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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.***

Few ALEC bills passed NC legislature, watch dog group finds

North Carolina's legislature passed at least three bills that were part of the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC) according to a new report by a liberal watch dog group, Center for Media and Democracy released Thursday.

The "ALEC bills" that passed in Raleigh included a bill requiring voters to produce a photo ID, a measure providing vouchers to poor children to attend private schools and a tort reform bill that that would make it difficult to bring law suits against the food industry in claims growing out of weight gains or to pass regulations regarding soft drink size.

A number of ALEC-backed bills were considered but did not pass.

They included a measure a measure that would have phased out the state's renewable energies policy, and a proposal aimed at preventing activists or the news media from posing as employees to enter meat slaughtering facilities to record the activities.

The report is called ALEC at 40, Turning Back the Clock on Prosperity and Progress. The report said 466 ALEC bills were introduced in various legislatures this year with 84 becoming law.

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.

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: 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.***

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. ***

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