Loretta Boniti

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Cherokee live gambling bill signed into law

RALEIGH – North Carolina will soon be home to Vegas-style gambling.

The General Assembly gave final approval and Gov. Bev Perdue immediately signed off on a new law that will expand gaming on the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s land in western North Carolina.

That means live dealers could be on the casino floor in a matter of weeks.

A final vote in the state Senate before being sent to Perdue by special messenger, who immediately got out her pens to sign this legislation into law.

“It is a good day for the Cherokee,” said Perdue. “It is a great day for western North carolina and it’s a great day for North Carolina.”

The new law said that class-three gaming is now legal on the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s land in western North Carolina. The Qualla Boundary and the region surrounding it have long struggled with a bad economy and high unemployment.

This law could mean 400 new jobs immediately.

“We’re hoping for the next holiday, July 4th, and we are going to do everything we can to meet that,” said Chief Mitchell Hicks.

What will happen is machines that currently sit on the casino floor will be replaced with live dealers, giving the casino more a Vegas-style gambling feel. This change is expected to bring a lot more visitors to western North Carolina.

“It’s a relief to know that we have finally accomplished what we set out nine years ago to do,” said Hicks. “I don’t think the emotions have really set in yet, of what we have been able to accomplish for the people of our tribe and the people of North Carolina.”

This expansion did not come easily. There were many state leaders who questioned any sort of gambling expansion, saying it could lead to more addiction and more crime.

Perdue said in the end she believes this will do more good than anything else.

“I was a deciding vote in the lottery. I am still proud every time I see that check that puts money into North Carolina classrooms,” said Perdue.

The U.S. Department of the Interior still needs to sign off on this expansion. Under the new agreement, two additional casinos could be built on the Cherokee’s land.

NC residents voice opposition to fracking in public hearing

RALEIGH — A bill is on the move in the General Assembly that would open the door for hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina.

The proposal would lift the state’s current moratorium on this controversial practice of mining shale gas.

But there are plenty of voices of opposition against this action by the state.

For Lee County homeowner Laura Johnson, she said a proposal to open the door to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is turning into a nightmare.

“This takes away my choice. It takes away my rights as a landowner, and honestly it takes away my peace,” said Johnson.

Johnson said she moved to Lee County with a future pictured her in mind. Having her land used for fracking natural gas was not part of it.

“We have a very specific lifestyle that we moved to Lee County to live. I fully intended to raise my babies there. I fully intended to have my grandchildren there, and I just feel right now that this is a noose hanging over my head,” said Johnson.

Johnson was one of many people who spoke before a Senate commerce committee Tuesday. On the table is a bill which would allow fracking in North Carolina.

“I think the bill puts the cart before the horse. It legalizes hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling now and leaves the social environmental safeguards to be worked out later,” said Rob Jackson of Duke University.

The proposal does not allow fracking to begin until safety regulations are in place and the General Assembly gives the go ahead. Supporters of the proposal said it will be a good first step toward creating energy independence.

“They don’t want to be handcuffed to an ayatollah who has a name they can’t pronounce, in a country they don’t know where it is, with a religion and a culture and a language that they don’t understand,” said Bill Weatherspoon, with the N.C. Petroleum Council.

The proposal, as written, advanced out of committee. But many said questions linger about its effect.

“This bill is not taking into account the needs of the people,” said Johnson.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for its consideration.

Presidential campaigns making economy the focus in NC

RALEIGH — The news late last week of slow job growth could not have come at a worse time for a president seeking re-election.

Summer unemployment numbers will play heavily on voters’ minds in November.

For those looking to unseat President Barack Obama, this may have been the crack in his armor they were hoping for.

National unemployment was on the rise in May. Numbers released late last week showed only 69,000 new jobs were created, the smallest amount in years. The reactions were fast, and many.

"Another month of disappointing jobs gains, it is pretty clear the American people are hurting," John Boehner, Speaker of the House said.

"The economy is growing again but it is not growing as fast as we want it to grow," President Barack Obama said.

But for Obama, not growing fast enough at this key calendar slot could spell trouble.

"It’s typical in presidential elections that economic news five and six months out becomes the kind of information that people make their voting decisions on," said David McLennan, a political analyst at William Peace University

McLennan said good jobs numbers in the fall won’t do much to help the president. With recent polling already giving Romney the edge in a swing state like North Carolina, bad numbers now could make up the minds of undecided voters.

"He needs some of these swing states like North Carolina and bad economic news causes those swing states to edge over to the Romney camp," said McLennan

The Obama campaign is quick to point out that his is not the administration associated with a bad economy. A new ad released Monday in North Carolina questions what the former Massachusetts governor did to help people when he was in power. Romney supporters immediately fired back.

"Massachusetts unemployment rate under his leadership went from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent under his administration, so the smoke screen that this ad apparently puts up doesn’t hold up with the facts if people just do some basic homework," said NC House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Still five months out from election day, the story of who is better or worse for the economy will likely continue to play — a story McLennan said could tell the tale of who walks away with a win in November.

"For 90 percent of all likely voters, it’s going to be the economy," McLennan said.

Gambling bill, fracking on the agenda at legislature this week

RALEIGH – State lawmakers continue their work at the legislature this week as the short session continues.

State lawmakers worked some long hours last week and got the first phase of the budget complete, a top priority for this short session.

Some other big bills are expected to be concentrated in the week ahead.

The House is expected to take its final vote on a proposal that expand gaming rights on the Eastern band of Cherokee’s land in western North Carolina.

Several lawmakers indicated they would offer amendments before this final vote, which would allow for live dealers on the casino floor.

The Senate, which has already passed the bill, would then just need to concur to this proposal.

A bill aimed at raising the age of juvenile offenders will get its first hearing this week.

Right now, North Carolina is just one of two states that automatically says 16 and 17 years old qualify for adult court on all offenses. This proposal would gradually change that.

And debate will get underway on a proposal that ultimately could allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in North Carolina.

This bill would help to create the precautions and rules needed to keep this controversial practice safe while being performed in North Carolina.

NC House debates Cherokee gambling bill

RALEIGH – The last major hurdle has been crossed for a proposal which would expand gambling options in North Carolina.

The state House has given initial approval to a bill that would allow live action gaming on the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s Land in western North Carolina.

But many lawmakers said this expansion is a gamble the state should not be taking.

The warnings came from both sides of the aisle Thursday: Legislators who joined hands to say gambling — in any form — should not be expanded in North Carolina.

And arguments that the expansion creates jobs aren’t telling the whole story.

“If that’s the case, perhaps we should take a stand and legalize prostitution,” said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham. “We could create jobs with that.”

At issue is the casino gambling on the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s land. The Qualla Boundary is located in the western part of the state; an area that is one the state’s most economically depressed and where people are looking for jobs.

“We’d be replacing machines with live people,” said Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee.

Right now, there aren’t dealers in the casino on reservation, but a new tribal compact with state allows dealers. Now the legislature needs to sign off on that.

“People won’t go play machines. They are taking that money to Vegas, Atlantic City, or Dover, or wherever else there is,” said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquatank.

The proposal has passed the Senate, and after a back and forth with cross-aisle alliances, it got an initial vote of approval in the house with a 66 to 49 vote.

The House is expected to give final approval to the bill next Tuesday.

Education reform bill gets consideration in General Assembly

RALEIGH – A bill that aims to improve education in North Carolina got its first vote of approval.

The Excellence in Public Education Act saw multiple changes from the original proposal when it was presented to a senate committee Tuesday.

But even though the bill has advanced, many say it still has flaws.

The general concept of the Public Education Excellence Act seems to have broad support. But the devil is in the details.

The bill’s sponsor is the top man in the senate: President Pro-Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

He said one of the issues he is hearing the most about in this reform bill is whether or not teachers could and should be given longer than a one-year contract.

In the proposal presented Tuesday, Berger changed the bill to allow up to four-year contracts.

“The local school boards should have the discretion to employ local professionals on contracts that extend beyond one year,” said Berger.

Also at issue in the excellence bill is pay for performance for teachers, giving bonuses to educators who excel, but educators said they would rather lawmakers take a different route.

We believe lawmakers would do best to focus efforts on increasing pay for teachers and all state employees who have gone four years with no increase, not even for a cost of living,” said Carol Vandenberg, with Professional Educators of North Carolina.

But one of the main components of the bill would increase reading proficiency in grades kindergarten through third grade. Even those who support that idea said this bill might not work.

“We all agree with that goal,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. “It’s just a question of how you get there and I don’t believe this year saying we are going to do it and not putting any money into personnel to do it moves anything ahead.”

It is expected these proposed changes could cost more than $45 million next year and more in years to follow.

This education overhaul advanced out of committee. It will be considered by one more committee before being debated by the full Senate.

Lawmakers to push through budget bill this week

RALEIGH – Lawmakers will get back to work in their so-called short session in Raleigh this week.

They’re expected to tackle a budget bill and education reform. State lawmakers are off for holiday on Monday, but have a jam-packed scheduled on Tuesday.

When legislators return from their one-day break, House Appropriation committee members will have a marathon meeting. After releasing parts of their budget adjustment proposals on Thursday, the full budget bill will be before the body this week.

The plan is to take amendments, vote it out of committee Tuesday and then have the two necessary floor debates and votes in the house on Wednesday and Thursday.

By Thursday at the close of session, send the budget proposal on to the Senate for consideration.

Meanwhile, the Senate is taking on its own big bill this week. President Pro-Tem Phil Berger is looking to move his education overhaul proposal.

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee will hold a two-hour meeting to discuss, debate and vote on this bill which would aim to increase reading standards, teacher standards, and school standards.

And the House will give final passage to two annexation bills, one deannexing several properties from municipalities and the other overhauling involuntary annexation.

House Republicans unveil state budget priorities

RALEIGH – Lawmakers in the state House released the bulk of their proposals for next year’s budget.

The plans were laid out in multiple sub-committee meetings on Thursday and will be on the House floor for debate next week.

It was the first glimpse of where state lawmakers planned to move money for the next fiscal year.

“The big chairs give, we spend, I don’t ask questions,” said Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes.

The appropriations sub-committee on education came bearing hundreds of millions of dollars of new money — about $259 million to fill a hole from the end of federal EduJobs funding.

That money is new state money, replacing federal money that is ending in July and local school districts will now send less money back to the state. Republican leaders said this should be welcome news.

“They have to be absolutely elated seeing this budget that we have replaced federal money by reducing the federal reserve,” said Holloway. “So I think this has to be unexpected for them.”

In health and human services, there is some new money too: Money in part will be directed to Pre-K programs.

“[We need to] make sure we that we have the slots available for those kids that are truly at risk and are helping those 4-year-olds prepare as they head into kindergarten,” said Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

But some cuts are in question and administration officials said they believe this proposal needs improvement.

“I’m hopeful we will be able to reconcile some of the differences,” said Health and Human Services Acting Sec. Al Delia. “There is still a long way to go.”

For justice and public safety, there is no new money; in fact, about a two-percent cut from what was planned when the budget was written last year.

“I think we have taken all the cuts that the courts and the prisons can take,” said Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston. “We are down to the bone now, so it is my hope we can start the process of restoring money when this recession ends.”

But even with bare-bones budgeting, money was found in the justice and public safety budget for legal aid, and family court — two items that were potentially on the chopping block.

Details of how the full budget will fit together will be unveiled Tuesday. House leaders said they will then vote that budget out by the end of the week.

The full House Appropriations Committee is meeting Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. It plans to work all day in order to get the budget proposal on the House floor to begin debate on Wednesday.

Eugenics compensation bill passes House committee

RALEIGH – A House committee overwhelming approved a bill to provide compensation for victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program.

Rep. Larry Womble of Forsyth County asked the committee to put North Carolina on the right side of history and approve the bill, which provides $50,000 to victims.

He made his first appearance at the legislature since a wreck in December.

News 14 Carolina’s senior political reporter Loretta Boniti has the latest.

Raleigh students’ documentary highlights NC eugenics story

RALEIGH — Last week, on the opening day of the 2012 legislative session, lawmakers put one issue on fast track: a proposal to allow the state pay compensation to victim’s of its former eugenics program.

Up in the galley on that opening day, were four students from Carnage Middle School in Raleigh.

These students have a special interest in this legislation.

The 8th graders recently won a the state title in a National History Day contest for their documentary on eugenics. They will now represent North Carolina in the national competition next month.

“I thought how could the government have so much power?” said Raaj Pyada, one of the 8th graders. “That they would just pick one person and then sterilize them.”

Throughout the process of making "Eugenics: North Carolina’s Emerging Secrets," these students said they learned a lot about this practice, which continued through the 1970s.

“What shocked me the most wasn’t the sterilization in America,” said student Viraj Rapolu, “was that Hitler, when he incorporated it, he sterilized over 400,000 people and somebody said ‘The Germans are beating us at our own game’.”

These students are now watching government in action, as legislators work to right this wrong.

“They really want the Democrats and Republicans to combine, which they are doing,” said student Nimit Desai, “and they really want to educate people about it.”

For these kids, they said they hope this whole process sheds some light on what forced sterilization meant for the victims and the state.

“So we don’t make the same mistakes in the future,” said student Justin Mott. “We learn from our mistakes.”

For lawmakers, they said it has been a long 10 years to get to the point where they can begin the debate on this proposal.

There will be a public hearing at the Legislative Building on Tuesday. It is set to begin around 2 p.m.