NC Senate budget would end intern program

May. 23, 2013 @ 05:05 PM

Dozens of college state-government interns would be sent home this summer and a long-running teen mock legislative program would be shuttered in the Senate budget approved this week.

A budget provision eliminates an office within the Department of Administration that operates the State Government Internship Program and other youth leadership initiatives such as the annual Youth Legislative Assembly — all of which have birthed state officials and others who aspire to leadership.

Joshua Llodrat said Thursday that he wanted to be a pastry chef before getting involved in programs such as the Youth Legislative Assembly, which for more than 40 years has brought hundreds of high school students to Raleigh to debate and recommend "legislation" to the actual General Assembly.

Now "I know politics is what I love and want my life to be," said Llodrat, who was co-speaker at the 2012 youth assembly while at high school in Thomasville and just completed his first year at American University in Washington. His goal is to become a U.S. senator.

While the Youth Legislative Assembly is paid for with private funds and student registration fees, the dissolution of the Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office in the Senate budget means the Assembly would be canceled, office executive director Stephanie Nantz said.

More than 80 college students began Monday for the summer at state agencies for $8.25 per hour. The interns, whose employment ranges from monitoring sea turtles to clerking at the Supreme Court, would have to be let go July 1 if the provision became law, Nantz said.

"It impacts some of the brightest students in our state," Nantz said Thursday.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's budget proposal actually sought the restoration of $30,000 that had been cut from the programs in previous years. The Senate would eliminate its $522,000 budget entirely, along with the agency's five paid positions.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, co-chairman for the Senate budget subcommittee overseeing the department, said the program's elimination was about finding additional spending cuts as the size of the state's Medicaid shortfall widened this spring.

"Basically it's the money. We're dealing with the Medicaid cost overruns and the money has to come from somewhere," Davis said. "Some good programs — and there are a lot of good programs — got cut."

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who participated in the Legislative Assembly and internship program in the mid- and late-1980s, said he's dismayed by the potential eliminations.

"My work experiences with those programs gave me a greater hands-on appreciation for constituent services and the role of state government in North Carolina," said Goodwin, a Democrat who previously served in the state House. "It is certainly worth the investment that will benefit the state for years to come."

The Senate budget is now in the hands of the House, which will assemble its own plan in a few weeks. Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, served in the internship program and budget senior chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, participated in a similar program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Administration department Secretary Bill Daughtridge urged legislators to preserve the program "to remain a part of our investment in the next generation of North Carolina's leaders."

More than 200 students attended this year's Youth Legislative Assembly in March, where students used the state legislative complex to hold their floor session.

The Youth Legislative Assembly hasn't always recommended bills that would sit well with the majority in the actual General Assembly. For example, the 2012 youth assembly backed measures that supported a constitutional amendment creating civil unions for same-sex couples and a bill legalizing assisted suicide for adults.

Students at the 2013 assembly debated legislation about immigration, sex education and fracking.

"They get very passionate about their bills," Nantz said.

The Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office also houses a small grant program for youth initiatives and the state Students Against Destructive Decisions Program, or SADD, which focuses on reducing teen traffic accidents, substance abuse and suicide.