommendations and I look forward to studying them in depth. Long-lasting and meaningful education reform will not come from politicians in Raleigh, but from the teachers in our classrooms .”

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McCrory names Aviation Development Task Force

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday announced the appointment of 18 members to the state’s Aviation Development Task Force.

Created through an executive order issued by McCrory in May, the task force is charged with submitting recommendations to the secretary of transportation for the enhancement of the state’s aviation programs.

According to the governor’s office, the aviation industry is directly responsible for over 100,000 jobs in North Carolina, with a $25 billion annual impact on the state’s economy.

Members appointed to the task force are:

• John Lennon (New Hanover County) – Lennon is managing partner for Oceancrest Advisory Services. He is chair of the aviation committee on the North Carolina Board of Transportation. Lennon will serve as chairman of the Aviation Development Task Force.

• Michael Landguth (Wake County) – Landguth is president and CEO of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Prior to joining RDU, he served as CEO and president of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority.

• Dan Danieley (Alamance County) – Danieley is executive director of the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport. He is also vice president of the N.C. Airports Association.

• John Taws (Moore County) – Taws is president of Fletcher Industries, Inc., a company that provides manufacturing solutions for special application textiles.  He is a member of the Moore County Partners in Progress board of directors.

• Robin Hayes (Cabarrus County) – Hayes is a businessman and former congressman who represented North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District from 1999 to 2009. Hayes owns a hosiery mill in Mount Pleasant.

• James Kalbach (Chowan County) – Kalbach is the Northeastern Regional Airport Commission chairman. Previously, he worked for Whitener Capital Management and several peanut production companies throughout the Southeast.

• Larry Ford (Clay County) – Ford is an attorney whose practice concentrates on estate and Medicaid planning and related legal matters on behalf of clients and charitable organizations throughout Western North Carolina. He currently serves as chairman and board member of the Clay County Travel & Tourism Authority.

• Jim Bailey (Carteret County) – Bailey is a real estate developer in Carteret County. He is the principal and founder of Old Seaports Development, LLC, Bailey Shore Development, LLC, and Oceanfront Resort Development, LLC.

• W. Ashley Smith Jr. (Lenoir County) – Smith is president/CEO of Jet Logistics Inc. He is the incoming chairman of the National Business Aviation Association’s Domestic Operations committee.

• Steve Bright (New Hanover County) – Bright is co-owner and co-founder of Talbert & Bright Engineering Planning Consultants, which works on aviation engineering projects.

• Julie Wilsey (Brunswick County) – Wilsey is deputy airport director of  Wilmington International Airport and was recently named the airport’s next director.

• Gary Lowder (Stanly County) – Lowder is chairman of Stanly County’s airport authority and has served on the authority for over 15 years.

• Bill Whiteheart (Forsyth County) – Whiteheart is the owner of Whiteheart Outdoor Advertising Company Inc., and is a Forsyth County Commissioner. He also serves as the National Association of Counties vice-chairman of the Airport Sub-Committee, as chairman of the Airport Commission in Forsyth County and is on the board of trustees for the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation.

• Russell Barringer Jr. (Durham County) – Barringer is chairman and CEO of Dealers Supply Company. He is a private instrument-related pilot and aircraft owner.  Barringer was appointed to the N.C. Aeronautics Council by former governor Jim Martin.

• Kevin Baker (Guilford County) – Baker is executive director of the Piedmont Triad International Airport. Prior to being named executive director, Baker served as the assistant director to PTI.

• Kenneth Walker (Mecklenburg County) – Walker is retired from Driven Brands, Inc. He served on the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Oversight Committee.

• Louis Ridley Jr. (Mecklenburg County) – Ridley works for the Federal Aviation Administration in the FAA Headquarters Performance-Based Navigation Office. Prior to this, Ridley served as an air traffic control specialist for the FAA.

• Tony Tata (Wake County) – Tata, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, is secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

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Political odd couple Hood & Fitzsimon make case for redistricting reform

Chris Fitzsimon (left) and John Hood speak in favor of redistricting reform on Wednesday.

John Hood, head of the conservative John Locke Foundation, joined Chris Fitzsimon, director of the progressive NC Policy Watch, on Wednesday to make the case for changing the way voting maps are drawn in North Carolina.

Speaking before the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, the political odd couple noted that they seldom agree on policy, but both are longtime supporters of making the redistricting process less partisan.

“It has me saying the unusual sentence of, ‘John Hood is right,’ which I think I say about once every five years, but it’s always about this issue,” Fitzsimon joked.

Under North Carolina’s current system, state lawmakers are tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative voting maps after each 10-year census in order to account for population shifts.

But Hood and Fitzsimon say having partisan politicians in charge of the redistricting process creates a conflict of interest and results in districts skewed to favor one party or the other.

“In November, for more than half the people in North Carolina, the decision of who’s going to represent them in the General Assembly has already been made,” Fitzsimon said.

The two men noted that gerrymandered districts have been drawn by both political parties when in the majority.

“Both sides are capable of rationalizing self-interested behavior. But there is a self-interest argument for redistricting reform, too,” Hood said.

He noted how Democrats, who controlled the redistricting process for a century, were largely blindsided by a Republican sweep in the 2010 elections that put the GOP in charge of the most recent round of map-drawing.

Hood said with no one sure of who will hold a legislative majority for the next installment of redistricting, passing a reform in the near future could serve as an insurance policy of sorts for lawmakers.

“You never really know who’s going to draw the maps. Who’s going to win control of the General Assembly in 2020? We really have no idea,” Hood said.

A bill passed by the Republican-led N.C. House in 2011 with broad bipartisan support would have given redistricting authority to nonpartisan legislative staff, but the measure stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.

However, Hood believes lawmakers might be open to revisiting redistricting reform in the 2015 session.

“We are cautiously optimistic that there’s an opportunity to make this case to the legislature starting next year,” Hood said.

Full video of Wednesday’s redistricting reform discussion can be seen below:

For more on redistricting reform, visit EndGerrymanderingNow.org

Related:

N.C. lawmakers voice support for redistricting reform at Apex forum

Poll: N.C. voters strongly support redistricting reform

As ‘gerrymandering’ turns 202, is there a real chance for redistricting reform in North Carolina?

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McCrory names new chair of State Ethics Commission

The office of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory announced on Tuesday his selection of former N.C. Supreme Court justice George Wainwright Jr. as chairman of the State Ethics Commission.

He replaces John Tyson, who stepped down as chairman of the ethics commission on Aug. 4.

Wainwright earned a degree in political science as a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before working in agribusiness and real estate in Wilson for more than 15 years. He earned his law degree from Wake Forest University in 1984 and went on to serve for eight years on the N.C. Supreme Court from 1998-2006.

McCrory appointed Wainwright to the State Ethics Commission in April of this year.

The eight-member commission is tasked with establishing ethical standards for certain public officials, state employees and appointees to state boards, as well as interpreting lobbying laws. The body also requires public disclosure of economic interests by officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.

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Poll: N.C. legislature gets poor marks from voters

As the 2014 legislative session draws to a close, a new poll finds that a plurality of North Carolina voters give the General Assembly a failing grade.

According to the survey from Public Policy Polling, 27 percent of voters give the Republican-controlled legislature an “F” grade, followed by 24 percent that would give the body a “C.” Just 6 percent of voters would award the legislature with an “A.”

At the same time, 21 percent of voters approve of the legislature’s job, while 57 percent disapprove.

When it comes to arguably the marquee issue in this year’s session – teacher pay – half of voters say the General Assembly did not make a good-faith effort to increase educator salaries, compared to 39 percent that say the legislature did indeed act in good faith.

The General Assembly passed a teacher pay increase with its budget this year, which legislative leaders say will result in an average 7 percent salary boost for educators. But critics contend that the pay increase will in reality be much smaller for longtime teachers.

Unsurprisingly, there is a dramatic partisan divide when it comes to attitudes on the GOP-led legislature, with 77 percent of Democrats holding an unfavorable view on the General Assembly and 65 percent of Republicans having a favorable view.

Among independent voters, 47 percent have a negative opinion of the legislature, compared to 33 percent who see that body in a favorable light.

It remains to be seen how these generally negative attitudes toward the General Assembly might play out in this year’s legislative elections. While all 170 seats will be up for a vote, almost half will feature just one candidate on the ballot and many of the remaining contests are in districts with a built-in advantage for one party or the other.

The race where the General Assembly’s public standing could play a key role is in the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis. The same poll finds Hagan holding a slim lead in that race, 42-38 percent.

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McCrory makes appointments to boards on forestry, medical centers, libraries and more

The office of Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday announced appointments to boards on medical centers, forestry management, libraries, social work and more.

Two appointments were made to the North Carolina Forestry Council, which advises the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on matters concerning the protection, management and preservation of state-owned, privately owned and municipally owned forests. The term length is four years.

• Wayne Swank (Macon County) – Swank is a scientist emeritus with the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

• Samuel Yearick (Caldwell County) – Yearick is the county manager for Ashe County

Two members were named to the North Carolina Medical Care Commission, which adopts statewide plans for the construction and maintenance of hospitals, medical centers and other health-care facilities. The term length is four years.

• Harold Garland (Pitt County) – Garland serves as executive director of Golden LivingCenter in Greenville.

• Charles Hauser (Forsyth County) – Hauser is CEO of Physician Discoveries, LLC & Piedmont Stone Center in Winston-Salem.

Three appointments were made to the North Carolina State Library Commission, which advises the secretary of cultural resources on library matters. It is also responsible for evaluating and approving plans for public library development, library cooperation and plans for federally funded library programs. The term length is four years.

• C. Elizabeth Gatling (Durham County) – Gatling is an assistant librarian at Miller-Motte Technical College.

• Ryan Boyce (Wake County) – Boyce is an attorney serving on the Industrial Commission.

• Evelyn Poole-Kober (Orange County) – Poole-Kober manages all library services for the Atmospheric Sciences Modeling Division Library in the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Exposure Research Laboratory and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Air Resources Laboratory.

Five members were named to the N.C. Social Work Certification and Licensure Board, tasked with regulating the practice of social work through credential reviews, examinations, standards or experience, professional references and continuing education. The term length is three years.

• Amy Barsanti (Mecklenburg County) – Barsanti is a certified master social worker and the admissions director for the Department of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

• Angela Atkins (Mitchell County) – Atkins is a social worker with Mitchell County schools.

• Patricia Morse (Jackson County) – Morse is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified master social worker, as well as a professor at Western Carolina University. This is a reappointment to the board.

• James Turner (Wake County) – Turner is a licensed clinical social worker/therapist at Turner Counseling and Consulting PLLC.

• Garlande Powell (Columbus County) – Powell is a licensed clinical social worker at Agape Counseling Associates.

One appointment was made to the Southern Regional Education Board, which develops and maintains regional education services and schools in the Southern states in the professional, technological, scientific, literary and other fields. The term length is four years.

• Adeniyi Ojutiku (Wake County) – Dr. Ojutiku is managing director of Omni TJK Inc. He was also the associate professor of health education and content area chair at the University of Phoenix.

Two members were named to the N.C. Hearing Aid Dealers and Fitters Licensing Board, which works to protect the hearing impaired citizens of North Carolina by implementing a pre-qualification examination for registered apprentices. The term length is three years.

• Scarlet Hall (Craven County) – Hall is owner of Gibbs Hall Hearing and has worked in her field for 12 years. This is a reappointment to the board.

• Mark Stuemke (Forsyth County) – Stuemke is a hearing aid specialist with Salisbury Audiology & Hearing Aid Services. This is a reappointment to the board.

One appointment was made to the N.C. On-Site Wastewater Contractors & Inspectors Certification Board, which works to protect the environment and public health, safety and welfare by ensuring the integrity and competence of on-site wastewater contractors and inspectors.

• Mark Brooks (Buncombe County) – Brooks is president, senior engineer and project manager at Brooks Engineering Associates, P.A. This is a reappointment to the board.

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McCrory signs budget, along with bills on charter schools, campaign finance, mopeds and more

Photo: Governor’s Office

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the $21 billion state budget into law on Thursday, touting a pay raise for teachers and state employees.

Flanked by Rep. Nelson Dollar and Sen. Neal Hunt – both of them Wake County Republicans – along with outgoing budget director Art Pope, McCrory signed the spending plan in front of reporters gathered at the Executive Mansion.

“This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” McCrory said. “It provides raises for our teachers, highway patrol officers, court employees and a cost of living increase for retirees and preserves Medicaid eligibility standards.”

The budget signing came a day after McCrory signed 14 largely noncontroversial bills:

Charter School Modifications (S793) – A bill making various changes to the charter school laws, as well as a technical correction to House Bill 712. Passed 62-36 in the House and 45-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Sens. Tillman and Cook)

Dropout Prevention/Recovery Pilot Charter School (H884) – A bill providing for a dropout prevention and recovery pilot program with a charter school and requiring the State Board of Education to report on utilization of personnel contracts. Passed 112-0 in the House and 45-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Reps. Jeter, R. Moore, Blackwell and Cotham)

Omnibus Election Clarifications (S403) – A bill that would require candidates who raise or spend more than $10,000 to file campaign finance reports electronically beginning in 2017, along with amending and clarifying various provisions of the election laws. Passed 81-33 in the House and 32-11 in the Senate. (Primary sponsor: Sen. Bingham)

Registration for Mopeds (H1145) – A bill requiring mopeds to be registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles. Passed 103-9 in the House and 44-1 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Reps. Shepard,  R. Brown and Millis)

NC Farm Act of 2014 (H366) – A bill maintaining the confidentiality of environmental investigations for agricultural operations and directing the Department of Environment & Natural Resources to adopt rules for a formal complaint procedure. Passed 88-19 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Reps. Langdon, Dixon, Brisson and S. Martin)

NC Commerce Protection Act of 2014 (S648) – A bill creating transparency in contracts between the N.C. attorney general and private attorneys, to prevent the abuse of patents and more. Passed 82-29 in the House and 45-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Sens. Jackson, Meredith and Davis)

Business Court Modernization (S853) – A bill modernizing the business court by making technical, clarifying and administrative changes to the procedures for complex business cases. Passed 111-0 in the House and 44-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Sens. Rucho and Barringer)

AG Selection Criteria/NCNG Amendments (H1048) – A bill amending the selection criteria for adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard. Passed 101-1 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsor: Rep. Hastings)

Retirement Admin. Changes Act of 2014 (H1194) – A bill making changes to administration of the state retirement systems. Passed 106-0 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Reps. Collins and S. Ross)

DOT/DMV Changes #2 (H272) – A bill making various changes to laws affecting the Department of Transportation and the Division of Motor Vehicles. Passed 110-0 in the House and 43-1 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Reps. Stam, Jackson and Bryan)

Montgomery Co. Employees in State Health Plan (S376) – A bill allowing Montgomery County employees and their dependents to participate in the State Health Plan for teachers and state employees. Passed 95-5 in the House and 46-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsor: Sen. Bingham)

Reclaimed Water as a Source Water (S163) – A bill designating reclaimed water as a source water under certain conditions. Passed 111-0 in the House and 45-0 in the Senate.(Primary sponsors: Sens. Jackson, Cook and Rabin)

Implement GSC Recommendations (S773) – A bill implementing the recommendations of the General Statutes Commission to modify the Slayer Statute due to the need to account for property held in a joint tenancy in unequal shares. Passed 100-0 in the House and 46-0 in the Senate. (Primary sponsor: Sen. Hartsell)

Modify P3 Ethics Reporting Requirements (S193) – A bill modifying P3 ethics reporting requirement in S.L. 2014-18. Passed 105-6 in the House and 40-4 in the Senate. (Primary sponsors: Sen. Hartsell)

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Art Pope to step down as governor’s budget director

Gov. McCrory with outgoing budget director Art Pope on Wednesday. (Photo: Governor’s Office)

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday announced that Art Pope is stepping down as his budget director after 19 months on the job.

Taking Pope’s place is Lee H. Roberts, who recently served as managing director of Piedmont Community Bank Holdings in Raleigh. He is the son of veteran journalist Cokie Roberts.

Pope held the post since January of 2013, staying beyond his initially agreed upon one year of service to help McCrory forge a budget deal with the Republican-led legislature this summer. He collected just $1 for his salary.

“Art Pope has been an invaluable public servant for the people of North Carolina,” McCrory said. “He has dedicated much of his life to the betterment of North Carolina and it has been a privilege to have him at my side.”

McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte and the first Republican governor of North Carolina in two decades, said he did not know Pope very well when he asked him to join his fledgling administration. But by bringing the wealthy businessman and former state lawmaker on board, McCrory gained a savvy adviser with strong ties to Raleigh politics who could help navigate a sometimes contentious relationship between the governor’s office and legislature.

And yet Pope’s role also attracted national media scrutiny and criticism for his longtime funding of conservative causes and political campaigns.

In selecting Roberts, McCory will have a far less well known, and far less controversial, budget director.

“Lee has a terrific sense of fiscal sensibility and responsibility, and I’m excited to have him join our team,” McCrory said. “His experience in the global marketplace will provide a useful and original perspective, and his leadership skills will further our administration’s goal of thoughtful, deliberate stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

Roberts takes the fiscal reins from Pope at a time when the governor says North Carolina faces revenue challenges and looks to find greater efficiencies in state government.

Roberts was previously the executive vice president and chief operating officer of VantageSouth Bancshares. He also founded a real estate investment and advisory firm, Coley Capital, LLC. He has worked for Morgan Stanley & Co., Cherokee Investment Partners and as an associate with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP.

He received his undergraduate degree in political science from Duke University and earned a law degree from Georgetown University.

He was appointed by McCrory to the North Carolina Banking Commission in 2013. He also serves on the board of trustees for the Ravenscroft School and is vice president of the Duke Alumni Association.

Roberts is the grandson of Lindy Boggs, the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana, and former U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, both of whom were Democrats.

Gov. McCrory introduces Lee Roberts as his new budget director on Wednesday at the Executive Mansion. (Photo: Governor’s Office)

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McCrory signs bill on residential health-care structures

Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday signed legislation providing increased options for North Carolinians needing medical care at their own homes.

House Bill 625 exempts temporary health-care structures from zoning ordinances, adult care licensing rules and lodging laws when placed on properties with a single family home.

“This bipartisan legislation will provide an alternative for families to care for loved ones on their own property, instead of placing them in hospitals or other state facilities,” McCrory said.

Temporary health-care structures contain medical amenities and are placed on properties with single family homes as a stand-alone building. They are intended to provide extra space for at-home health care, particularly when a family has limited space in the house and is taking care of a sick relative.

The bill’s primary sponsors were Reps. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe), Julia Howard (R-Davie, Forsyth), Mitchell Setzer (R-Catawba) and Nathan Ramsey (R-Buncombe). The measure passed 108-0 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate.

Five other bills were also signed into law by the governor on Friday:

Building Reutilization for Economic Development Act (H201) – Passed 66-42 in the House and 39-9 in the Senate. Primary sponsor: Rep. Torbett.

Escheat Savings Bond Trust Fund/Scholarships (H27) – Passed 100-0 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate. Primary sponsors: Reps. Howard, Hager and Torbett.

Mitigation Buffer Rule/Wastewater Treatment (S883) – Passed 68-39 in the House and 34-12 in the Senate. Primary sponsor: Sen. Brock.

Special License Plate Development Process (H101) – Passed 99-0 in the House and 42-2 in the Senate. Primary sponsors: Reps. S. Martin, Howard, Moffitt and Setzer.

Retirement Technical Corrections Act of 2014 (H1193) – Passed 115-0 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate. Primary sponsors: Reps. Collins, S. Ross.

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