Senate approves drug testing for public assistance

RALEIGH — North Carolina is one step closer to possibly drug testing people who apply for state assistance.

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would allow the state to test people who apply to the state’s Work First program if they’re suspected of doing drugs.

A version of this bill has already passed the House. The Senate made some changes before approving it 43-6.

The bill allows county social services offices to require drug tests for anyone suspected of using illegal drugs who applies for the state’s Work First program, which provides financial assistance for people out of work.

The bill also directs social services offices to check criminal records to see if applicants are wanted by law enforcement and to report that person to local authorities.

Bill supporters said someone running from the law or using drugs shouldn’t get state or federal funds. But opponents said it’s stereotyping people applying for assistance and putting too much work on county social services staff.

“We’re going to do what we have to do in NC to make sure the people’s money is well spent. I think it’s totally ridiculous that it’s been this long that somebody has run bill like this that says you can’t be a felon and get the people’s money and you can’t be high on drugs and get work first money. Period,” said Sen. Thom Goolsby, a New Hannover County Republican.

But opponents say the law degrades struggling people searching for work.

“There’s no reason to stigmatize people who are getting temporary assistance for needy families by saying we think you’re drug dealer, drug users. There’s no evidence. in fact, the evidence is the people who are applying for this are actually lower drug users than the general public,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, an Orange County Democrat.

Since the Senate changed the bill, it will now go back to the House for concurrence.

– Heather Moore

Senate proposed budget cuts sales tax holiday weekends

GREENSBORO — For many consumers, the tax free weekend in August is like a Christmas shopping spree. But this may be the last year shoppers can take advantage of the savings on everything from clothes to computers.

The laundry list of back-to-school supplies many families will face in a few short months can quickly get expensive. The tax free weekend helps ease some of that financial burden and when the first weekend of August rolls around, the stores are packed.

“They put everything on sale for the school supplies,” shopper Cheryl Wyrick said. “Definitely good savings. Then on top of that you don’t have the tax. It’s a wonderful thing.”

And retailers like Target feel a nice boost in sales.

“The whole weekend it drives around 20 to 25 percent in incremental sales,” assistant store manager Jarrett Dunston said.

But if the state Senate passes the current tax bill, this would be the last year for that tax break.

Last year, the North Carolina Department of Revenue estimated the state lost $13.6 million in tax revenue during the sales tax holiday weekend.

Lawmakers said those are dollars the state can’t afford to lose.

Yet, many shoppers wait for that discount to make their higher-end purchases.

“If you’re buying a very large item, you can actually get quite a bit of savings,” shopper Amanda Boothby said. “So when you get a computer or something like that, of course it’s probably a little more worth it.”

But other customers don’t think the savings are worth dealing with the crowds.

“When I look in the paper and see the kind of deals they have, it doesn’t really seem like a big savings to me,” shopper Sherry Gibson said. “Not enough to pull me in.”

Retailers said they may not see the usual spike in sales, but families will still have to buy those new school supplies.

“I believe shoppers would still shop, but I don’t believe retailers would see the large crowds that they usually see during the tax free holiday weekend,” Dunston said.

The Energy Star tax holiday on major appliances is also on the chopping block.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill Tuesday. Then it will be up for the House to decide.

– Amanda McKenzie

Rucho resigns post on Senate finance committee

UPDATE (1 p.m.): Sen. Berger’s said he would not withdraw Sen. Rucho’s appointment as co-chairman of the Senate finance committee. Rucho will remain co-chairman of the committee.

RALEIGH – State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, has resigned from his post as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The Associated Press says Rucho submitted his resignation effective earlier this week.

In a letter, Rucho states that he and Senate leader Phil Berger have a “fundamental disagreement” on the most effective model of tax reform and how to manage the legislation.

Rucho co-authored a plan that would expand the services subject to sales tax while lowering income and corporate tax rates. The plan was rejected by Gov. Pat McCrory and other Senate Republicans.

Rucho tells Senior Political Reporter Loretta Boniti that he decided to resign when House leaders were shut out of negotiations.

“When the ship is sinking, then maybe it’s time to get off the boat,” he said.

Berger said, in a one-sentence letter, that he declined to accept Rucho’s resignation. Berger’s office hasn’t commented on what that means.

‘Moron Mondays’ and pervasive rudeness in politics

Sen. Thom Goolsby

Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, published a column in the Chatham Journal dubbing the weekly protests at the General Assembly “Moron Mondays” and calling the protesters the “Loony Left.”

A writer for BuzzFeed captured some interactions on Goolsby’s Facebook page and tried contacting the senator himself for comment.

There are a couple of problems with this:

Sen. Goolsby is a member of the North Carolina Senate, an honorable deliberative body, and a duly-elected representative of New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, one of the larger cities in the state. While he focused his words on the protesters, he could have easily been targeting constituents who don’t agree with his political beliefs.

There is something inherently wrong with that.

A representative is elected to represent all the people in the district, not just those who elected them or agree with them politically. When a politician, of any party or persuasion, comes out and blanket-labels a group of people “morons,” it sends a message that they only serve those who believe with their political views, and not everyone whom they are supposed to represent.

In a larger sense, this incident is the latest in a tiresome trend of rudeness in politics that is practiced on both sides of the aisle. Thanks to the Internet, we can spout forth our political beliefs easier than ever before, and with relative anonymity.

Because of that anonymity, political posts tend to be vitriolic. Posting on Facebook, which requires a name and sometimes a face next to the comment, does little to deter people from shooting venom at their so-called political enemies.

At least Goolsby had the courage to sign his name to the column. Most people don’t put their names with their diatribes.

But it does more damage to him, as a politician and as a person, than it does to the protesters, of which he has a low opinion. It makes him look petty and small, not upstanding, like we should expect from all our elected representatives.

(Goolsby also served in the United States Marine Corps, a military service branch that prides itself on its traditions of personal honor and service to others.)

This reflects poorly on himself personally, as a senator and the Republican Party. Why would anyone want to vote for someone who was just rude, plain and simple? Now that BuzzFeed has a hold of the story, it’s an embarrassment to North Carolina.

I realize this is how politics is played these days, but it shouldn’t be that way.

A survey conducted by Weber Shandwick called “Civility in America 2012” found some interesting numbers concerning civility in society. Consider these numbers:

  • 63 percent believe we have a major civility problem in America.
  • 81 percent believe incivility in our government is harming America’s future.
  • 55 percent expect incivility to get worse.
  • 63 percent of those who expect civility to worsen blame politicians.

Worst still, 72 percent said they believe that incivility keeps qualified candidates from entering politics.

There’s been a phrase that has been bandied about lately in political circles: Arrogance of power. Isn’t that exactly what House Speaker Thom Tillis talked about a few weeks back, when he warned Republicans against overreaching? Seems like the message is falling on deaf ears.

The arrogance of power isn’t just a Republican problem. It’s a problem endemic of the political class in general.

In any case, Goolsby should apologize because it is the right thing to do. Period. If he won’t do it because it’s the right thing to do, then I’ll refer the good senator to Rule 17, Section (b) of the standing Senate rules. This rule refers to general decorum on the Senate floor:

No derogatory remark reflecting personally upon any Senator shall be in order upon the floor of the Senate unless preceded by a motion or resolution of censure.
Don’t regular folks — who are taxpayers and voters — deserve the same courtesy demanded in the Senate?
– Ben McNeely

Senate passes repeal of Racial Justice Act

RALEIGH — The last time someone was executed in North Carolina was in 2006.

Since then, due to ties up in the court system, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty in the state. That moratorium is one step closer to being lifted.

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday which would help to get executions started again.

But it also does something else: It revokes North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act.

It’s a measure current death row inmates can take to try to convert their death sentences to life in prison because of racial bias on the jury.

Supporters of the measure said repealing this is a mistake.

“The Racial Justice Act is not about guilt or innocence, it’s about fairness in our court system,” said Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth. “Study after study has proven that our court system’s flawed.”

Earlier in the day, Parmon stood with families of murder victims who support the Racial Justice Act and stand against the death sentence.

But the bill sponsor said there are other families who wants executions to begin again.

“He was murdered in cold blood. His murderer appealed under RJA and right before Judge Weeks made his ruling and retired, never to face the voters, he took the murderer of Ofc. Roy Turner of the Fayetteville Police Department off death row,” said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover.

In the end, the vote was divided along party lines — 33 in favor and 14 against. The proposal will now to go the House for consideration.

– Loretta Boniti

New poll on 2014 U.S. Senate race show new potential GOP frontrunner

Anchor Tim Boyum

It appear whoever Public Policy Polling picks the month before the 2014 U.S. Senate Republican primary will win the race.  The last three polls have been led by a new person added to the list. First it was U.S. Rep.Virginia Foxx, then it was N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry and now it’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

Here’s the poll.

Cliff notes version is that current Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan hovers around 50 percent regardless of who she faces and the Republicans tested range from 36 percent to 40 percent against her. That means Sen. Hagan maintains at least a ten point advantage against potential opponents.  What does this mean?

Tom Jensen from PPP will join me on tonight’s show to explain. Essentially, no one is known enough statewide and it’s very early. Clearly, money will play a big role in this race because of the lack of name recognition. Whoever has more money will run ad after ad on television the last month and could come out on top.

Tom will also give us an early look at the approval numbers for Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature. To give you an early hint, Gov. McCrory is already faring better than Gov. Bev Perdue did at this point which could be a good sign for his overall approval numbers long term. He’s also surviving a strong distaste for anything the legislature does according to the poll.

Check it out at 7 p.m. tonight!

Sen. Bob Rucho: Authority would ensure CLT airport’s future

Sen. Bob Rucho

In an extended interview with Senior Political Report Loretta Boniti, Sen. Bob Rucho explains why creating an authority for Charlotte-Douglas International Airport would ensure the airport’s future and keep it a low-cost hub.

Watch the full interview here.

Hagan to hire heavy-hitter campaign manager

Sen. Kay Hagan

Sen. Kay Hagan is gearing up for a re-election campaign in 2014. Politico reports that she will hire Preston Elliott, who helped Sen. Harry Reid get re-elected in 2010. Elliott previously was the deputy political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Read more at Politico here.

Capital Tonight: Feb. 13, 2013 Sen. Earline Parmon on eugenics compensation bill

On Capital Tonight: President Barack Obama visited Asheville, N.C. on Wednesday. Republican Rep. Mark Meadows discusses the president’s visit. The discussion in the legislature concerning the ban on fracking continues, and featured guest Sen. Earline Parmon discusses a eugenics compensation bill.

Watch the episode here.

Senate takes up unemployment insurance bill

The Senate will bring the unemployment insurance bill to the floor today at 2 p.m.

The House passed the measure last week that would cut benefits for unemployed workers and raise taxes on businesses to pay back a $2.5 billion debt to the federal government. By cutting off benefits, it would also force the federal government to withhold extended benefits.

On Monday, the acting labor secretary, Seth Harris, said he didn’t have the authority to override the General Assembly and extend federal benefits.

The bill would affect unemployment payments for about 170,000 residents.

If the bill passes the Senate, it could reach Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk this week.

Read the updated bill here.