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Archive for State News – Page 2

Voter Turn Out Numbers: Not Just Black and White

Turnout was up for black voters overall in the state’s May primary, but further analysis reveals plenty of shades of gray in the data. Statewide, 44-thousand more African-Americans cast their ballot, but turnout is actually down in more than half of the counties in North Carolina where blacks make up a large portion of registered voters. Democracy North Carolina – a nonpartisan group – analyzed turnout county by county.

Executive director Bob Hall explains “We can’t brag about any of that and we really ought to be helping make voting more accessible and more exciting to people. They need to recognize that people that are elected have a tremendous impact on their lives.”

Attorneys representing the state in a lawsuit regarding the recent voting-law changes are using the increased turnout to argue that the new laws are not causing voter suppression. According to the analysis by Democracy NC, 82-percent of the increased black vote occurred in the 12 counties where there were highly contested races.

Mecklenberg County saw the biggest increase in African-American votes, but the county was the center of a highly anticipated Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District. Hall says it’s important to understand the overall statewide increase is influenced by a handful of counties.

“The bulk of the increase happened in a handful of counties where there were African-American candidates in the D1emocratic primaries running against white candidates generally, and it galvanized the communities,” said Hall

Recent voting law changes in North Carolina decreased the number of early voting days and will require voters to provide a government-issued photo ID in 2016.

 

White House Recognizes NC Program That Helps Formerly Incarcerated

Two-decades ago, when Daryl Atkinson served 40-months in prison for a first-time, non-violent drug crime, he never imagined he would later be invited to the White House for recognition of his work to help others with a criminal record get jobs. Atkinson now works as an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where he helps others find work after they’ve paid for their crime. “America is a land of second chances. Within our country, America had not been giving second chances to people with criminal records.”

Atkinson was recently recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work. According to the Second Chance Alliance – in which Atkinson plays an active role – one-point-six million North Carolinians have a criminal record. Alliance data indicates that someone with a criminal record is 50-percent less likely to receive a call back after filling out a job application.

The “Ban the Box” campaign is one program that got the White House’s attention. With the help of the Durham Second Chance Alliance, Atkinson succeeded in getting the city of Durham to remove the box asking about criminal convictions from their employment application.  “Since the policy was passed, the hiring rate for the city has increased every year, and these numbers and these increases have occurred without any increases in workplace crime.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also offers help to people convicted of crimes to regain the ability to work, obtain professional licenses for their skills, and vote

Higher Gas Prices, Heavy Traffic This Holiday

North Carolina highways are expected to be unusually busy over the Independence Day holiday despite relatively high gas prices.

More than a million North Carolinians are expected to hit the road for the holiday, the highest number in more than a decade, according to AAA Carolinas.

North Carolina gas prices, averaging $3.56 a gallon, are 16 cents higher than over the July 4th holiday last year, with prices this year the highest since 2008. Asheville’s average price is $3.64, tied with Durham for the highest in the state.

The Fourth of July holiday typically is dangerous on the roads. Traffic deaths soared last year over the holiday weekend, with 18 deaths, the highest in eight years in North Carolina. In seven of those deaths, alcohol was involved.

The N.C. Highway Patrol began its “Booze It & Lose It: Operation Firecracker” campaign targeting drunken drivers June 27 and will continue it through Sunday.

According to AAA, the number of North Carolinians traveling more than 50 miles from home is expected to be 1,175,000, with 1,015,000 choosing to drive — up from 988,000 last year.

Airplane trips are estimated at 90,400. Other types of travel — bus, rail, watercraft — are estimated at 70,000.

North Carolina will suspend most construction projects along interstates, secondary and primary routes from 4 p.m. Thursday to 9 a.m. Monday.

4th of July Beach Plans? Think Again.

A hurricane watch has been issued for part of North Carolina’s coast as Tropical Storm Arthur moves northward, threatening Fourth of July plans along the East Coast. The hurricane watch in North Carolina covers an area from Bogue Inlet to Oregon Inlet, including Pamlico Sound. A tropical storm watch is in effect for parts of Florida and South Carolina. The storm’s maximum sustained winds early Wednesday are near 60 mph (95 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Arthur is expected to strengthen and become a hurricane by Thursday. Arthur is centered about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is moving north near 6 mph (9 kph). The Hurricane Center urged those as far north as parts of Virginia to monitor Tropical Storm Arthur’s path. 

Got To Be NC Agriculture Month

Farmers across North Carolina are in full swing, bringing their fresh fruits and vegetables to market. Those farmers are part of the state’s $78-billion agriculture industry. In recognition of agriculture’s importance as the state’s top industry, Gov. Pat McCrory has proclaimed July 2014 as Got to Be NC Agriculture Month.

Got to Be NC, the official state identity program for North Carolina agricultural products, is managed by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The agency works with farmers, agribusinesses, retail partners and foodservice providers to promote North Carolina agricultural products and find new markets to help local farmers.

Several special events are planned during July to celebrate Got to Be NC Agriculture Month, including:

Peach Days at the state-operated farmers markets in Raleigh (July 10) and Colfax (July 18);

Dig into Local Restaurant Week, July 14-23, with participation from restaurants in eight Piedmont counties;

Watermelon Days at the state-operated farmers markets in Charlotte (July 11), Asheville (July 18), Colfax (July 25) and Raleigh (July 31).

The department offers a variety of free, online directories to help consumers find local food near them. Go to www.gottobenc.com to learn more about the products grown, raised, caught or made in North Carolina.

Coal Ash Bill Leaves Questions

A bill (SB-729) that would close all coal-ash ponds in the state by 2029 is now in the hands of the North Carolina House. Among the provisions, it requires Duke Energy to remove the ash from four of its plants and place it into lined landfills.

While it sounds like the solution citizens and environmental groups have been asking for, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper – Kemp Burdette – says he’s concerned that the coal-ash ponds near him and others are left off the list. “There’s no real detail about what cleanup means for these other 10 sites. These ponds are frequently built on top of existing streams, frequently built on wetland areas.”

The Duke plant on the Cape Fear River is not among the four scheduled for immediate cleanup in the bill, but in recent years there’s been evidence of toxic coal ash leaking into the ground water supply of area residents. Duke recently partnered with the local water department to create a new water source for the families effected. On the list to be immediately cleaned up are the Asheville, Sutton, Dan River and Riverbend sites. Duke says it continues to cooperate with the state.

Supporters say the Senate bill expands on the proposal to clean up the coal ash by Governor Pat McCrory – who retired from Duke Energy.

However, Burdette and others are concerned that it will allow Duke to reclassify illegal discharges of coal ash under permits already approved by the state. “What this bill does is basically say that, with the stroke of a pen, we’re going to take what has been illegal discharges, un-permitted discharges, and we’re just going to kind of wrap them under existing permits.”

The legislation also does not require Duke or other companies to use liner systems in any new storage of toxic coal ash, but it does require the company to monitor groundwater for the next 30 years.

Avoiding Snake Bites in NC

Folks living in North Carolina have a better chance of getting bitten by a snake than people living anywhere else, according to new research. North Carolina’s estimated rate of snake bites is nearly five times the national average.

Of the 37 species of snakes throughout North Carolina, only six are venomous, 3 of which are found in the Western counties: Copperhead (found throughout NC), Canebrake Rattlesnake (found throughout NC), Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 8,000 people a year receive venomous snake bites in the United States, and only 9 to 15 victims (.2%) die. In fact more people die from wasp and bee stings than from snake bites. Most of the fatalities received no medical treatment or first aid. The same simple care one takes around wasp nests and busy roads also suffices to keep the risk of snake bite to acceptable levels. Nonetheless, venomous snakes must be considered dangerous and even non-fatal bites can cause severe pain and long-lasting tissue damage.

Some bites, such as those inflicted when snakes are accidentally stepped on or encountered in wilderness settings, are nearly impossible to prevent. But experts say a few precautions can lower the risk of being bitten:

  • Leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten when they try to kill a snake or get a closer look at it.
  • Stay out of tall grass and remain on hiking paths as much as possible.
  • Keep hands and feet out of areas you can’t see. Don’t pick up rocks or firewood unless you are out of a snake’s striking distance. (A snake can strike half its length.)
  • Be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.

What do you do if you suddenly encounter a snake? If you must walk around the snake, give it some room–at least six feet. Otherwise, walk away. Leave it alone and don’t try to catch it.

Though venomous snakes can be dangerous, snake venom may have a positive side. Clinical trials are presently under way to test the therapeutic value of a venom-derived product called ancrod in treating stroke. Earlier proposals, using snake venom to treat neuromuscular disorders such as multiple sclerosis, never reached the clinical trial stage.

Living with venomous snakes is really no different than living with hornets, or other minor risks of daily life. If one finds a hornet nest, one does not disturb it. The same caution should be applied if one sees a snake. Injury may result if hornets or snakes are disturbed or harassed. However, in North America human injuries from playing sports or slipping in the bathtub are far more common than are injuries from snakes. Venomous snakes are simply not a significant human health issue in North America. The appropriate response to encountering a snake is to simply walk away. Do not attempt to capture or kill it, as 70-80% of bites occur in this manner.

NC Sluggish Economy And Low Wage Jobs

North Carolina’s economic recovery is marked by slow job growth and challenges for working families to make ends meet as costs rise. Job growth has concentrated in low wage industries.

According to the Living Income Standard released by the Tax and Budget Center, North Carolina needs to create about 482,000 jobs to replace the ones lost during the recession and to keep up with population growth.  Living Income Standard for one adult with one child is approximately $16.21 an hour to meet basic needs which equals $33,709.00 a year in pay. 80% of the jobs created in NC between 2009 and 2013 are in industries paying far below the $33,709 target.

On average in North Carolina, male workers can expect to make $16.93 an hour while females earn an average of $14.03 an hour. Workers in NC have actually seen their wages fall according to the Tax and Budget Center. There is a  3.3% increase in the output of worker with a decrease of 5.5% in wages which means workers are not being compensated for their increased productivity and efficiency.

Feud Heats Up Over Good Discount Driver Bill

The rates North Carolina drivers pay for car insurance could go up, and it wouldn’t be because of a person’s driving record under legislation being proposed in Raleigh.

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin isn’t a fan of what’s being called the “Good Driver Discount Bill” circulating in State Assembly committees. He’s convinced it wouldn’t offer anything but increased insurance rates for motorists.  “My experts and a number of the larger insurance carriers here agree with me – instead of lowering premiums for North Carolina drivers, it actually will cause their premiums to go up.”

North Carolina has the lowest car insurance rates in the Southeast, due in part to Commissioner Goodwin’s ability to set a cap on rates charged by insurance companies. The Good Driver Discount Bill would allow insurers to bypass the cap requirement. The bill’s supporters say the commissioner would still have the power to approve or reject rates proposed by individual companies.

Supporters of the bill say it will allow companies to offer car insurance discounts that aren’t currently available in North Carolina.

Goodwin says he’s worried with the cap removed, there’s nothing to stop rates from increasing. “That’s a tremendous concern of mine, is that I want to make sure that our drivers, our families, our small businesses are not hit with some increases in their car insurance bills.”

More than 150 companies write insurance policies in North Carolina. The state Insurance Department says there are already two-thousand discounts available to drivers.

NC to Host Championship Golf Tournament

 

Pinehurst No.2 will be the site of the US Open and US Women's Open this year.

Pinehurst No.2 will be the site of the US Open and US Women’s Open this year.

With tens of thousands of golf enthusiasts descending on North Carolina over the next two weeks for the 2014 U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, the state has worked hard to make sure they will have a great and unique experience.  Several of the state’s cabinet level agencies have coordinated their effort to put North Carolina’s best foot forward for visitors.  It is estimated that more than 400,000 people will attend the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open in Pinehurst during the unprecedented back-to-back events.

Departments including Commerce, Public Safety, Transportation and Cultural Resources have spent more than a year going over the smallest details to get ready for the events. From coordinating meetings with international businesses to improving transportation infrastructure, North Carolina is going all out to be an outstanding host.

N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker sees the tournament as a great vehicle to market the state to businesses that might be considering locating here.  The N.C. Department of Commerce is coordinating a number of the state’s events surrounding the U.S. Open Championships, including a special “North Carolina Night” performance by the N.C. Symphony on Friday, June 13, to highlight the various amenities North Carolina offers. The concert is free and the public is invited to attend.

The local convention and visitors bureau estimates the total economic impact of the two championships will be $169 million.  That includes money spent on lodging, food, beverages, transportation and shopping.

The U.S. Open will take place at the historic Pinehurst No. 2 course June 9-15, followed by the U.S. Women’s Open June 17-22. Staged by the United States Golf Association (USGA), the U.S. Open is the annual open golf tournament of the United States. It is the second of the four major championships in golf, and is on the official schedule of both the PGA Tour and the European Tour.

FDA Wants to Limit Antibiotics on NC Farms

hogFarm-dmtmNorth Carolina’s hundreds of livestock farms – including poultry and swine – soon will have to look for other means to keep the meat we eat free of disease. The Food and Drug Administration has asked pharmaceutical companies to limit the availability of some antibiotics to farmers, because of concerns it may be promoting antibiotic resistance.

Barrett Slenning is a professor at the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He says our increasing use of antibiotics has impacted the natural development of bacteria over time. “We are kind of pushing our thumb on the scale, changing that battle because we can now manufacture these compounds and use them, and so we are going to be potentially affecting the environment.”

Slenning says he still believes human overuse of antibiotics – not livestock – is the biggest threat to the spread of diseases such as MRSA. He points out that the MRSA strains often found in livestock are different than those found in humans.

A North Carolina company has developed an alternative to antibiotics in farming. Clearstream – based in Harrisburg – has created a treatment that is applied to an environment to kill the source of bacteria.

While not in use by farms, Clearstream’s products are used in medical facilities, schools, athletic venues and even cruise ships.

Tony Daddona with Clearstream explains why their product may provide a healthy alternative.  “Antibiotics are a band-aid in every situation, so what we try to do is go to the source of the bacteria, before it’s ingested into their bodies.”

In a recent study, Johns Hopkins University found a connection between factory farms and MRSA, particularly in communities with swine-production facilities. According to the state Department of Agriculture, North Carolina ranks second in the nation when it comes to number of hogs in livestock production.

Jim Praechtl is Clearstream’s CEO stated “You’re starting to see more and more community-acquired infections taking place with people that normally would not have been exposed to it. It isn’t like these people all made trips to the hospital and came back out with MRSA.”

The FDA  is recommending veterinary oversight of antibiotic use in livestock farming.

Changes to NC’s Unemployment Laws

NorthCarolinaSealProposed changes to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance laws require recipients to show photo identification and show more effort in their job search to keep receiving benefits. The House gave tentative approval Thursday to the measure that addresses unemployment insurance laws overhauled since 2011. Dramatic changes occurred last year, when maximum benefit levels and benefit weeks were reduced and some business taxes were raised to more quickly eliminate $2.6 billion the state owed the federal government. The bill demands benefit recipients make five employer contacts weekly, up from two. The photo ID requirement affirms a new state policy required when someone visits a workforce development office after receiving their initial benefit. Thursday’s 77-39 vote was largely along party lines in favor of Republicans. A final House vote is expected next week.

New EPA Rule Could Clean Up Power Plants by 2030

4024864398_f86182024c_oPower plants in North Carolina could be required to “clean up their act” by 2030. The EPA has proposed the new carbon emission limits for existing power plants. If adopted, the rules are expected to help curtail global warming by reducing the pollutants known as greenhouse gases. John Robbins, owner of Greathorn Properties in Concord, says the protection goes beyond safekeeping for the environment.

“Wildlife and tourism are good business for North Carolina as well and so, by protecting our wildlife resources, the habitat, etcetera, we protect a very important economic element in this state.”

Robbins is also a member of the group, Environmental Entrepreneurs and vice chair of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. Both groups spoke out in support of the emission guidelines under the Clean Power Plan. The rules would require that North Carolina cut its carbon emissions by almost 40-percent of current levels by 2030.

Opponents of the new EPA rule warn it will have a chilling effect on some parts of the economy, by placing a costly burden on energy providers that would be passed along to customers. Joshua Saks with the National Wildlife Federation says there were bound to be critics.  “I don’t think there is any regulation that the President could put forward – even one that would give free candy and cookies to every American – that wouldn’t be assailed by certain people for purely political reasons.”

A recent poll by Environmental Entrepreneurs found 54-percent of small business owners in North Carolina believe reducing carbon pollution would be good for the state’s economy. Robbins is one of them.

“I think the potential is there for these rules to generate jobs in the renewable sector as we march towards meeting the goals laid out in the carbon plan.”

The same poll also found that 55-percent of the business owners polled want state lawmakers to take steps to address climate change. The EPA now takes public comment on the rules for the next four months.

Common Core In NC

NorthCarolinaSealNorth Carolina legislators are revving up the debate over whether to set aside nationally developed academic standards the public schools already have embraced. The House Education Committee scheduled for its Tuesday meeting agenda a proposal that would direct the State Board of Education to replace Common Core standards for math and language arts. A legislative study committee recommended the replacement after hearing concerns about losing local control from teachers and parents, and even Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. But Gov. Pat McCrory has spoken publicly in favor of Common Core. Common Core has been accepted by more than 44 states, but some are having second thoughts.

Comedian Louis CK is just one of many who have expressed his concern for the standard taking to Twitter to make jokes such as this tweet: “My Kids Used to Love Math. Not it makes them cry. Thanks Standardized testing and common core.”

Common core has students and teachers being judged on results, many say. Some proponents think common core is being adopted to go along with No Child Left Behind which has federally mandated tests.

Advocates say it is being taught new ways to arrive at old answers. It sets unified expectations for what k-12 students should know and be able to do in each grade in preparation for college and the work force. Common core has a new emphasis on breaking down numbers into their component parts so kids can better understand what it means to add, subtract, multiply and divide. The adoption of common core will see a rise in equality of what is being taught across the nation. It will make moving easier, which is one reason why the US Military has advocated for common core. Other countries with high performing students use national standards.

The bill would create a commission to help the education board come up with new standards. The Senate Education Committee plans similar bill debate Wednesday

A Vote on Medical Marijuana

cross.onlyA state lawmaker wants to put the issue of medical marijuana before North Carolina voters as a proposed constitutional amendment.

Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, filed House Bill 1161 last Tuesday calling for a referendum on the November ballot to legalize the cultivation and use of marijuana in North Carolina to treat more than two dozen “debilitating medical conditions,” from cancer and Lou Gehrig’s disease to incontinence and sleep apnea.

Alexander filed a medical marijuana bill last year that was quickly defeated in committee. He said putting it to a statewide vote should give lawmakers some cover in voting for a controversial measure.

 

Alexander noted that some polls show a majority of North Carolinians favor legalizing medical marijuana and called on fellow lawmakers to let everyone decide instead of snuffing out the issue in the General Assembly.

Constitutional amendments are extremely difficult to pass, requiring super-majorities in both the state House and Senate before going to the voters.

Teacher Raises Come with Cost

NorthCarolinaSealNorth Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger released the details of his 2014 education budget Thursday, which would provide teachers with an average 11 percent increase in pay beginning this fall.

But there is a catch — those who would like to take home the significant pay raise, which amounts to somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000 for many teachers, will have to give up their career status, also known as tenure. Lawmakers have been trying to squash tenure for some time, and the General Assembly repealed it during last year’s legislative session.

Governor McCrory said he had problems with the proposal. A court ruled recently that lawmakers can’t strip tenure from teachers. McCory disagreed with the budget on other fronts too including impacts on the Department of Transportation, environmental protection, commerce and health and human services. The budget would also include 14.8 million to build a crime lab in WNC. Extra spending comes from the cuts some of which include eliminating teachers assistants in second grade classrooms across the state.

A bill must pass 3 readings but can’t be voted on the same day. The short session has made it difficult for the public to be involved. Senators have been told to stay in Raleigh on Saturday signaling a vote could come as early as just after midnight Friday.

NC Ranked Among Worst For Obesity and Diabetes

mid section view of a man sitting on a bench in a parkOverweight, obesity and diabetes are among the most costly and harmful health problems in North Carolina. Presently, North Carolina has some of the worst rates in the nation. NC is ranked 17th most obese state and 9th for diabetes in this country. The rates are increasing at alarming speed.  65% of NC residents are overweight or obese. 1 in 10 residents is a diabetic. These issues are all closely related. Obese adults are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than healthy weight adults.

Poor eating habits and physical inactivity are among the leading causes of overweight and obesity. In 2011, 86% of North Carolina Adults did not consume 5 or more fruits, vegetables or beans daily the recommended amount by the Center for Disease Control. It was also reported that 56.5% of adults drank one or more sugar sweetened beverages or more a day.

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School will release its 2014 New North Carolina State Report: Providing Access to Healthy Solutions (PATHS) – The Diabetes Epidemic in North Carolina: Policies for Moving Forward. The report is funded through a grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and was released during the CHLPI Diabetes Leadership Dinner on May 29 and Strategy Forum on May 30 in Raleigh. The report will also be presented to the North Carolina Diabetes Advisory Council (NCDAC) at its spring meeting on Friday May 30. The NCDAC advises the state government on diabetes prevention and management.

NC Writer Maya Angelou Passes On

5 22 2010 Anstiss Krueck PartyA literary voice revered globally for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights has fallen silent.

Maya Angelou died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Wednesday, said her literary agent, Helen Brann.

The 86-year-old was a novelist, actress, professor, singer, dancer and activist. In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

One of Angelou’s most revered books was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Writer Julian Mayfield is said to have described the autobiography as “a work of art which eludes description.”

Affectionately referred to as Dr. Angelou, the professor never went to college. She has more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.

Fracking Gets More Steam

fracking_17A key committee in the North Carolina House has advanced a bill that would lift the state’s moratorium on fracking for natural gas. The House Public Utilities and Energy Committee passed the Republican-backed measure Tuesday with several Democrats in the minority voting no.

The bill was amended to remove a provision directing the first drilling permits be issued in July 2015, replacing it with language allowing permits to be issued 60 days after the final regulations for the industry are approved.

Fracking is used by the energy industry to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.

The bill was approved by the state Senate last week. The legislation’s next stop is the House Finance Committee.

Jackson County is one of several western counties that will see carbon testing as early as August. If the legislation passes, fracking permits will be issued as soon as July 2015.

NC to Receive $4 Million in Grants for Veteran’s Homeless Shelter

Geary-chartGovernor Pat McCrory announced one of the largest federal community development block grants in the state’s history today, a $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a facility for homeless veterans.

 

An unused state building in Butner will be transformed into the Veterans Life Center, a facility where homeless veterans will find the services they need to become independent once again. The building will provide clean, safe housing, as well as access to life-affirming services such as  vocational education and mentoring.

The center will offer health and wellness services such as counseling for substance abuse and mental health and nutrition services, as well as professional counseling services and life skills development.

 

The goal of the program is to achieve self-reliance for up to 150 veterans in two years or less. The project will benefit homeless veterans from all areas of the state.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce has awarded these funds to the nonprofit Veterans Leadership Council-CARES of North Carolina, which assists veterans across the state by creating private-public partnerships between government agencies and volunteers.

The VLC is based in Raleigh and has been in operation since 2009. Its executive director, John Turner, is a former Army officer and decorated Iraq combat veteran. Marine veteran Jeff Smith also leads the organization.

Governor McCrory also thanked U.S. Senator Richard Burr for his unceasing dedication to the project. Burr, the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has been a chief advocate in Washington of the project since its inception.