Senate Bill 554 back in play

LUMBERTON — The death of Senate Bill 554 was short-lived as the CEO of an architecture firm that needs the bill to pass to build schools in Robeson County is saying it will be sent to committee Friday.

Citing information from Sen. Jane Smith, The Robesonian reported today that Senate Bill 554, which would allow state money acquired through attrition to be used to pay for a lease-purchase agreement, would not be heard in the Senate’s short session.

Smith told The Robesonian she was approached by two Republican leaders, who she did not name, who told her that they had concerns with the bill and they would not let it be heard in committee this session.

The session is scheduled to adjourn after a state budget, which is typically completed in early July, is passed.

“I’ve been told that the bill is going to be heard and there are changes that are going to be made to it, but I don’t actually know what’s going to be changed,” said Robbie Ferris, CEO of sfL+a Architects. A legislative calendar for Friday confirms it will be heard in the education committee at 11 a.m.

Ferris said he wasn’t sure who was making the changes to the bill, but feels confident that it will be seen Friday. The bill was expected to be heard by committees on several occasions, but concerns from legislators and the Office of the State Treasurer stalled the legislation from moving forward.

Legislators decided Wednesday to wait on a plan from the Office of the State Treasurer before moving forward with Senate Bill 554. A representative from the Treasurer’s Office said the plan would promise a way to help rural counties like Robeson afford new schools.

Legislators were expecting to hear the plan from the Office of the State Treasurer on Wednesday but details have not been released.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell said in a statement to legislators last week that her team would not negotiate with Ferris as he would financially benefit from the bill’s passing.

Cowell has urged legislators not to pass Senate Bill 554, saying it would cause Robeson County to take on more debt than it can handle and would allow student and teacher funding from the state to be used to pay private developers.

Meanwhile, Ferris is adopting a wait-and-see mentality, saying he hopes that if the treasurer’s plan doesn’t work, there will be enough time to adopt Senate Bill 554 before the short session ends. Ferris said he is currently formulating a plan B in the case Senate Bill 554 does not pass.

By Gabrielle Isaac

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Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.


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