Loretta Boniti

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Fracking veto override vote passes on lawmaker mistake

RALEIGH – A major policy decision by state lawmakers in the final hours of session is becoming law after a mistaken vote by a lawmaker.

The House was voting on whether or not to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a proposal to allow fracking in North Carolina.

Mecklenburg County Democrat Becky Carney voted for the override, which made the tally 72 to 45, just enough to override the veto.

But Carney actually meant to vote against the veto override.

“The point I want to make is I made a mistake. I am going to take full responsibility for my vote, but I will say this: It is after 11 at night, when we are taking up an issue like this. People are tired. They have slipped all night. You have heard people in there changing their votes on bills all night long. I made a mistake,” said Carney.

Carney was not allowed to change her vote because it would have changed the outcome of the vote.

The fracking bill will now become law.

General Assembly overrides budget veto

RALEIGH – The General Assembly voted to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of its state spending plan proposal Monday night.

The governor sent the bill back to the legislature last week, saying she does not believe it does enough to help out in the area of education as well as other areas of state spending.

In the House, the Republican leadership needed several Democrats to vote with them in order to override the veto. Some said they joined in the effort because they believed it was the best budget GOP leaders were willing to make.

“I don’t think the budget last year was a great budget and I don’t think this one is much better, but the alternative is that the layoffs will begin tomorrow, because the Senate, the House and the governor have spent the last three or four weeks playing chicken,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake.

This budget proposal will now become law.

Perdue to legislature: Keep working on budget

RALEIGH – Gov. Bev Perdue has asked the legislators to continue working on their budget.

At a press conference at the old Capitol Building, Perdue said she met with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger and ask them to keep working on education funding.

“I’m respectfully asking them to keep working for the children of North Carolina,” she said.

The House and the Senate voted separately last week in favor of the $20-billion budget and sent it to Perdue. She has 10 days to either sign it, veto it or let it become law without her signature.

Perdue wouldn’t say if she would veto the budget.

Senior political reporter Loretta Boniti has more.

Senate launches investigation into two DOT letters sent to General Assembly

RALEIGH — The state Senate has launched an investigation into two letters sent to the General Assembly by the administration last week. The letters were retracted hours after they were sent out but the chain of events leading to their original delivery has some senators questioning if an act of fraud occurred.

One letter was sent to a senator discussing funding for the Mid-Currituck Bridge on the coast. The other was sent to a representative dealing with Garden State Parkway in the Gaston County area.

During the Senate’s budget debate last week the two letters appeared on some lawmaker’s desks. Essentially, the letter’s reversed a previous Department of Transportation decision that funding for the two projects could be put on hold for a year.

An amendment was put on the floor by a Democrat that was defeated but had many Republicans scratching their heads because they were surprised to see a change in opinion not being discussed with them first.

Then hours later, a second set of letters from the Department of Transportation this time saying to disregard the first letter. That letter said a signature was put on the letter without the proper review or consent.

Senators said this false information concerns them.

"Clearly something is amiss there ‘fraudulent?’ It seems like it would fit the definition of fraud to me," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-District 48.

The Senate Rules Committee said it is not ready to place blame for this error just yet, but has asked the Department of Transportation to testify Wednesday morning and governor’s office, where the apparent inaccurate information appears to have been added to the letter, to speak on Thursday.

The DOT’s chief operating officer Jim Trogdon released this statement Tuesday afternoon:

"In an effort to respond quickly to inquiries from concerned members of the General Assembly, a letter was sent under my signature last week that was confusing. I was not available to review the final language of the letter before the time that it was needed.

The Governor’s staff and DOT’s Deputy Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs believed both that the changes were accurate and that I would have approved them.

Therefore, the Deputy Secretary approved the revised language, and staff placed my signature on the letter. Steps have been taken to ensure that confusion like this does not happen in the future."

Changes made to fracking bill during House debate

RALEIGH – The state House has begun its debate on bill that would make fracking legal in North Carolina.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial practice of forcing natural gas from underground.

The proposal saw many changes on Wednesday and now many state agencies are on board with the bill.

The environmental committee kicked off the House’s debate on a controversial fracking bill that has already been approved by the state Senate. But the version brought before the House has multiple changes, including multiple protections for homeowners.

Attorney General Roy Cooper said the additions to the bill would give Homeowners the strongest legal protections related to fracking in the country.

“Homeowners need these legal protections if North Carolina is going to move forward with fracking,” said Cooper, in a statement. “Speculators are already knocking on doors, pressing people to sign leases, so we need to put these protections in place now.”

Also on board is the Department of Natural Resources, but said the bill, which requires a two-year period to create fracking regulations before it can begin, does place a burden on them.

“It does create a very significant workload over the next two years, in terms of rule development,” said Robin Smith, assistant DEN secretary. “That is a very complex process when you are talking about the number of rules that would be required here.”

Several lawmakers believe this whole process is moving too fast.

“Everybody’s concerns will be heard and addressed during that process, as it will go through a two, two-and-a-half-year rule-making process,” said Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell.

The full House is expected to debate this proposal on Thursday. If approved it will need a concurrence vote from the Senate.

NC House Environmental Committee approves bill allowing fracking

RALEIGH — A state House committee approved a bill allowing fracking in North Carolina. The House Environment Committee went through the bill Wednesday morning.

It directs state agencies to come up with regulations for natural gas drilling by 2014. The Senate passed the bill last week, mostly along party lines.

Supporters say fracking would create jobs and provide the state with natural gas. Opponents say it would hurt the environment.

The full House could vote on the measure later Wednesday.

NC House approves changes to Racial Justice Act

RALEIGH – The state House has given initial approval to a proposal that would amend North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act.

Some said the changes are so drastic it would render the act useless, but supporters of the bill say these changes are needed.

Those who oppose the act aren’t mincing any words about how they feel about this three-year-old law.

“Since it has little to do with race and nothing to do with justice,” said Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake.

The legislature passed this act in 2009, saying statics could be used by death row inmates to prove race played a role in them being given a death sentence rather than life without parole.

Under the amended proposal now before the General Assembly, the length of time statistics can be pulled from has been defined, the proximity from the crime for those statistics has been reduced and the people whose race can be considered has been cut down.

Supporters of the Racial Justice Act said these changes will gut the law.

“The statistical evidence can never be sufficient not one in 10 trillion, not one in 10 trillion squared, it can never prove the case,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.

Opponents of the law said as it stands right now, the law is too broad and caters to people found guilty of the worst of the worst crimes.

“Evil people doing unspeakable, inhuman acts,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake. “That’s what this is about.”

But after one case has already been tried and ruled on under the Racial Justice Act, some said it has been proven there is racism in North Carolina’s justice system, and the current law helps to override that.

“It’s a good bill,” said Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth. “It goes a long way of saying North Carolina is going to do the right thing.”

After several hours of debate, the House gave initial approval to the bill, with enough votes to override a veto if the governor does not approve of the proposal.

The House will have their final vote on the bill Wednesday. It then goes to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

NC Senate Appropriations Committee considers new budget plan

RALEIGH — The Senate Appropriations Committee is going through the new Senate budget plan Tuesday. The proposed adjustment to the current two-year spending plan aims to improve education without raising taxes.

Sen. Phil Berger highlighted the benefits of the proposal Monday. It would restore $158 million to the state’s K through 12 education system, which would have otherwise been cut, and give most state employees a 1.2 percent pay raise. It would also freeze the state’s gas tax.

However, unlike the House’s proposal, it doesn’t include money to make up for the the several hundred million dollars worth of federal stimulus dollars that will end next year.

The Senate could pass its budget and begin negotiations with the House on a compromise this week.

Perdue: Tax Internet sweepstakes machines for education

RALEIGH – The tangled position of Internet sweepstakes machines in North Carolina could get more complicated.

Right now, the state courts consider whether this form of gaming is legal.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bev Perdue says it’s time to tax the industry to bring in money for the state.

Perdue said her position on internet sweepstakes is clear: She does not like them.

But she said you can drive through almost any city in North Carolina today and find a sweepstakes parlor. Perdue said until the court shuts them down, she has another plan which she says could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for education.

“As long as they are here, until we can outlaw them and until the courts allow them to be outlawed forever we need to tax the heck out them and regulate them,” Perdue said.

Lawmakers who have tried to outlaw these machines multiple times were quick to react.

“I think that is a ridiculous idea,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. “I think, number one, we should wait until this goes through the court systems, through the North Carolina Supreme Court before we take any action. Sweepstakes machines are the scourge on the public.”

Other opponents to the machines said it is best to wait to see what the court has to say, saying this form of gaming is the crack cocaine of gambling and leads to many addiction problems.

“If we tax these parlors, then what we have done is we have legitimized them,” said The Rev. Mark Creech, Christian Action League.

But not everyone is balking at the proposal. In fact, there is a bi-partisan bill sitting in the House that would do exactly what the governor is proposing, but not until the court battle is over.

“A lot of people are against these machines, but most people are think if they are here and they are legal want to get revenue out of it and tax it as well,” said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquatank.

Perdue said this is not really about liking Internet gaming or not. She said at the moment these parlors are open, and therefore she believes the state should take advantage of that.

“This is what we’re about: None of us, you or me, none of us can ever give up on these children. It’s all about the children in North Carolina,” said Perdue.

Right now, a case has been appealed to the state supreme court to determine if Internet sweepstakes can be banned in North Carolina.

Bill to change Racial Justice Act moves forward in House

RALEIGH – State lawmakers are making another attempt to derail North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act.

A bill which would have overturned this law which allows death row inmates to argue race played into their sentence was vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue.

The House lacked the votes for a veto override, but now has put forward what it is calling a compromised change.

In April, a Cumberland County judge ruled that this man was unjustly sentenced to death because of his race. He will now be serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

His case was based on the Racial Justice Act, where statistical data can be used by a death row inmate to prove his sentencing was biased.

Some lawmakers say this law is too vague and needs to be changed.

“The spectacle of virtually every person on death row who was sentenced to death for cold-blooded murder, claiming racial prejudice no matter what their race was, screamed the deficiencies in Senate Bill 461,” said Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake.

A new proposal introduced Wednesday morning greatly narrows the scope of the Racial Justice Act. It only allows the race of the defendant to be considered under the act, not the victim or the jury.

It also limits the statistical bias to the county or prosecutorial district where the act occurred, limiting the information that is available.

“North Carolina continues to go backwards,” said Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth. “When we will knowingly allow racial discrimination in our criminal justice system?”

By its title, the bill said it is looking to amend the current law, but opponents of the change said this will ultimately gut the Racial Justice Act.

This proposal was passed out of committee on a party line vote. District attorneys across the have asked for a repeal of the Racial Justice Act.