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Morning Memo: Gambling probe has NC ties, Tillis joins ALEC board

MAN AT CENTER OF GAMBLING INVESTIGATION HAS N.C. TIES: An Oklahoma technology company owner who is caught up in a massive investigation into illegal gambling has been a key player in North Carolina’s elusive video sweepstakes games, and has been a generous political contributor. Chase Egan Burns, 37, faces charges in Florida that include racketeering and conspiracy, according to The Associated Press. Burns was arrested Tuesday. Court documents say Burns claimed money put into his gambling machines would be donated to Allied Veterans, but the group received less than 1 percent of the proceeds, The AP reported.

Burns is the owner of International Internet Technologies, which reportedly has more than 100 licensees in North Carolina that employ about 1,100 people. Burns has made $154,000 in campaign contributions in recent years to state political candidates of both parties -- including Gov. Pat McCrory -- and to the state Republican Party.

THOM TILLIS JOINS ALEC BOARD: House Speaker Thom Tillis recently joined the American Legislative Exchange Council's board of directors. "I've been a member for several years and it's a great organziation. I think it's a great colaboration between legislators and businesses. They asked me if I would serve I told them I would happy to," he said in an interview. ALEC is a free-market organization that crafts "model legislation" (such as the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law) by putting corporate representatives and state legislators together. Critics - object to the secrecy of the process and say big business is buying access. Tillis dismissed any concerns about the group, comparing it to the National Conference on State Legislatures. "If you look at most the legialtion that moves through ALEC, a lot of it has it's roots in some other legislative body," he said.

***Good morning. Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- a one-stop-shop for North Carolina political news to start the day. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Much more below. ***

MORE ON ALEC: ALEC was a significant part of Republican lawmakers' agenda in Raleigh, with what it calls a "boot camp" on "model legislation, " a spring summit meeting of the organization's various task forces - each specializes in specific issues - held in Charlotte. In the summer of 2011, a large contingent of Republican members of the House attended the national conference in New Orleans, where House Speaker Thom Tillis was named one of the legislators of the year. McCrory's chief legislative lobbyist is a former ALEC board member and freshman lawmakers attended a training session that featured ALEC ambassadors and materials. Meanwhile, a drumbeat by liberal groups outed the extent of ALEC's behind-the-scenes work to bring the corporate agenda to the nation's legislators to pass pro-business laws.

MORE ON GAMBLING INVESTIGATION: Prosecutors say they think Burns earned more than $290 million on the gaming software. His company has been fighting in North Carolina courts to stop the state from enforcing its ban on internet sweepstakes operations, and is part of an effort to make the machines legal and subject to state taxes.

The illegal gambling investigation in Florida has led to the arrests of 57 people, and on Wednesday prompted the resignation of that state’s lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll. A spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday said Carroll had been questioned by law enforcement officers about her work with Allied Veterans, according to the Los Angeles Times. Carroll consulted for Allied Veterans while she was in the Florida House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010, the Times reported.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The Carolina Panthers bill -- a measure to redirect existing Charlotte taxes to fund Bank of America Stadium upgrades -- debuts in a House committee. The House is not scheduled to take any votes; the Senate will consider one Onslow County matter.

McCRORY SICK; CANCELS ALL PUBLIC EVENTS: The governor planned to speak at a venture capitalists conference in Charlotte and then tour Hickory's main street Thursday but word came just before 9 a.m. this morning that both events were canceled. The governor's office said McCrory is sick.

PERSONNEL FILE: Former House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell, a Republican, was named assistant secretary of employment security at the state commerce department. Secretary Sharon Decker announced the appointment Wednesday. “We’re putting more emphasis on customer service by increasing access to programs that help unemployed individuals rejoin the workforce while streamlining the process to ensure legitimate claims are processed quickly,” said Decker. “We must also improve communications with employers and prevent the release of improper benefits in order to strengthen the integrity of the NC unemployment insurance system.” Folwell will oversee the Division of Employment Security which administers the state's unemployment insurance system. He lost in the 2012 Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

VOTER ID FACTS RUN COUNTER:Lawmakers heard from election experts Wednesday who said there was little evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina, but that voter ID laws in other states had not led to voter suppression as critics have predicted. Of the 21 million votes cast in North Carolina since 2000, the State Board of Elections only turned over one case of voter impersonation for prosecution – the sort of fraud that requiring a photo ID is designed to stop. “Voter fraud is rare and cases of voter impersonation even more uncommon,” Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York think tank that has opposed voter ID laws, told a House committee considering legislation to require a photo voter ID. But supporters of a voter ID law were buttressed by testimony that similar tough laws passed in Georgia and Indiana had not lead to a decline in voter participation.Full story here.

McCRORY'S HANDPICKED CHAIRMAN? Claude Pope entered the state GOP chairman race Wednesday. His announcement interestingly came from Mecury Public Affairs -- a new firm run by the govenror's former campaign manager that also employs McCrory's nephew. Pope is a distant cousin of McCrory budget director Art Pope and well known in Raleigh GOP circles.

SPEAKING OF: The Wake County Republican Party will meet March 26 to pick a new chairman. Two candidates are in the race -- Donna Williams and Dale Cooke -- but it appears that Williams in the favorite, with endorsements from state lawmakers and much of the local GOP establishment. Event begins at 6 p.m. Keynote sppeaker is TBD.

SUNSHINE WEEK: 10 WAYS TO MAKE THE LEGISLATURE MORE TRANSPARENT: In interviews, dozens of advocates, lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staffers suggested ways to shed more sunshine on the legislature. Here are 10 recommendations – big and small – that could make the legislature more accessible to the public: make lawmakers subject to all the public records law, broadcast legislative meetings, open conference committees, make caucus meetings public, require advanced discloure of PCS bills, mmandate online campaign finance filings, abolish lawmaker-only cafeteria, open legislative ethics committee, repeal second-floor ban and post ethiics disclosure forms online. Read More details and what it would take here.

NEW CENSUS NUMBERS SHOW POPULATION SHIFT: The population growth that puts the Triangle among the fastest-growing places in the nation is eluding large parts of North Carolina, according to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Six of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the state are clustered between the Triangle and Fort Bragg. Hoke County, which includes a large part of the military base, was the 20th fastest-growing county in the country. 1. Hoke, 6.4 percent 2. Harnett, 5.5 percent 3. Wake, 5 percent 4. Mecklenburg, 4.9 percent 5. Durham, 4.2 percent 6. Brunswick, 3.9 percent 7. Chatham, 3.5 percent 8. Pender, 3.5 percent 9. Cabarrus, 3.4 percent 10. Lee, 3.2 percent.

Counties in northeastern North Carolina are losing residents at a faster rate than elsewhere in the state. Washington County’s population declined an estimated 3.3 percent, while Bertie, Northampton, Gates and Martin counties all lost more than 2 percent.

BILL WOULD KILL RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARDS: House Republicans on Wednesday introduced legislation that would roll back a sweeping energy program that has paid financial incentives to North Carolina homeowners for buying efficient appliances, solar panels and home energy audits. The bill, which had been anticipated for weeks, would end the state’s requirement that power companies use renewable energy and promote energy conservation programs. The legislation would stymie future development of renewables by not allowing power companies to charge customers for any extra cost associated with these resources.

McCRORY NOT YET ON BOARD: Repealing the policy may encounter resistance from Hager’s own party. Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters this week that he is discussing the future of the program with his energy policy advisers and the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Do we expand it, and if so how long do we expand it?” McCrory said after an event Monday, according to a video taken by WRAL-TV. “I think it’s very important for us to send a message to existing and new potential investors exactly what our long-term plan is.” Full story here.

GOP LAWMAKERS SEEK TO REDISTRICT DEMOCRATIC WAKE SCHOOL BOARD -- BOOT CURRENT MEMBERS EARLY: A bill introduced Wednesday in the state Senate would dramatically alter both how and when Wake County school board members are elected. And it would force at least some current members out of their seats early. The bill, S325, would make it possible for Wake County voters to pick two of the nine school board members, up from the current practice where all nine seats are from districts and voters only get to select the one representing their district. The bill also would redraw the boundaries for the districts, and it would postpone this fall’s elections, giving four members several extra months on the board and shortening the terms of the other five members by more than a year. Several current members also would be grouped into the same district under the bill. Sound familiar? Full story here.

HOMEBUILDERS TAKE ON COUNTIES, CITIES: If you were at the General Assembly this week, you heard a lot about how local governments have become a kind of Big Brother to the homebuilding industry. The argument goes like this: Through the adoption of extra inspections and arbitrary design and aesthetic guidelines, local governments have both overstepped their legal authority and added all sorts of delays and unnecessary costs to the construction process.

The bills are being pushed by the N.C. Homebuilders Association and opposed, not surprisingly, by most cities and towns in the Triangle. Few regions in the state are expected to experience the volume of new home construction in coming years as this region, and thus many officials here are wary of changes that might limit their ability to shape how that development occurs. Full story here.


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