Under the Dome

Dome: Decker say state wants to help unemployed

July 1, 2013 

State Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker is urging the long-term unemployed to seek the state’s help in finding jobs.

“Please come in and talk with us,” Decker said in an interview Monday. “Give us the opportunity to work with you, to help you find gainful employment.”

Decker was trying to get that message out Monday, the effective date of a new state law that triggered the end of unemployment benefits for an estimated 70,000 unemployed workers. Those workers had exhausted their state-funded benefits and were relying on extended federal benefits, which ended as a result of the law. The affected workers started receiving unemployment benefits before Jan. 1.

Democrats and others have portrayed the law that was pushed through the legislature by the Republican majority and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory as heartless.

Decker, however, tried to put a nurturing spin on the issue, stressing that the state is ready to assist those who seek help.

“There are an awful lot of folks who haven’t taken advantage of what we offer,” she said.

The state also is working to upgrade its online job-search capabilities at the Division of Employment Security’s JobLink offices, she said. That includes implementing a new system, which will be available statewide Aug. 1, that makes it easier for job seekers to locate job openings across the state – and for employers to locate job seekers.

Decker didn’t dispute that the end of the extended federal benefits, which has been pumping about $20 million a week into the pockets of the unemployed, is a minus for the state’s economy.

“I think there is a short-term impact,” she said. “I think we would be naive to suggest anything other then that.”

But, she added, the state’s focus is on “long-term sustainable job growth” and getting people back to work.

Commissioners stirred up

The head of the state’s fracking commission has asked Republican lawmakers to honor a hands-off policy with regard to shale gas exploration.

N.C. Mining & Energy Commission Chairman James Womack wrote to lawmakers that the legislature’s recent attempt to trump the commission’s work not only creates the potential for abuse by the energy industry but also stirs up North Carolina’s anti-fracking opponents.

The warning is the latest development in a fracking subplot unfolding between the year-old commission and the state legislature that created the commission last year to write 120-plus safety rules to govern fracking in the state.

Womack, a Republican himself, sent a two-page letter late Sunday to the Republican leaders in the legislature: N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

The letter, which was carbon-copied to all N.C. House and Senate members, follows a unanimous vote Friday by the commission. Commissioners are exercised about a recent Senate committee vote to bypass the commission on the most important issue of fracking safety: chemical disclosure.

The commission has been working on a chemical disclosure rule that some commissioners tout as the strictest in the country.

But the Senate committee approved its own chemical disclosure rule that allows energy companies to withhold the contents of any chemicals they deem to be “trade secrets.”

The Senate move flummoxed some Mining & Energy Commissioners, who urged sending lawmakers a strongly-worded message of concern.

“As written, the language would allow any company to claim exemption from disclosure of important information about potentially dangerous hydraulic fracturing fluids being pumped into oil and gas wells,” Womack wrote in the letter.

The offending legislation, House Bill 94, still needs to be approved by the full Senate and House before it becomes law. If approved, it would limit the kind of chemical disclosure rule the Mining & Energy Commission could write.

Jones wants hearing into Smithfield sale

Rep. Walter Jones is asking for the House Agriculture Committee to hold a hearing on the proposed acquisition of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, by China’s Shuanghui International Holdings Limited.

In a letter to committee chairman Frank Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma, Jones said there were national security issues raised by the merger because of the threat it posed to the food supply chain.

“This attempt by a Chinese company – which has a history of egregious food safety violations – to take over the world’s largest pork producer is not a situation that Congress can ignore,” Jones said.

He noted the Senate Agriculture Committee has already scheduled a hearing.

Who said what

Dome wants to clear up a little matter of who say what when. Last week, in a roundup of activities on Jones Street we reported that the House had passed a bill requiring schools to teach students about the connection between abortion and pre-term births. In that item, we included the quote “If you don’t believe that a 9- or 10-year old is experimenting with sex, you better wake up,” and attributed it to Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican. The speaker was actually his fellow Republican, Rep. Jim Fulghum, a Raleigh a doctor.

Staff writers

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