Capital Tonight Aug. 13: Use of Solitary Confinement

c_tonight_813On Capital Tonight: A coalition is asking the US Justice Department to investigate how solitary confinement is used in North Carolina prisons. We talk with the ACLU of North Carolina, the Department of Public Safety, and Disability North Carolina about the issue. Watch the program here.

Capital Tonight Aug. 11: Donald Trump and the GOP Race

ctonight_11_jpgOn Capital Tonight: Donald Trump continues to make waves in the GOP presidential nomination race. We talk with NC State professor Andy Taylor and Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen. Our Insiders Malcolm Graham and Chris Sinclair take on the politics of budget negotiations at the General Assembly. Watch the program here.

Capital Tonight Aug. 7: Bow Tie Caucus

c_tonight_97On Capital Tonight: The Bow Tie Caucus analyzes the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 campaign season. Frank Hill and Michael Bitzer join Tim Boyum. Watch the program here.

Capital Tonight Aug. 6: Lawmakers on Senate Compromises

ct_86_jpgOn Capital Tonight: The state Senate has pulled their major policy issues out of the budget. We talk with Reps. Mike Hager and Brian Turner about the House’s next move in budget negotiations. Rep. Mickey Michaux talks about the history and his experience fighting for voting rights for African-Americans on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Watch the program here.

NC Senate Budget Proposal Shifts Tax Revenue

senate_updateRALEIGH — The state Senate has released what it is calling a compromised state incentive proposal.

Senators say they believe the proposal answers requests made by both Gov. Pat McCrory to help recruit business and also takes into consideration some of the ideas the House is looking for.

The issue of incentives and taxes has been one of the most controversial  and difficult issues lawmakers have been dealing with this session. On Wednesday, senators announced their first step in moving the compromise process forward when they agreed to remove the issue from the state budget proposal and allow it to be negotiated separately.

On Thursday, they unveiled a new proposal that they are calling a compromise in hopes of helping to finalize this fight.

Provisions:

• Adds money to the governor’s job recruitment fund, known as J-DIG.
• Guarantees J-DIG for three years.
• Extends the current sales tax refund for airline fuel and expands that refund so that more airlines and therefore airports would be affected by the change.
• Includes a controversial measure that would change how sales tax is given out to counties.

The Senate has moved from an earlier position that would have made a more dramatic change,  but some legislators from larger counties still had concerns. The bill sponsor says he believes this makes things more fair for all counties.

“What will happen over time, is those counties will continue to benefit on sales tax dollars moving forward. those small counties that have very little growth or negative growth will continue to be stagnant, even after this adjustment. This is just trying to level things back out,” said Sen. Harry Brown, Majority Leader.

The proposal does represent a change from what the Senate was originally pushing for, but still has significant difference from the house proposal. Legislators say they hope helps with the negotiation process moving forward.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight Aug. 5: DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos Steps Down

WosOn Capital Tonight: DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos steps down, ending a tumultuous 2 2/12 year term. Our Advocates AJ Daoud and Perry Woods look at her tenure and legacy. The head of FreedomWorks talks about Rep. Mark Meadows’ move to oust US House Speaker John Boehner. Watch the program here.

McCrory’s Amended Bond Package Clears NC House Panel

house_bondRALEIGH—A new proposal to borrow almost $3 billion for North Carolina infrastructure and road projects is making its way through the House after questions from lawmakers about the projects and a recommended November statewide referendum.

The House Finance Committee recommended Tuesday the bond package to the full chamber. Floor debate is expected Wednesday.

“Rather than buildings something new we looked at how can we renovate and repair and extend  the current life of the current state assets. It is cheaper to do so, until it gets to a point where the buildings are functionally obsolete or that they don’t make sense,” said Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican.

The legislation would authorize borrowing the same amount as what Gov. Pat McCrory wants the state to borrow, but the House shifts more proceeds toward building projects, including $500 million for school construction.

Lawmakers had some questions about how much that debt could end up costing the state.

“I wonder if we have any kind of stop gap or fail safe provision to stop us from borrowing money if interest rates spike up to 14 percent or something like that,” said Rep. Jeff Collins, a Nash County Republican.

House Republicans also have located more than $1 billion for additional road building, but that’s not part of the bond package. The changes are designed to gain support from Senate Republicans opposed to issuing debt to build roads.

But bill sponsors say scenarios with higher interest rates are built into the proposal—what some legislators say is not built into the plan is enough specifics, particularly in the area of transportation spending.

“All the law is going to say is supplemental highway funding. Where do I get the meat on the bones of what you’re saying. Where do I see the language that makes that certain,” said Rep. John Blust, a Guilford County Republican.

Even with questions the measure advanced out of committee—but there were some who weren’t ready to move the proposal forward.

“I was concerned that it got voted out of finance this morning. Many people had questions about it, didn’t understand how it is going to be paid for,” said Minority Leader Rep. Larry Hall.

Other state leaders say a bond proposal is a good idea, but they do have hesitation about the size the house proposal.

“Now is not the time to get the cart ahead of the House, if you will. So I think we need to be patient, with how we move forward with these types of things and make sure we are only taking care of the necessities right now,” said Dan Forest, NC Lieutenant Governor.

If this bond is approved by the full legislature and the governor, it would still need final approval from voters this fall.

– Loretta Boniti

Former SEANC Director Indicted

Dana_Cope

RALEIGH—A Wake county grand jury handed down an indictment today  for the former director of the State Employees Association of NC on two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Dana Cope stepped down earlier this year after an audit revealed he misused credit cards and funds associated with the group for his own personal gain.

The indictment says Cope spent more than $500,000 from December 2009 until February 2015, and Cope used credit cards belonging to SEANC but used the funds for his personal use.

The document states he bought electronic gaming equipment, clothing, jewelry, home appliances, vacations, hotel rooms, massages and plastic surgery.

Cope stepped down earlier this year after Wake County DA Lorrin Freeman requested an investigation.

The current director of SEANC, Mitch Leonard released this statement:

While our members, staff and stakeholders are saddened by this latest development in an unfortunate turn of events for Mr. Cope, rest assured that we are taking all of the necessary steps — resulting from three independent investigations of our operations — to secure SEANC from ever experiencing a breach of leadership again.  As such, I am confident that our organization will continue — uninterrupted — the important work of protecting and defending the interests of retired, current and future state employees.”

Cope’s attorney also released a statement saying in part: 

“Dana has cooperated with the State Bureau of Investigation and the Wake County District Attorney’s office from the beginning of their investigation. Now that Dana has been formally charged he will continue to cooperate fully in answering these charges. We will begin the process of voluntarily surrendering Dana to law enforcement where he will be served the indictments and will go before a Wake County Magistrate who will determine his Conditions of Release.”

Representatives with SEANC said after the audit revealed the spending information, they put several changes in place to their financial system including having a treasurer sign all checks and putting a credit limit of $5,000 on a single credit card.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Cope will appear before a magistrate on Tuesday.

Capital Tonight July 31: Bow Tie Caucus

capital_tonight_31jpgOn Capital Tonight: The Bow Tie Caucus convenes! Joe Stewart of the NC Free Enterprise Foundation and Rebecca Tippett of Carolina Demography look at shifting population and the effect on state politics. Watch the program here.

Closing Arguments Over in Voting Rights Trial

voting_trial_OSWINSTON-SALEM — Closing arguments concluded Friday in the federal trial over North Carolina’s 2013 voting changes.

By the lunchtime break, three hours into closings, only two of the four presenting for the plaintiffs had completed their arguments.

Daniel Donovan for the NAACP underscored the case’s importance, saying no other state “ripped away” provisions that have successfully helped minority voting in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that nullified Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, that put some states under preclearance for voting changes.

Donavan said African-Americans disproportionately use same day registration, early voting and out of precinct voting and that cumulative impact on access should be considered.

“There’s no more basic right than voting, and the changes suppress that right,” said Donovan.

Bert Russ, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department, said the changes violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act and “denied and abridged the right to vote.”

He said that the changes were adopted with discriminatory intent, saying partisan politics was a factor.

He thinks the legislature was aware of the fact that 95 percent of blacks vote Democratic.

Russ wants an injunction stopping the changes, and if Judge Thomas Schroeder finds discriminatory intent, he wants the state put under federal monitoring and preclearance for changes.

The closing arguments have been a low-key affair, with Donovan using a PowerPoint presentation during his two plus hours of arguments.

Judge Shroeder asked questions, discussing implications of various points and also quizzing lawyers about their thoughts about which matter should be weighed more heavily.

“Government should make it easier to participate in the fundamental right to vote,” he said.

Lawsuits filed by the NAACP, League of Women Voters and the Justice Department say the changes brought by HB 589 unfairly increased the burden on minority voters, making it more difficult to vote.

The trial started nearly three weeks ago in U.S. Middle District Court in Winston-Salem. Judge Shroeder will issue a written opinion at a later date.

– Bob Costner