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Morning Memo: NCGA studies Colo. school choice; DHHS execs see pay bump

NCGA STAFF EXAMINES COLORADO SCHOOL CHOICE: Three employees of the General Assembly went to Douglas County, Colo., for nearly a week in June to examine that county’s school funding model and determine the feasibility of trying something similar in North Carolina.

The Douglas County school district, the third largest in Colorado, is known for its emphasis on school choice and has pursued major – and often controversial – education reforms in recent years. Read more here.

***Get a full wrap on North Carolina political headlines below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: Daily Show says North Carolina trumps South Carolina in crazy

VOTING BILL TARGET OF LAUGHS: Another day, another national television show puts North Carolina at the butt of the jokes. The Daily Show on Comedy Central took aim at the recently approved elections bill that puts restrictions on voting. Host John Oliver joked that the state election bill would place “all voting booths on buoys that are only accessible by yacht." The segment lumped North Carolina together with Texas and Florida but the Tar Heel state (starting at 2:30) received particular attention and Senate leader Phil Berger make an appearance from a TV clip. Oliver says the voting bill is just the “tip of the true $h*!-berg of a legislative session" and concludes: “Your move South Carolina. Oh, you thought you had crazy Carolina all sown up, didn’t you?”

***The state's system to deliver food assistance is troubled and ALEC is targeted ahead of this week's meeting. Read more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

House sends McCrory a stack of reading material

The House gave about 20 bills final legislative approval Tuesday and sent them on to Gov. Pat McCrory. Here are some notable ones:

Under House Bill 250, charter schools will no longer need to ask permission from the State Board of Education to expand by adding one grade. The unchecked expansion raised questions last week because of the potential impact on small school districts, but the House ended up approving it 117-0. The bill will also give charter school admission preferences brothers and sisters of school alumni.

House Bill 492 allows Medicaid recipients who have Alzheimer's disease to receive up to 130 hours of personal care services per month, up from 80 hours. The bill was approved in a 114-0 vote. Owners of assisted living facilities wanted the increase, saying 80 hours was not enough to care for people with dementia.

The House passed the "Big Gulp" bill 99-16. This legislation promoted by the American Legislative Executive Council prohibits cities and towns from banning sales of big sodas, a la New York City and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. House Bill 683 also says food producers cannot be held liable in court for making people obese.

"Big Gulp" bill passes Senate

Legislators may be tired of talking about greasy fries and giant sodas.

The N.C. Senate, without debate, approved a bill that would prevent consumer lawsuits against the food industry on claims that the food made them obese. It would also prevent a municipality from banning the sale of large sodas, such as the ban New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried.

Some legislators have argued the bill isn't needed. It would be nearly impossible for a person to win an obesity lawsuit in North Carolina. No municipality has taken on Big Gulps.

But there was no debate Monday night as the bill passed 37-9 and was sent back to the N.C. House for concurrence.

The bill is modeled after legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

"Big Gulp" bill clears Senate committee

A Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would prevent people from suing food suppliers for making them fat and prevent municipalities from limiting the size of sodas for sale.

Known as the "Big Gulp bill," it is based on model legislation from the free-market group American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, called the bill "a solution in search of a problem," because it would be nearly impossible for someone to win a lawsuit blaming food for making them obese. In North Carolina, if someone contributes one percent to their injury, they have no claim.

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg Republican, said the law would prevent "legal extortion."

Morning Memo: Civitas protester database draws complaints

HOUSE OFFER MOVES ON CORPORATE TAX: From AP: The House's latest tax offer to the Senate would reduce the corporate income tax rate more quickly compared to the package the chamber approved two weeks ago and agrees to the Senate's position on the future of several sales tax exemptions, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The House offer would still retain the 2 percent local tax on groceries. The Senate wants to eliminate it. Both proposals would result in several hundred million fewer dollars for state tax coffers over the next two years, with the Senate proposal now sitting in a committee holding the higher price tag.

CIVITAS MORAL MONDAY PROJECT STIRS BLACKLIST COMPARISONS: The Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank the largely supports the Republican legislative agenda, posted the name, age, address and employer of all protesters arrested at the legislature during the Moral Monday events, along with other personal information in a new database online. Read more on the reaction below.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Click below for more about a GOP lawmaker's last minute addition to the state budget, President Barack Obama's pick for the federal bench in North Carolina and more.***

Morning Memo: Questions for Thom Tillis, McCrory wades into tax fight

THREE QUESTIONS FOR THOM TILLIS: House Speaker Thom Tillis' decision to formally enter the Senate race and challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is not a surprise. But the timing, coming before the end of the legislative session, when Tillis said in January he would make a decision, is noteworthy. Here are three more questions about the race:

1. How long will he remain speaker? Running for the U.S. Senate is no state legislative race. It's all consuming. Does Tillis think he can manage an unruly House that is to his ideological right while campaigning? The case for staying in office: it helps to control the purse strings when you are asking for money. His allied super PAC, by coincidence or not, debuted when the House received the budget from the Senate. The case for resigning: Why have everything the Rep. Brawley's of the world propose drag you into issue fights you don't want?

2. Who will challenge him from the right? Tillis' debuted his run with an AP interview in which he emphasized his ability to work across the aisle -- a common message, but rarely heard in the primary stage of a campaign when you are appealing the fieriest partisans of your party. But it underscores Tillis' moderate tendencies and how Tillis could easily face a big-name challenger who is considered more conservative. The field could get crowded -- and Tillis isn't polling well in GOP primary surveys because he's largely unknown, despite his powerful post.

3. What will Phil Berger do? The possibility that Senate leader Phil Berger could enter the race -- and move to Tillis' right -- would add a whole new dynamic to the Republican primary field as two legislative leaders govern the state by their future ambition. It sounds less likely that he will run but even if he doesn't run, Berger can exert considerable influence if Tillis remains in the legislature by steering legislation that forces him to take positions on issues he may rather avoid.

***Read more on Tillis' Senate bid and Gov. Pat McCrory's step into the tax debate for the first time -- all below in the Dome Morning Memo, the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. ***

Morning Memo: Senate budget on the table

SENATE BUDGET TIME: The state Senate released a $20.58 billion proposed budget late Sunday night that would eliminate class-size limits for the youngest public school students, move the State Bureau of Investigation to a department the governor’s appointee controls and puts various environmental programs under the control of a state agency. The proposal represents a 2.3 percent increase over the current budget and is about $17 million short of the budget Gov. Pat McCrory proposed in March.

Senate budget writers will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. to discuss it in more detail. Full Senate votes are expected later this week. More here.

NCGA PROTESTERS CHALLENGE CHARGES: As protesters gear up to assemble again Monday to highlight concerns about welfare cuts, health care funding, voting rights, racial justice, tax reform, environmental deregulation, workers rights and more, legal analysts are raising questions about whether the General Assembly police are within their power to arrest the nonviolent demonstrators. Irv Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University who has observed the demonstrations, said legal challenges of the arrests are being drafted. “We think we have clear-cut First Amendment issues,” Joyner said. Full story.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more North Carolina politics to start your week below. Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com***

Morning Memo: Is the Senate's tax plan a tax hike for many?

TAX PLAN COULD MEAN TAX HIKE IN LONG TERM: The majority of taxpayers likely would see a tax increase after the plan is fully implemented, according to early long-term projections from legislative fiscal researchers who analyzed the potential legislation – not a tax break as Senate Republican leaders suggested when announcing the plan this week.

A taxpayer with a federal adjusted gross income below $51,000 could pay an average $100 to $200 more in the 2017 tax year. Based on current tax brackets, 2.3 million taxpayers would fit that category, according to the analysis, while 1.8 million taxpayers could expect an average $300 to $3,000 tax cut that year. In announcing the plan Tuesday, Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, emphasized that the legislation was not yet finalized, but said the “vast majority,” or roughly two-thirds of taxpayers, would initially get a tax cut as a result of the legislation. (More below.)

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com. And read more new details about the tax plan below.***

Morning Memo: Senate rolls out tax plan; ALEC keeps clout in North Carolina

SENATE LEADERS TO PITCH TAX PLAN: The long-awaited plan to overhaul the state's tax system will debut Tuesday. Senate Republicans want to slash the personal income tax from the highest 7.75 percent rate to 4.5 percent over three years and drop the corporate income tax from 6.9 percent to 6 percent.

In a video previewing a 12:30 p.m. announcement, Senate leader Phil Berger called it a $1 billion tax cut -- the largest in state history. The question is how to pay for it and the details are less clear, but Berger said it will involved taxing a range of services from haircuts to auto mechanics. (More details below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Taxes won't take all the air from the N.C. General Assembly today. In committees, the governor's transportation plan gets a final hearing before going to the full House; a health committee considers a measure to limit what a doctor can do about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and birth control without parental consent; and Senate lawmakers will consider (but not vote on) a proposal to allow armed guards in elementary schools who aren't necessarily law enforcement officers.

The controversial gun bill gets a third reading on the House floor and the Senate will consider a controversial state charter school bill similar to ALEC-sponsored legislation. (More on ALEC below.) Gov. Pat McCrory -- who promised to hold regular media availability -- will not take questions after the Council of State meeting at 9 a.m. today. It is normal practice but McCrory has shunned the media after the meetings just about every time since he took office. He lists no other public events on his calendar today.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. A big day in North Carolina politics ahead. Get the scoop below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

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