Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Dozens gathered Saturday to share ideas, make their voices heard and discuss ways to create a better Wilson County for all during a legislative information exchange session hosted by state Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield.
The event, held at the Wilson County Public Library, was an opportunity for Farmer-Butterfield not only to share her 2019 legislative focus but also to listen to residents’ concerns and take those back to Raleigh to add to her list of priorities.
The diverse group discussed an array of topics Saturday including education, mentorship programs, housing, health care and economic development. Farmer-Butterfield said she was thrilled about the turnout as well as concerns and ideas that came out of the meeting.
“They jumped right in and were very vocal,” she said.
The meeting was also held to recruit members for the 2019 Wilson County Citizens Legislative Advisory Council — an idea Farmer-Butterfield had to ensure the needs of the people are being addressed.
The council will prioritize legislative items raised by residents during listen-and-learn sessions Farmer-Butterfield held around Wilson County during her re-election campaign. They will also take the concerns from Saturday’s meeting, categorize them, look at short-term and long-term goals and then move from there.
Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, is serving her ninth term representing House District 24. Under new legislative maps developed during a court-ordered redistricting process, the district now encompasses all of Wilson County.
Farmer-Butterfield said nearly all those who attended Saturday’s meeting said they would serve on the advisory council.
“I’m elated,” she said. “In spite of the weather, people were still committed to coming and giving their input and serving on the advisory board.
“It shows that people do care. They do want to make a positive difference in their community. They know the needs.”
She said a decision will be made soon on who will be appointed to the advisory committee, which could include alternate members. Farmer-Butterfield said the goal is to make the committee diverse in backgrounds and expertise.
“We want a well-rounded committee,” she said. “We want them to bring all the stakeholders together and have a team approach to this.”
Wilson Councilman Derrick Creech, Wilson County Commissioner Sherry Lucas and Wilson County School Board member Rhyan Breen also attended Saturday’s meeting.
Farmer-Butterfield said she built her 2019 legislative agenda out of the listen-and-learn sessions she held across the county last year. That legislative agenda includes expanding Medicaid, raising teacher pay for all including veteran teachers and principals, raising the minimum wage, more access to early childhood education, equal pay for equal work, expanding broadband efforts not only in eastern North Carolina but in other rural communities for farmers. Other priorities include “earn while you learn” and apprenticeships at community colleges.
“These things tie into what was told to me at the listen-and-learn sessions,” Farmer-Butterfield told the group.
Farmer-Butterfield is a primary sponsor of the House bill version of Medicaid expansion that was introduced last month.
“I’ve been fighting for that for a long time,” she told the group. “It seems like the members of both parties are receptive to Medicaid expansion.”
She said 3,200 people in Wilson County would gain health care coverage as a result of the expansion.
“It will also keep rural hospitals open,” she told the group. “It’s also going to help the veterans.”
She said there are 23,000 veterans in North Carolina who don’t have health care.
“We’ve got to change that,” she said.
She also added that the expansion would help the opioid crisis, where those suffering from substance use disorder could access more treatment.