Spending Plan heads to Full Senate Debate on Wednesday

senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate is pushing its budget proposal forward.

The two-year North Carolina government budget proposed by Senate Republicans is one of the longest in recent memory, full of policy changes that contrasts with GOP declarations that the proposal is fiscally lean.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday for a spending proposal that would spend $21.5 billion next year, less than 2 percent higher than the current year.

“I do understand that they have flexibility, but I also understand the limited dollars don’t give you a whole lot as well,” said Sen. Gladys Robsinon, a Guilford County Democrat.

Lawmakers were given an opportunity to raise questions about the document, many of which centered around the area of cuts to funding for teaching assistants.

Even though it could equate to thousands of fewer assistants, budget writers say local school districts can still fund the positions.

“It doesn’t really cut positions, they can still fund as many positions as they want. but they have fewer dollars per student to do it,” said Sen. Dan Soucek, a Watauga County Republican.

After questions were answered, legislators were given their first opportunity to offer changes to the plan. In appropriations, a handful were considered and approved—including one that would remove the requirement for new drivers to take driver’s education; which the Senate plan stops funding during the next budget cycle.

“It would instead change the score for passage, raise that to 85 and would add 25 additional hours driving with parents or guardians, 60 to 85 before you could move up in the graduated license,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

Another amendment went through, but with substantial debate. It is simply asking for a study of student graduation timelines in the UNC system. But some say parts of what is to be look at in the study is concerning.

“In some studies it shows that students with lower than a 3.0 may have a more difficult time in graduating, maybe they need to go to an alternative to the four year schools, maybe look at a community college,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Rowan County Republican.

Changes were made, the bill was voted on, and moved to the next committee. The finance and pensions and retirement committees moved along more quickly.

With no amendments allowed, but there were questions and comments on some of the key areas of the bill.

More amendments will be allowed to be offered when the budget bill is heard on the floor on Wednesday.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Senate Republican Plan Spends Less Than House, Saves More

senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate has unveiled it proposal for state spending for the next two years.

Senate leaders say this 21.47 billion dollar plan is responsible budgeting, that includes some teacher pay raises, and cuts on state income taxes.

“With a prudent overall increase of about 2 percent, our $21.47 billion plan keeps state government spending in line with population growth and inflation,” said Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown.

State senators came forward with their state spending plan proposal on Monday afternoon. It is a more modest budget than the one approved last month by the House.

One area where the that modesty can be seen is in pay raises. It does include the promised starting teacher pay increase to $35,000 and provides an average pay raise of four percent for teachers.

However, the spending plan does not give across the board raises to state employees.

“We followed Gov. McCrory’s lead in providing targeted market based pay raises to attract and retain effective state employees,” said Sen. Brown.

In the area of education, the Senate is looking to reduce class sizes in Kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. At the same time, they are reducing funding for teaching assistants.

The Senate is also looking to move the discussion on Medicaid reform forward in its budget proposal. Their plan moves forward at an aggressive pace, with capitated care beginning in 2017.

It also uses a mix of out of state managed care entities and in state provider-led programs to help control costs.

In addition, it creates a board outside of DHHS to oversee the program.

“The new department is created outside of most of the acts of the state personnel act. There will be no limits on what they can set as salary and the entire department will serve as at will positions,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

The Senate will move the budget along quickly now. In committee on Tuesday and voted on the floor on Wednesday and Thursday. Some items not included the Senate’s budget proposal is moving for historic tax credits or to fund the governor’s proposed transportation bond.

It does extend the current job development investment grant and make further tax cuts for individuals and corporations.

– Loretta Boniti

Supreme Court Won’t Revive North Carolina Abortion Law

US_Supreme_CourtWASHINGTON—On Monday, the justices declined to hear the case of a North Carolina abortion law, however they could soon decide the fate of abortion restrictions elsewhere.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to reinstate a North Carolina law that would have required that abortion providers show and describe an ultrasound to a pregnant woman before she has an abortion.

The 2011 law, which never took effect, required an ultrasound even if the woman objected. The High Court left in place a Federal appeals court ruling which said the law violated the First Amendment rights of both doctor and patient.

Since 2010, Republican-led states have passed a wide range of abortion-related laws. A separate appeals court ruling involving a Texas law is expected to soon make its way to the Supreme Court.

That law requires that abortion clinics in the state meet the same standards as surgical centers and that abortion providers have hospital-admitting privileges.  Lawyers for the abortion clinics say the requirement , which was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, could force 11 clinics to close by July 1.

Abortion opponents say the law is designed to ensure women get medically safe abortions. But those on the other side argue the restrictions are aimed at preventing legal abortions.

“These laws are sham laws. They do nothing to promote women’s health and safety. What’s they’re doing is denying women access to high quality care by shutting down clinics,” said Kristine Kippins , with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Activists on both sides may soon have the ruling of the highest court in the land to clear things up.

The Guttmacher Institute says North Carolina is one of 23 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, that passed this type of law.

– Geoff Bennett

Capital Tonight June 10: Gun Bill Discussion

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NC House Overrides Governor’s Veto of Same-Sex Marriage Opt-Out

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH—The legislature has overridden a veto of bill aimed at allowing magistrates to opt-out of performing marriages.

The state House quickly took up the measure on Thursday morning. The veto override has sat on the House calendar for over a week now as Republican leaders worked to make sure they had the votes needed to override the governor’s veto of this bill.

The vote ended up being 69 to 41 in favor of the override—enough to meet the three-fifths requirement.

Gov. Pat McCrory released the following statement in response:

“It’s a disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation in North Carolina. I will continue to stand up for conservative principles that respect and obey the oath of office for public officials across our state and nation. While some people inside the beltline are focusing on symbolic issues, I remain focused on the issues that are going to have the greatest impact on the next generation such as creating jobs, building roads, strengthening education and improving our quality of life.”

The House called the bill up as its first calendar item for the day and immediately made a procedural maneuver that stops debate on a vote other than from the majority and minority leaders. In his last ditch effort to stop the override from occurring, the minority leader said he believes the governor’s veto of the bill was appropriate.

“We should not be in the business of sanctioning people lying to the government and to the citizens of the state by taking the sacred oath and then willy nilly deciding at their convenience that they will not uphold that oath to the citizen of North Carolina,” said Minority Leader Rep. Larry Hall.

The Senate previously overrode this veto.

With limited debate, attempts were made to argue against Senate Bill Two during points of personal privilege at the end of the floor session. Democrats expressed concern that they were not given an opportunity to speak out against Senate Bill Two during the override vote. However they did get a chance after session had adjourned for the day.

“We would like to apologize to all lesbian and gay couples because love is not different than anyone else’s love in this state. And we’re sorry on behalf of the state of North Carolina,” said Rep. Cecil Brockman, a Guilford County Democrat.

Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“This is a sad day for North Carolina that history will not judge kindly. Just eight months after our state extended the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, extremist lawmakers have passed discrimination into law, allowing government officials to deny marriage services to virtually any couple. This shameful backlash against equality will make it harder for all couples in our state to marry and force many to spend what is supposed to be a happy day trapped in a maze of government offices. We encourage any North Carolina couples who encounter new hurdles because of this discriminatory law to contact our office.”

Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NC Values Coalition, released this following statement:

“It’s hard to believe that any governor – much less a conservative one – would veto a bill protecting the religious freedoms of his constituents. The House and the Senate made the right call in overriding Governor McCrory’s ill-advised veto and we are grateful for their continued leadership in fighting to preserve this fundamental American freedom.”

Capital Tonight Extended Interview: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

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Capital Tonight June 4: GOP Chairman Claude Pope

capitaltonight0604On Capital Tonight: We talk with outgoing NC GOP Chairman Claude Pope about his tenure and accomplishments. We talk with Ben Ray of American Bridge and Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Foundation about the presidential candidate field. Watch the program here.

NC Lawmakers Debate Granting Driving Priveleges to Undocumented Immigrants

immigration-immigrant-border-security-genericRALEIGH—State lawmakers are battling over whether or not to allow some legal driving privileges for illegal immigrants.

This is a long debated issue that divides members of the same party.

For 90 minutes on Tuesday morning- state legislators went back and forth over whether or not North Carolina should grant legal driving permits to undocumented immigrants.

“I encourage you to think about it.  Think about it because we’re doing is deciding whether or not we are going to hold people accountable or whether we are going to continue with the status quo.  And if you’ll step away from the politics of it and look at the logic of it, you’ll see it is the right thing to do,” said Rep. Harry Warren, a Rowan County Republican.

State Representative Harry Warren has been working on this proposal for years, delicately trying to balance between creating a way to keep track and oversee the immigrant population, but not encourage illegal immigrants to migrate to North Carolina.

But some lawmakers say that is a balance that can’t be found.

“If it is considered a positive in the illegal community, which to me is exactly why we should not do it.  We should not be encouraging, we should not be endorsing, we should not be accepting illegal immigration in any way,” said Rep. Bert Jones, a Rockingham County Republican.

Under House Bill 328, undocumented immigrants could get a restricted driving permit if they undergo fingerprinting and background checks. That permit would allow them to legally be on the roads in North Carolina, if they pass the required tests by the DMV.

The NC Sheriff’s Association has not taken a position on the issue, but one sheriff, Rockingham County’s Sam Page, says he thinks this permit is a bad idea.

“Basically this law would allow people who are in our country illegally, who cant legally work to give them privilege to operate on our streets and highways,” said Page.

But for immigrants who support the legislation, like Maudia Melendez who is a legal citizen, she says  her community is looking for a way to stop breaking the law.

“Right now we have people who are driving out there, not because they want to break the law.  It is because the law deterred them from going to the DMV and getting a driver’s license,” said Melendez.

There are multiple other provisions in the bill, including making it a felony to create a false ID card and stopping municipalities from creating their own form of immigrant ID. But it is the permit, that is dividing lawmakers, the bill sponsor says he doesn’t believe a permit would be a radical change.

“There are not people in Honduras saying, ‘God if I could just get to North Carolina I get a driver’s license.’  No.  It is the opportunity to work,” said Rep. Warren.

The committee adjourned without taking a vote on the bill. It has not yet been scheduled for its next consideration.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight June 1: Attorney General Candidate Buck Newton

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