Senate to Give Budget Bill Final Approval Late Friday Night

RALEIGH — The state Senate is looking to make some big changes to state spending with its budget proposal.

The body unveiled its budget bill earlier this week. They plan to give it their final approval late Friday night.

The $22 billion spending plan does give teachers a big pay raise but cuts the number of teacher assistants.

It also includes some structural changes to the Department of Justice and the State Health Department, and that’s stirring up heated debate among lawmakers.

State senators are planning to burn the midnight oil. A final vote on the budget proposal is expected to come down after midnight on Friday.

Its first proposal includes about an 11 percent pay increase for teachers. It’s a pay plan that could be the biggest pay raise for teachers in state history. It would move the state from one of the worst for teacher pay to right in the middle.

However, to get the raise, teachers have to give up tenure. The plan would also cut teacher assistants in all classrooms except for kindergarten and first grade.

“That’s just the way it is. If you want to put teacher raises at the all time, which we are doing, you’ve got to find $470 million somewhere,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman.

The plan also includes a major policy shift. The State Bureau of Investigation and crime lab would be removed from the control of the Department of Justice to an administrative agency, the Department of Public Safety.

“From what we’ve been able to look at, we just think getting it over there where all the other law enforcement is just brings some synergy to that piece,” said Sen. Harry Brown.

It puts almost 200 million more dollars into Mediciad spending but cuts the people who would be eligible for Medicaid by re-adjusting criteria to meet the more stringent federal standards.

After the Senate gives the budget its final approval, it will be sent over to the House for consideration.

– Linnie Supall

NC Senate Reviews Budget Proposal

RALEIGH — The state Senate is looking to make some big changes to state spending with its budget proposal.

The body unveiled its budget bill late Wednesday and plans to give it final approval before the end of the week.

The Senate budget bill was on the move Thursday hours after it was made public. It went from committee to committee and on to the Senate floor.

The changes the Senate is putting forward include big pay raises for teachers but cuts teacher assistants in all classrooms except for kindergarten and first grade.

“That’s just the way it is. If you want to put teacher raises at the all time, which we are doing, you’ve got to find $470 million somewhere,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman.

It makes a major policy shift of removing the state Bureau of Investigation and crime lab from under the control of the Department of Justice and moves it to an administrative agency, the Department of Pubic Safety.

“From what we’ve been able to look at, we just think getting it over there where all the other law enforcement is, just brings some synergy to that piece,” said Sen. Harry Brown.

It puts almost $200 million more into Medicaid spending, but cuts the people who would be eligible for Medicaid by re-adjusting criteria to meet the more stringent federal standards.

“You must meet the base qualifications for Medicaid for income and others moving forward and not the special rates that we had previously put in. This is a cut in serving, the population of Medicaid that we will serve,” said Sen. Ralph Hise.

Also in the area of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Senate says it is ready to look whether Medicaid needs to be removed from the department, rather than make the Medicaid overhaul proposals put forward by the governor’s administration.

“I would rather take several years and see that the program is done right, then to just whack it and say ‘best wishes.’ It is very important that we do this,” said Sen. Louis Pate.

The Senate has been able to quickly move the bill through the committee process not withstanding opposition from Democrats on the committees with plans to give final approval to the budget by the end of the week and send it to the House for consideration.

For his part, Gov. Pat McCrory has indicated he has some concerns about the Senate budget proposal saying it could have a negative impact on several state departments.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Senate One Vote Away from Approving its Tax Reform Bill

RALEIGH — The state Senate is one vote away from approving its version of a tax reform bill.

The proposed plan passed by the House, but the Senate version makes one major change to it: it repeals the privilege tax that cities are currently allowed to levy on businesses who operate in their jurisdiction.

The House had wanted to cap the tax at $100, but Senate says a mistake last year repealed the tax and they want to fix the mistake and then let the tax go away a year later.

“This bill re-instates that tax or just corrects our error for a period of one year and gives us a year to see how we will deal with that or how we will work with the various cities and municipalities throughout the state to handle this,” said Sen. Bill Rabon.

The bill also creates a new tax on e-cigarettes. The bill needs one more vote in the Senate and then heads back to House for concurrence.

NC Senate Proposes 11 Percent Raise For Teachers Who Give Up Tenure

RALEIGH — The state Senate says teachers deserve a pay raise, a big one. As the Senate begins to roll out its budget bill, its first proposal was an average of an 11 percent pay increase for teachers.

Senate Republicans have put forward a teacher pay plan that could offer educators the biggest pay raise in state history.

On average, their pay would be bumped by 11 percent jumping the state from one of the worst for teacher pay to right in the middle.

“It will boost North Carolina from currently 47th in overall teacher pay to the middle of current rankings. The estimate we currently have is somewhere around 27th,” said Sen. Phil Berger.

But there is one big cavet to the plan: to get the raise, you have to give up career status.

If you want to keep tenure, you keep your current pay.

“That plan is frozen, has been frozen and will continue to be frozen,” said Sen. Phil Berger.

That is not sitting well with some teachers who currently hold the career status, commonly referred to as tenure.

“I don’t believe it’s a fair choice for teachers. It’s like dangling food in front of a starved animal at the price of their professionalism,” said teacher Jessica Benton.

The North Carolina Association of Educators says a pay raise is needed. A simple look at the comparison of pay on the current step level and the new Senate proposal shows teacher can make more more quickly.

But they say there are some questions too, especially in there area of tenure.

“We need to be sure to give across the board raises without having to give up our due process rights. I just think it is unfair for teachers. I just think this is a constitutional right, and I think we should be able to maintain it,” said Rodney Ellis.

But the Senate leaders say this plan is a big step in the right direction.

“No greater investment we can make than funding our children’s future,” said Sen. Phil Berger.

The full Senate budget is set to be released late Wednesday and debate is scheduled to begin on Thursday morning in committee.

– Loretta Boniti

Dog owners urge lawmakers to take up puppy mill bill this session

RALEIGH– Dozens of dog owners and their pups gathered outside the legislative building Thursday to urge state senators to consider the puppy mill bill in the short session. Legislation that passed last year in the state House would establish standards of care for large breeding facilities. Now the bill is stalled in the Senate.

“Leo speaks for dogs in North Carolina that have no regulation to protect their well being,” said Janie Withers, a dog owner who traveled to Raleigh from Ocean Isle Beach to join the rally efforts.

Withers’ dog Leo was born without eyes because his mother was malnourished. After the breeder discarded Leo when he got sick, Withers eventually took him in.

“He has congestive heart failure, fluid in his lungs. Leo cannot be saved,” Withers said.

Withers joined other dog owners and their pups. They want state senators to consider legislation written by Representative Jason Saine, who spoke to the crowd.

“As a volunteer firefighter, our fire department responded to a very large puppy mill bust in Lincoln County which the Humane Society, and others helped us with and the stench and the stink and just the nastiness of it and the mistreatment of these animals touched me,” said Saine, a Republican.

The couple dozen dog owners who lobbied lawmakers all have their own puppy mill horror story.

“It’s certainly great to help our four legged friends,” said Saine.

Under the bill, anyone who has ten or more female dogs that are used for breeding must provide the dog with care standards including proper enclosures, routine and preventative veterinary care and daily health assessments.

“Adequate food, daily exercise, all the things that you and I think are just basic care,” said Kim Alboum, director of the North Carolina chapter of the Humane Society of the U.S.

According to Alboum, the Humane Society shut down nearly 20 puppy mills in North Carolina over the past three years which is more than any other state.

Withers believes this bill could help ensure no other dog in the state endures harm like Leo.

“I’ve touched them and I’ve seen them, and it’s not something that is normal,” said Withers.

The governor supports the puppy mill bill. In his budget proposal Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory suggested the Department of Public Safety could enforce the care requirements for breeders. Violators could face a fine of up to $1000.

The North Carolina Farm Bureau released the following statement: “We’ve seen the summary of the Governor’s proposed budget that was recently released and are aware that it contains a proposal to transfer the Animal Welfare Division from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Public Safety. We look forward to seeing the details as the state’s budget process continues.”

– Julie Fertig

Senate GOP blocks Democrat bill to boost minimum wage

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans have blocked an election-year Democratic bill that would have raised the federal minimum wage.

Wednesday’s vote was a defeat for one of President Barack Obama’s top economic priorities. And it is sure to echo in this year’s congressional elections as both parties grapple over which is truly trying to help American families.

The bill would have gradually increased the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over 30 months. Democrats say it would have helped millions of low-income families, while Republicans argue that it would have raised employers’ costs and reduced jobs.

The vote was 54-42 in favor of allowing debate on the measure, six short of the 60 needed to prevail.

Underscoring the political value they believe the bill has, Democrats have said they will force additional votes on the legislation this year.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sen. Kay Hagan Will Not Attend President Obama’s Research Triangle Speech

Democratic Senator Kay Hagan will not attend the speech President Obama is delivering Wednesday in the Research Triangle.

Members of Congress typically attend White House events in their home states or districts, but Sen. Hagan plans to stay in Washington since the Senate will be in session.

Sen. Hagan’s political rivals say her decision is aimed at distancing herself from the president and, by extension, her support of the Affordable Care Act.

But, in a written statement, Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner today said:

“This election isn’t about President Obama, it’s about the contrast between Kay’s record of commonsense, bipartisan results for North Carolina’s seniors, servicemembers and middle class families and her opponents’ records of catering to fringe outside interests. Kay will be in Washington because the Senate is in session Wednesday, and unlike Thom Tillis who skipped session to raise money with special interests, she is focused on doing the job she was elected to do.”

Weiner referenced Tillis’ attendance at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser this past summer, while the North Carolina House was in session. At the time, a Tillis campaign consultant told the News & Observer the speaker “made arrangements to keep the House calendar on track.”

Meanwhile, a sixth Republican candidate entered the North Carolina Senate race today. Former Shelby Mayor and chair of the Cleveland County Republican Party Ted Alexander now joins North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, physician Greg Brannon and attorney Heather Gran, among others.

Geoff Bennett

Foushee to take Kinnaird’s seat in NC Senate

Rep. Valerie Foushee

CHAPEL HILL — Rep. Valerie Foushee will replace former state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird.

The Durham Herald-Sun reports the state House member from Orange County beat out six competitors in two rounds of voting yesterday by the North Carolina District 23 Democratic Party executive committee.

She currently represents House District 50, which covers Orange and Durham counties. Someone will be appointed to serve the remainder of her term.

Kinnaird resigned last month in the middle of her ninth term due in part to frustration over the Senate’s Republican majority.

A crowd seeking to succeed Sen. Kinnaird

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird

CHAPEL HILL — There’s a crowd of Democratic candidates seeking to succeed former Sen. Ellie Kinnaird at the North Carolina legislature.

At least four people — three of them current or former elected officials — have said this week they’re seeking to fill out the remainder of Kinnaird’s term through the end of 2014. Kinnaird resigned Monday from the Senate in the middle of her ninth term, in part due to her frustrations with the Senate’s Republican majority.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, current state Rep. Valerie Foushee and ex-Rep. Alice Bordsen want the job, as does author Amy Tiemann. She, Bordsen and Foushee live in Chapel Hill.

Democratic leaders from Orange and Chatham counties will meet soon to nominate Kinnaird’s successor. Gov. Pat McCrory is required by law to appoint the nominee.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird resigns; plans to start voter ID project

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird

Ellie Kinnaird, Democrat from Orange County, resigned her seat in the N.C. Senate Monday.

Kinnaird said she is working on a grassroots voter ID project.

The election overhaul law requires everyone to show a photo ID in order to vote, among other changes.

In an open letter to supporters, Kinnaird said:

What led me to this decision are the actions taken by the Republican majority in the legislature that has been a shocking reversal of the many progressive measures that I and many others have worked so hard to enact: measures that over the years had made North Carolina a model of moderate-to-progressive, pro-business but also pro-people public policy in the South. From the Republicans’ denial of health care security for our people to their failure to promote a vibrant work force through support for our education systems at all levels and from their tax cuts for the wealthy and their tax increases for the poor and middle class to their efforts to deny people their right to vote, they have been pursuing a divisive and, I think, immoral agenda. The needless pain and suffering the Republicans have brought upon us that I have written about add up to a huge setback for North Carolinians from all walks of life. My own personal sadness is the dismantling of my environmental, social justice and death penalty efforts.

Kinnaird joined her colleagues, Sens. Josh Stein and Martin Nesbitt, in speaking out against abortion regulations, election overhaul and rolling back the Racial Justice Act. But as one of 17 Democrats in the Senate where Republicans have the majority, Kinnaird and her colleague’s efforts to slow or stop legislation were stymied.

She served in the Senate for 17 years. A committee made up of Democrats from Orange and Chatham counties — the district Kinnaird served — will choose her replacement and forward their recommendation to Gov. Pat McCrory, who will make the appointment.

UPDATE: Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt released this statement Monday afternoon in reaction to Kinnaird’s resignation:

For the last 17 years, Ellie Kinnaird has served with distinction in the Senate. She has been a tireless voice for her constituents, and I’ve been honored to stand with her in fighting to move North Carolina forward. Ellie is a true public servant, and she absolutely deserves the right to serve in whatever capacity she feels she can make the most impact. While the Senate and Democratic Caucus will miss Ellie Kinnaird’s leadership, I know my colleagues will join me in thanking her for her service here and wishing her the very best.