TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Bring the Doritos and the duct tape for the House Rules Committee meeting Wednesday. The powerful panel will consider a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal use and another aimed at topless rallies in Asheville by women seeking gender equity. (The committe chairman recently suggested women could use duct tape to get around the law.) On the more serious side, a House committee will consider a measure to repeal the estate tax, a move top Senate Republicans did not include in their tax proposal. The Senate Rules Committee considers the possum bill. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m.
ANN McCRORY'S INAUGURAL GOWN GOES TO MUSEUM: From AP -- North Carolina first lady Ann McCrory is turning over her inaugural gown to the N.C. Museum of History, which will include it in an exhibition about governors and their spouses. Ann McCrory's gown will be on display Wednesday evening during an event for History Museum associates. After that, it will be featured in the exhibit "Leading the State: North Carolina's Governors," which ends April 28. During the event Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory will speak briefly with the N.C. Museum of History Benefactors Circle and the Gold Quill Society.
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JOBLESS BALK AT BENEFIT CUTS: From the Charlotte Observer -- Just hours after McCrory signed the changes into law, Kevin Schiffer was among a steady stream of men and women seeking help at Charlotte’s Division of Employment Security office off Nations Ford Road. Schiffer, 39, understands why some Republican legislators believe “deadbeats” have taken advantage of the system. But he believes the law will hurt hard-working people who through no fault of their own lose jobs and need help.
People like Schiffer. Two weeks ago, he said, he learned that Source Technologies, where he worked as a quality assurance manager for five years, is relocating to Florida. He hopes to land another job before his severance runs out. But just in case, he went to the employment security office. Could Schiffer, who is married with three children, one in college, survive on $350 a week, the maximum benefit under the new bill? “Absolutely not.”
ONE MORE SOTS REBUTTAL: A little late to the game, the Libertarian Party of North Carolina issued its own rebuttal to McCrory's State of the State address. From Chairman J.J. Summerell: "The Republican and Democratic Governors of the past 40 years have all contributed to the excessive debt, regulation and public sector bureaucracy which handicaps North Carolina in the areas of education, economic growth and the drug war. ... In matters of education, Governor McCrory failed to address the need for a school choice program in North Carolina. ... The LPNC believes a voucher-based Department of Public Instruction would greatly reduce administrative inefficiencies and return those funds to the classrooms to be spent directly on student education, not government administration.
"The Libertarian plan ... advocates the total elimination of the income taxes and the implementation of a fair, proportional tax. Governor McCrory wants to escalate the War on Drugs by calling for more funding for our drug courts. The LPNC wants to eliminate the violence that results from drug prohibition and the we want to help those sick with the disease of addiction. These goals can be met through decriminalization, much like the Swedish and Portuguese governments have adopted. ..."
McCRORY's THREE 'E's: Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer analyzes the governor's speech.
N.C. TREASURER REPORTS PENSION FUND AT $78.1B: State Treasurer Janet Cowell issued the year-end pension fund numbers Tuesday after the bell, reporting an 11.84 percent return. More numbers: "The fund returned 1.89 percent for the last quarter of 2012. Pension fund assets are valued at $78.1 billion, an increase from the $77.1 billion reported at the end of the third quarter.
The pension fund’s global equity (stock) portfolio gained 17.59 percent for the year with a 3.40 percent gain in the fourth quarter of 2012. The fixed income (bond) portfolio returned 7.29 percent for the year, but was up just 0.48 percent for the fourth quarter. Real estate earned 8.88 percent and the alternatives portfolio, composed mostly of private equity, gained 5.51 percent for the year, while the inflation portfolio returned 1.0 percent.
TILLIS INVITES SUPERINTENDENTS TO LEGISLATURE: From AP -- House Speaker Thom Tillis says hundreds of the state's top public school educators are coming to the General Assembly next week so lawmakers can pick their brains about whether what's working back home can be used elsewhere. Tillis said Tuesday school superintendents from all 115 districts have been invited to the Legislative Building on Feb. 26. He told a North Carolina Chamber audience he wants them to sit on the chamber floor and tell legislative leaders what lawmakers' priorities should be. The speaker said the superintendents will be followed the next day by principals of the year from the districts, then by teachers of the year on Feb. 28. He said he hopes listening to the nearly 350 educators will create "buy-in" to try new things to improve K-12 education.
TROOPER SHOT: Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan on the State Highway Patrol trooper shot during a routine traffic stop: “It’s miraculous he survived,” Shanahan said.
GOP PUSHES INDUSTRY'S INCENTIVES TO FRACK: The push to lift North Carolina’s fracking moratorium is gaining steam despite warnings that the effort exposes the state to a greater risk of environmental damage. The state Senate Finance Committee is set to vote Thursday on a fracking bill designed to signal to the oil-and-gas industry that North Carolina is eager to host shale gas exploration activities. “This country needs the energy and this state needs the jobs,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, a Republican from Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, on Tuesday. “North Carolina is ready to do business.” The legislation includes a grab-bag of goodies that energy industry representatives have indicated they would like in place before they invest equipment and time to explore this state’s natural gas potential, Newton said. Newton and other bill supporters want to make North Carolina a priority for shale gas exploration companies.
STATE AUDIT: WORKERS WENT UNPROTECTED: The state Industrial Commission has failed in its responsibility to make sure businesses protect workers by carrying insurance to cover their injuries, according to a state audit released Tuesday. Commission leaders vowed to do better, and said they were already acting on some of the audit’s recommendations. The performance audit follows News & Observer reports last year that as many as 30,000 employers are breaking the law by failing to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The commission, which decides disputed workers’ compensation claims, did little to detect businesses openly skirting their responsibility to carry insurance.
'IRONY' IN GOP OPPOSITION TO STATE EXCHANGE: From an AP article looking at the federal health exchange debate: "A recent AP poll found that Americans prefer to have states run the new markets by 63 percent to 32 percent. Among conservatives the margin was nearly 4-1 in favor of state control. But with some exceptions, including Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico, Republican-led states are maintaining a hands-off posture, meaning the federal government will step in. "There is a sense of irony that it's the more conservative states" yielding to federal control, said Sandy Praeger, the Republican insurance commissioner in Kansas, a state declining to run its own exchange. First, she said, the law's opponents "put their money on the Supreme Court, then on the election. Now that it's a reality, we may see some movement.""