NC Farm Bill Moves Captive Deer Regulation to Agricultural Department

deer in the woodsRALEIGH—Legislation to shift regulation of North Carolina deer raised on farms from wildlife officials to the Department of Agriculture has cleared the first of three required Senate committees.

The transfer of “captive” deer farming is one item in a wide-ranging farm bill recommended Tuesday by the Senate Agriculture Committee. The NC Farm Act touches on multiple areas of agricultural law in the state, but the provision that regulates deer farming is getting the most cheers and jeers.

Currently, there are a couple of dozen deer farms in the state. They raise deer in captivity to sell to other states for private hunts or to be used in North Carolina for their meat. North Carolina lawmakers have been hesitant to expand the business since deer can carry chronic wasting disease or CWD.

“Chronic wasting disease is the Ebola for farm animals. There is no test for live animals, no treatment, no cure. And once its here, it is in the soil permanently,” said Bob Brown, of the NC Wildlife Federation.

The NC Wildlife Federation stands firmly against the provision which allows for the expansion of the industry. But state leaders say Department of Agriculture is better equipped to monitor for CWD.

“We surveil constantly for disease among the populations of the animal agriculture that we engage with. Deer farming will become another spoke in the wheel of animal agriculture in North Carolina,” said Dr. Douglas Meckes, NC state veterinarian.

As of today, deer in North Carolina do not carry the disease. But lawmakers supporting the change say, it is inevitable that it will arrive in the state.

“Up in Virginia, where it is currently, and if those deer can’t read that they are entering into North Carolina when they cross over the state line, then they will come over here whether we have this program or not. And CWD will be in North Carolina,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Rowan County Republican.

Under the bill, when it is deemed safe, captive deer can be imported into the state.

“No importation of CWD susceptible captive servers will be allowed until a live CWD test is developed. And from what I understand that is some time off,” said Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican.

The proposal still needs to be considered by two more committees before it goes to the full Senate for a vote.

– Loretta Boniti

Governor McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Sign Dorothea Dix Deal

Gov_Raleigh_Mayor_Dorothea_Dix_Signing_0511RALEIGH- Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane signed a contract today to sell the Dorothea Dix property to the City of Raleigh.

Some state legislators had believed the $52 million price for the more than 300 acre property was too low, but the deal was approved by City Council on April 24th.

It was approved a short time later by the North Carolina Council of State. The property will be used for a destination park.

NC House Begins Finishing Touches on Spending Proposal

NC_house_newRALEIGH—By the end of the week, the state House is expected to put some of its spending proposals on the table.

This week will kick off the legislative battle over how state dollars should be put to use.  However, there is a long road ahead to get to a final plan. Last week, Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders were pleased with their economic news that the budget has a $400 million surplus.

That surplus translates into a higher bottom line than expected when lawmakers craft their state spending plan proposals. But political observers say interest groups and advocates better not start counting on that money going toward their projects.

“In many ways a $400 million surplus makes it harder because the public’s expectations are teacher’s salaries, programs for seniors, healthcare, whatever the pet issues are. And yet that may not be in the minds of the leadership,” said David McLennan, of Meredith College.

But that isn’t stopping some legislators not at the budget writing table from offering some suggestions on how to spend the new money.

“Our challenge as we move forward with education—we were celebrating a budget surplus, let’s see that surplus go toward rewarding our teachers and giving them adequate pay,” said Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Northampton County Democrat.

As the state came out of a recession, Republican leaders have put together several no frills budget proposals over the past few years. Now everyone from teachers to the court system are asking for consideration.

“If we are to right this ship, the judicial branch will need sufficient investment from this general assembly to ensure we adequately fund the basic operations of our court system, provide modest pay increases for our personnel, and move forward with critical technology infrastructure to deal with the rapidly increasing demands on our county courthouses,” said Justice Mark Martin, of the NC Supreme Court.

The NC House said it is just about ready to reveal its suggestions.

“We hope to have those packages put together and ready for committee votes, for the area committee votes toward the end of the week,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

Dollar says even though budget projections are a bit higher than anticipated, a lot of the money is already accounted for.

“Enrollment growth in our K-12 schools, universities, enrollment growth in the Medicaid program, pension costs, state health plan costs—which must be factored in,” said Dollar.

The state House said they plan to have the full budget on the floor for consideration next week.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight May 11: Rep. Mark Walker

Mark_WalkerOn Capital Tonight: Rep. Mark Walker gives us an update from Washington and WUNC’s Jeff Tiberii and WBT-AM’s Chris Miller join the reporter roundtable. Watch the program here.

Capital Tonight May 8: Budgeting for College

Capital_Tonight_logoOn Capital Tonight: Another police department considers using body cameras. Which city is it this time? Gov. Pat McCrory touts funding for transportation, we’ll have more on the story. The Money Matters segment discusses how to fund college and walk away with no debt. Watch the program here.

State’s Tourism Industry Sees Record Year

tourismGREENSBORO—2014 proved to be a banner year for North Carolina’s tourism industry.

A newly-released report from the state’s Department of Commerce shows domestic tourists spent $21.3 billion in-state last year, a record high and 5.4 percent increase over 2013.

“We’re seeing that the tourism, hospitality industry economy is very strong and has been throughout the past five years, stronger than some of the other sectors and we’re just continuing to see that growth,” said Mark Shore of Visit North Carolina.

Shore said the state remains attractive to tourists because of the wide range of activities.

“From the mountains to sea, we’ve got a lot of things to offer for visitors coming to the area,” he said.

Overall, the report showed North Carolina as the sixth most-visited state in the country. Nearly 50 million people came last year, supporting 204,000 jobs in the process. Jean Dailey, owner of Dailey Renewal Retreat, a bed and breakfast in downtown Greensboro, said 2014 had been good for business.

“I think it was a record year, based on my experience, because I was looking back and doing the figures for this quarter versus last quarter, and I could tell that it was a huge growth last year,” she said.

Shore said figures so far in 2015 indicate the positive trends will continue.

“All indications are good from what we’re seeing, the research that we do and the numbers that are coming in.”

– Amara Omeokwe

Home Insurance Overhaul Bill Advances to House Vote

sandbags_on_beach_erosionRALEIGH—There could be some big changes for homeowners insurance in North Carolina.

A bill is moving through the state House that would among other things create a way for insurance companies to prepare for catastrophic weather events and not have to heavily burden homeowners. Under the proposed Property Insurance Fairness Act, lawmakers are looking to help prepare the state for those so called once in a century storms.

The bill allows for bonds to be issued to help pay for the deficits faced after catastrophic events. It also requires notice from insurance companies for “consent to rate” policies, and makes more property insurance data public.

However, providing homeowners insurance in North Carolina could be a risky move. With over 300 miles of coastline, the state is a target for catastrophic weather events like hurricanes. If the storms are bad enough, it could effect the entire state.

“The purpose of this bonding authority is to allow the insurers to reduce the amount of re-insurance carriage they have to protect being bankrupted by a major event. If such an event occurs, the bonding authority would be used in place of a lot of the re-insurance to pay the excess claims,” said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

The idea is if the bond is not needed, the reduced expenses on re-insurance would help to building up the risk  pool reserve with the thought it will keep premiums down. However some lawmakers wonder if this is truly providing insurance coverage.

“We cannot change when the risk happens. The risk is now. I hope before it hits the floor, someone can explain to me why putting payment for the risk after the catastrophe is insurance,” said Rep. Paul Stam, a Wake County Republican.

This is aimed at helping to ease the ongoing struggle in the state where insurance companies look to increase premiums, especially along the coast, to protect themselves in case of major payouts. But the state fights to keep premiums low. The problem is, if an insurance company thinks the risk is too high, they simply don’t have to do business in North Carolina.

With only one dissenting vote, the proposal was advanced to the full House for consideration.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight May 6: Limits on Judicial Campaigns

cap_tonight_5615On Capital Tonight: Should there be limits on judicial campaigns? Are judges politicians? The US Supreme Court addressees those questions. We talk Dan Vock of Governing Magazine about a recent decision, and we ask former state judges Eddie Greene and Bob Orr their thoughts on partisan judicial races and more. Watch the program here.

Governor Announces $400 Million Revenue Surplus

mccrory_budgetRALEIGH—Gov. Pat McCrory said North Carolina will have a revenue surplus of $400 million this fiscal year, and he already has ideas on how to use it.

He announced the surge in tax collections Wednesday at an event held by the NC Association of County Commissioners in Raleigh.

This is news that we were looking for. I was ready for the opposite news, but instead to get this news is very good for our growing economy,” said Gov. McCrory.

Gov. McCrory and his fellow Republican leaders are in part crediting the good economic report on tax reform they put in place in 2013. It is a move they have been criticized for by some opponents. They said ultimately it has helped the state’s economy get back on track.

“I’ve been more strategic for the long term, taking the short-term hits from critics  and others who wanted to keep the status quo policies that were not working for North Carolina,” said Gov. McCrory.

But state Democratic leaders were quick to respond. Minutes after the announcement, some Tweeted their concerns with the burden this surplus is putting on the middle class—later saying it is not surprising that the state has more money than before.

“What these revenues that were reported today show is that you did collect more money because you taxing people at a much higher level than you historically have taxed them,” said Sen. Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat.

The state budget director, Lee Roberts, said these criticisms are unwarranted.

“It seems to me that a little while ago I was answering questions about we had cut taxes too much—now they are saying we didn’t cut taxes enough,” said Roberts.

Main Street Democrats, a group of centrist, pro-business Democrats, say they share concerns about the burdens and are not convinced that this surplus can do much to benefit the state.

“Supporting education, teacher raises would be a good place to put this money. State employees haven’t had any significant raises in a while. There are 100 places where we could put that money to work, but its not going to go very far,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, a Richmond County Democrat.

Gov. McCrory said he would like to see the money go toward building up reserve for the state, as well as reinstate the medical expense tax deductions for seniors and to give targeted salary increases to state employees.

The revenue numbers were important for legislators, who are currently working to write the next state spending plan. House members are hoping to use these projections to have their budget proposal ready within the next two weeks.

-Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight May 5: Economic Outlook of NC

ct55_jpgOn Capital Tonight: North Carolina’s economy grew in 2014, but is a slow-down looming on the horizon. We ask NC State economist Michael Walden. Our Insiders Perry Woods and Andy Yates about the potential revenue outlook and Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature accomplishment for 2016. Watch the program here.