RALEIGH — House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) wore an ear-to-ear smile when asked about his wife and their six-year-old daughter.
“She’s in kindergarten. We started kindergarten this year,” said Bell, adding that his daughter had visited the legislature recently and “tore the office all to pieces.”
On a personal note, to relax, Bell admitted he likes to mow his lawn. He said he’s just recently bought a new lawnmower after the one he had for eight years died and was beyond repair.
“I put my earbuds in, and I cut my grass. I enjoy doing that,” Bell said with a laugh. “You know, I enjoy going for a walk around the neighborhood. I like to walk around the neighborhood and listen to different podcasts… TED talks and all those different things.”
Sitting behind his desk, still wearing that smile, Bell talked with North State Journal about some of the bills he’s been working on, the governor’s emergency powers, the state’s financial situation and Cooper’s budget.
“It is very popular with, of course, military veterans, but you know, we here in North Carolina pride ourselves on being the most military friendly state,” Bell said of House Bill 83, which would allow for military veterans to deduct their military retirement benefits. “If you look at a list of items that we felt like we needed to check off to be superb and be able to say we are the most military friendly state, that is one of the items.”
House Bill 83 will have a recurring fiscal impact, and Bell says they will navigate through that when the bill is taken up in discussion between both chambers in its finance package.
Another military friendly bill is House Bill 370, titled, No Veteran Left Behind. The bill seeks to improve services related to mental health and substance abuse for military veterans and includes a pilot program to help law enforcement better serve veterans dealing with mental health or addiction issues.
Bell said lawmakers are working in conjunction with the Independence Fund to launch a pilot project in North Carolina to help identify if a person law enforcement encounters is a veteran or not and how to respond accordingly.
“The last thing we want to do is put our law enforcement personnel in a situation without the proper tools,” Bell said. “The sheriffs that we’ve talked to like this as another tool in their toolbox they can use, and so we’ve kind of geared it around military-specific areas.”
Bell went on to say that Union County will play a defined role with the county being the home of Independence Fund. He said the Union County sheriff “has been a big advocate for it,” that Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) has a “big interest” in the bill and has signed on as a sponsor. Bell said that they have also received pilot program buy-in from Cumberland, Craven, Onslow, and Wayne counties.
One of Bell’s co-sponsored military bills, which helps students with school transitions and in-state tuition, has already been signed by Gov. Roy Cooper. House Bill 53 allows for students with military parents to continue attending school in the state while their parent is abroad so long as they live with an eligible caregiver. The bill also grants high school students eligible for in-state tuition at the time of application as dependents of military personnel to retain that status upon enrollment, even if the parent is reassigned to another state or to active duty.