Loretta Boniti

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Gov. Perdue: Fracking can be done safely, create jobs

RALEIGH — A controversial practice this week got a big boost from Gov. Bev Perdue.

“From what I saw, fracking can be done safely if you regulate it and put fees in place to have inspectors on the ground,” said Perdue.

The governor surprised many this week when she said fracking might be a viable option for North Carolina. This method of forcing natural gas from deep underground has many environmentalists warning of potential problems, like contaminated groundwater and dangerous gas leaks.

Perdue visited a fracking operation in Pennsylvania last week to see how it works first hand. She said she now believes with the right precautions in place, it could be something she would support.

“At the end of the day it’s jobs,” said Perdue. “It’s a fuel source produced in this country and it’s something that can help North Carolina be globally competitive.”

This position has some opponents speaking out.

“So we see a statement that it can be safely done as really defying the growing body of knowledge of the regulatory failures and the bodies of science from independent institutions that are studying the impacts on groundwater,” said Hope Taylor with Clean Water N.C.

But fracking supporters are glad to hear the governor’s encouraging words. They said they believe this means the state could soon be in the fracking business.

“I believe with the Governor’s support we will be able to get a bill that can pass,” said Rep. Paul Stam, House Majority Leader, “that she will not veto. And we can begin.”

Stam said a bill allowing this recovery process in North Carolina could pass as early as this spring’s legislative session. Opponents said that is troubling.

“There is no way that North Carolina is going to be ready to deal with a complex and technically demanding technology and the regulatory requirements, if we knew what those were, because we have seen that demonstrated,” said Taylor.

The N.C. Department of Natural Resources is expected to release a study on fracking in North Carolina on Friday.

Lawmakers question NCDOT’s need for helicopter

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Transportation owns a helicopter that, by any standard, is a luxury aircraft. But its a luxury that isn’t often taken advantage of.

“The helicopter only flew 66 hours in calendar year 2011,” said Catherine Moga-Bryant with the Program Evaluation Division.

The helicopter cost the state $560,000 worth of maintenance and upkeep last year, which means it cost $8,553 for every hour the helicopter was in use.

In continued tough economic times, a state legislative oversight committee debated if this is a luxury the state needs. Some said, maybe yes.

“We are competing with other companies in other states,” said Sen. Rick Gunn, an Alamance County Republican, “and I know I don’t use a terribly old, beat up, dilapidated pick up truck to take clients around to see industrial sites.”

The head of the state’s oversight division said the costs for the helicopter weren’t unexpected and that he is not surprised to hear lawmakers question whether or not this helicopter is warranted.

“Its just the nature of the helicopter in its mission,” said John Turcotte, the Program Evaluation Division Director. “It is not going to be used fairly often. So what we are suggesting is given the circumstances, it would make sense to us, at least economically to use a less expensive helicopter.”

The helicopter is used for two main functions. In times of emergency, it is used to travel across the state and survey damages. It is also taken out when the state is recruiting new businesses to help get from property to property to show what the state has to offer.

Gov. Bev Perdue uses the helicopter in both of those circumstances, but says she understands lawmakers hesitation.

“I understand the need for efficiency in government,” said Perdue. “I’ve done my share of cutting. Probably more than the General Assembly in terms of recommending cuts. So, I respect the discussions that are ongoing.”

Discussing about getting rid of this helicopter doesn’t mean lawmakers are looking to let the helicopter go completely. They said there could be more economical choices out there.

“There are other types of helicopters that we can lease from companies in North Carolina,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Caldwell County Republican. “They just may not be the limousine.

Lawmakers are still in preliminary discussions about the state DOT helicopter.

Home care facilities wary as deadline looms to comply with federal Medicaid mandates

RALEIGH — As the state works to comply with federal Medicaid mandates, people getting and giving personal care services in North Carolina are fearful of what changes are to come. Currently, the state has a deadline of April 30 to meet requirements, which will change the Medicaid reimbursement for adult home care facilities.

State lawmakers expressed concern Tuesday that there is not a plan in place as to how to handle that change when it comes while home care workers said they expect dire outcomes.

"I can tell you how it will affect. There will be nobody in facility to change diapers. There will be nobody in facility to give medications. There will be nobody in facilities to supervise folks. That’s how it will affect," said Lou Wilson.

The state plans to petition the federal government to ask for a delay in these changes.

ON JONES STREET- More protests, more arrests

RALEIGH — You would think the biggest news of the day would be the senate’s $19.4 billion dollar budget proposal. (Well- it actually is the biggest news– but the loudest news- that is another story). Instead, what everyone is talking about in Raleigh, is the disruption during the House session. NC NAACP President William Barber was scheduled to speak at a rally at the Legislative Building Tuesday afternoon- but never got the chance. Instead, he was taken away in hand cuffs after he began yelling from the House gallery.

Speaker Thom Tillis handled the disruption calmly- and moved the house session along afterwards. But did release this statement afterwards:

"Today’s disruption was one of the most disrespectful displays I have witnessed during my tenure in the House of Representatives. It was a clear violation of the rules of the House, and those rules will continue to be enforced to ensure safety and dignity in the people’s House."

Barber, and six others, were charged with disorderly conduct. (Which, by the way, is the exact same thing the protestors earlier this session were charged with– no special treatment, or harsher punishment for Barber).

Poole sentenced at federal courthouse

There was still a little "fight" left in former Easley aide Ruffin Poole at the federal courthouse in Raleigh on Tuesday. He was there to be sentenced on one count of federal tax evasion- a charge he pleaded guilty to last year. He was given a year and a day behind bars (that extra day- pushing him over the "minimum" sentence needed to get time off for good behavior– so he will actually serve 312 days for his crime).

But it was the outside the courtroom antics that had the media talking. On his way into the courthouse- Ruffin himself got a little handsy with a WRAL photographer- pulling him out of his way. On the way OUT of the courthouse- News14’s photog got the worst of the family’s aggression. Several of our market competitors have great video of our photographer on the receiving end of a physical altercation.

Clearly- today’s sentence is not sitting well with the Pooles. For many that seems to be because he is the ONLY person landing behind bars in this whole two year investigation.

ON JONES STREET- Marathon approps meeting ends with approval

RALEIGH — State lawmakers spent about nine hours going over the house’s state spending plan proposal Wednesday. This is typical a marathon session day- but this year- there was a little more familiarity with the budget because of lengthy sub-committee work. Which is why the legislators, and us reporters, are getting to go home before midnight. 🙂

In the end 105 amendments were offered and voted on. (More actually- but some were pulled by the legislators during the process). None of them were anything that will change anyone’s mind about the budget as a whole– if you liked it, you still do… if you didn’t… you still won’t. But some changes were made- there is now one ferry line that will remain free- Orcacoke to Hatteras- there was money restored for some things like sentencing services, and Learn and Earn Early College High Schools. But still no dice for non-legislative approval of federal rail funding… and Planned Parenthood is still axed from the spending plan.

This budget is likely to stay very partisan. We expect Republicans to vote for it- and democrats to give it a thumbs down. The senate is then expected to change it- and all indications are that the Governor will veto whatever these lawmakers send her way.

This marathon appropriations day is likely just the first of many- as lawmakers work to get this budget signed by the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

ON JONES STREET- Unemployment benefits standoff?

RALEIGH — It was about 10 days ago now when Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the only legislatively approved bill to extend some unemployment benefits for North Carolinians. Couple of things to remember about this bill- it only used federal dollars to pay the benefits, the state ESC did not inform lawmakers of the need for this until the 11th hour, AND Republicans attached a clause to the bill dealing with the next state spending plan in an effort to get the Governor not to veto their proposal.

The Governor called that last move extortion and wouldn’t sign the bill- which meant 37 thousand North Carolinians lost their benefits. Ten days later no one is ready to blink. Senator Phil Berger, the President Pro-tem, said there is NO intention by the Republicans to introduce or consider any other bill on this issue. And Governor Bev Perdue said she believes it is time for lawmakers to do their job and figure out how to extend the benefits.

Now cue the legislative democrats. They are basically sitting on the sidelines to see how this all plays out. But, not anymore. On Wednesday, the joint democratic caucus is hosting an informal hearing on the issue. Expect to see some of those unemployed North Carolinians paraded out- and plenty of advocates to speak on behalf of them.

Will this do anything to change anyone’s mind? Probably not. The Republicans don’t look like they are ready to budge… and Perdue still believes the original proposal amounts to extortion.

ON JONES STREET-Budget timeline

Speaker Thom Tillis just stopped by the press room to discuss the timeline for the House to complete its budget work. Appropriation sub committees WILL finish their work this week. Then next Tuesday the bill will go to House Finance (a reversal of typical order– where it normally goes to Approps first). Wednesday and Thursday the budget bill will be in Appropriations. The full bill should be online by next Friday the 29th… and votes/debate will begin on the floor on Monday May 2nd. Final vote Tuesday May 3rd.

Tillis says this keeps the general assembly on track to have all budget work completed by June first. (And plenty of time if the Governor vetoes the bill for the legislators to take another crack at it before the end of the fiscal year on June 30).

By the way- this does give people three full days to review the full budget before the first vote is taken. Online Friday- vote on Monday. Could be a long Monday night session!

ON JONES STREET- Storm aftermath

Raleigh- As the dust begins to settle from the tornadoes that tore through NC over the weekend, lawmakers are back to work and wondering what they can do to help in the recovery process.
Republican leaders have reached out to Governor Bev Perdue and say they will do whatever needs to be done to help out. Democrats say they agree and several came forward Tuesday to discuss the devastation and resilience in their communities:

ON JONES STREET-The case has been cracked!

RALEIGH — Mystery solved! After a couple weeks of speculation, the postponement of legislative pardon, and a lot questioning- Senator Phil Berger revealed the culprit of the poison letter left in the Senate chambers.

First the background. If you remember, the Senate was set to pardon for Governor William Holden. He was impeached and removed from office, after using militia against the Ku Klux Klan. The letter left mysteriously on the Senator’s desks pointed to a rather sordid past of Holden. And left some wondering if the pardon was really fit?

But the bigger question was who left the letter. No one, other than a Senator, is allowed to. Of course, the security cameras in the chamber were not working either to catch the culprit.
Then this afternoon, Berger stood up and announced mystery solved- it was a HOUSE legislative assistant. And, that assistant is no longer working in the General Assembly. After some digging by fellow members of the press corps- it was Ashe Representative Jonathan Jordan’s former LA, Carlton Huffman.

So now that the whodunit is over- what will happen with the Holden pardon??