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Morning Memo: Harris stakes his ground; GOP lawmaker presses McCrory

HARRIS DECLARES HE'S THE SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE IN THE RACE: The Rev. Mark Harris, a leading social conservative, entered the North Carolina Senate race Wednesday, setting up a potential insider/outsider GOP primary showdown next May with House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Harris, the outgoing president of the state Baptist Convention, said he would campaign as a staunch advocate for lowering taxes, reducing government, ending Obamacare and protecting gun rights, that he would back measures that he believes would improve “traditional moral values.” Read more here.

GOP SENATOR SAYS McCRORY ADMINISTRATION IS BREAKING THE LAW: A high-ranking Republican state senator said Wednesday that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is flouting the law. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, complained that McCrory hasn’t named an independent Unemployment Review Board to review decisions on unemployment benefits made by the state Division of Employment Security. Rucho’s remarks came during a legislative committee meeting where lawmakers were questioning Dale Folwell, the agency’s head. Read more here.

***Read more on the Harris announcement and a North Carolina political roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Harris to enter Senate race; Black Caucus wants DHHS inquiry

MARK HARRIS TO MAKE U.S. SENATE BID OFFICIAL: Rev. Mark Harris plans to tell supporters Thursday that he’s decided to enter the race for Republican U.S. Senate nomination early next month, party sources told the Charlotte Observer. Harris, pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has been on a "listening tour" around the state.

He’s expected to announce Oct. 2. Harris would join a list of GOP candidates that include House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary. The winner would face Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

WHERE CONGRESS STANDS ON SYRIA: An interactive graphic makes it easy to see where North Carolina’s congressional delegation -- and those in other states -- stand on the Syria question. Take a look here.

***Below in the Dome Morning Memo -- the latest on the DHHS salary controversy and state elections inquiry of a lawmaker’s campaign spending.***

Morning Memo: The recasting of Gov. McCrory? Unraveling his shifts

PAT McCRORY LINKS MEDICAID REFORMS TO TEACHER PAY HIKES -- Governor pledges big announcement in coming months: Speaking at the Cary Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet Wednesday evening, Gov. Pat McCrory promised "controversial" proposals to change the state's Medicaid system. Overruns in Medicaid costs are a huge burden on the state and have drained funding for education, he said.

Citing issues with federal regulations, "a lack of waivers from the feds, and frankly, some of the politics within Raleigh here," McCrory said he wanted to change the state's implementation of the federal health program for people with low income.

"I'm going to have to bring up some fairly controversial proposals to change Medicaid, or we're going to continue to have some very, very serious issues here in North Carolina," McCrory told the crowd. "That's coming in the next three, four months. I'll probably introduce them while the legislature's out of town, between now and May," he said, drawing laughs. Changes to Medicaid, he said are " the way we're going to get raises to the teachers."

***McCrory appears to be charting a new course, but the administration is backtracking on a different education announcement. Read it all below in today's Dome Morning Memo***

Business cheers Rucho and Howard for unemployment cuts

The cuts in unemployment benefits have not been very popular, and have been one of the focuses of the Moral Monday protests.

But now the principal authors are getting some love. Rep. Julia Howard and Sen. Bob Rucho have been named the 2013 recipients of the Unemployment Insurance Integrity Award given by the UWC -- Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers Compensation. UWC is a national association that presents the business community on unemployment insurance and workers' compensation public policy issues.

"The North Carolina Chamber and its members commend the leadership of Re. Howard and Sen. Rucho in reforming our state's broke and broken unemployment system,'' said Lew Ebert, chamber president. "We are pleased to see them be recognized for their hard work in shifting our focus from unemployment to reemployment.''

The legislature passed a bill in February dealing with $2.5 billion debt on unemployment insurance -- the third largest in the country -- caused by the state's high unemployment rate and a series of tax cuts in unemployment insurance over the years.

Because North Carolina leaders cut average weekly benefits for new claims,a bout 170,000 workers whose state benefits expire this year will lose more than $700 million in payments, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Morning Memo: House goes into OT, GOP pushes major bills in final moments

OVERTIME AT THE STATEHOUSE: What day is it again? The legislation continues its Friday session later this morning -- the one it started at 12:01 a.m. “Good morning, everybody,” House Speaker Thom Tillis said as he gavel in a new legislative day. The 9 a.m. session is one more than expected but House lawmakers didn’t want to stay past 1 a.m. to finish their work like the Senate, expecting lengthy debates. The House session is expected to last a couple hours. On the calendar: the “technical corrections” state budget bill that includes $2 million for the governor’s office to spend on innovative education programs -- a last-minute request from State Budget Director Art Pope’s office, budget writers said. Also: a final vote on a sweeping regulatory overhaul measure.

The big item left unfinished: Gov. Pat McCrory’s commerce bill. The fracking language added to the reorganization measure in conference doomed its chances in the house. (Special session, anyone?)

LEGISLATIVE SESSION ENDS WITH A FLURRY OF ACTION: Abortion. Voter ID. Massive changes to state regulations. Charlotte airport. It’s all headed to Gov. Pat McCrory. If you went to bed too soon, read it all below in the ***Dome Morning Memo.*** Along with Tillis campaign news.

Rucho back in front

Sen. Bob Rucho was back at his usual spot in front of the Senate Finance Committee room Tuesday, the paper nameplate identifying him as chairman. The Matthews Republican who tried to resign his Finance Committee chairmanship in a split with Republican leaders over tax reform said he's resumed his duties as chairman.

"I am back," Rucho said. "I got my problem resolved."

Berger never accepted his resignation, but Rucho removed himself from the chairman's seat and sat with the rest of the committee members for at least one Finance meeting.

Rucho wants to extend sales taxes to goods and services, but is on board with the tax plan House and Senate Republicans and Gov. Pat McCrory agreed to, which is essentially a cut in personal and corporate income tax rates.

The bill is "the first step toward comprehensive tax reform," which Rucho described as "a consumption-based tax on goods and services" and an income tax rate of zero, like Tennessee, Florida and Texas.

Oh yeah, and the NC Senate approved its tax bill too

Don't worry if you missed it, but the state Senate gave final approval to a major tax bill. The controversial abortion vote eclipsed the far-reaching measure to cut income taxes and restrict government spending.

Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Asheville provided the lone point of debate before the vote Wednesday. He said he opposed the first tax bill the Senate approved and now this new one, saying Republicans "put a little lipstick on it."

"You are taxing the middle class and giving tax cuts to the rich," he said, exasperated but knowing the outcome was settled.

The Republican-dominated chamber approved it 29-14.

Morning Memo: With jobless benefits expiring, focus on Moral Monday protest

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: How big will Moral Monday get? That's the top question today at the statehouse. Now in the ninth week, the protests are expected to grow because long-term unemployment benefits end Monday for more than 70,000 workers thanks to a bill approved by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory. A rainy weather forecast may dampen the demonstration.

With the House not holding full sessions this week, the Senate is moving forward. At 2 p.m., the Senate Finance Committee will meet to look at the chamber's tax plan again. It is expected to send it back to the floor, where it will get a final vote this week and start the conference process on an issue that has stymied Republicans. The full Senate starts at 7 p.m.

UPDATED: McCrory released a public schedule later in the morning saying he would attend the swearing in ceremony for utilities board members.

CHRISTENSEN: Tax debate cherry picks statistics. In his Sunday column, Rob Christensen looks at the motivation for tax reform, picking apart the numbers to conclude: "There may be a legitimate argument for tinkering with the tax code – making sure corporate taxes are not out of line with neighboring states. But the link between lowering taxes and a booming state economy is weak. ...

So what is the value to having one of the lowest business tax rates, if you jeopardize the state’s quality of life? Those business executives don’t just want to move businesses here, but they want to live here as well." Full story.

***Find many more political headlines below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

"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: McCrory quietly signs RJA, Social Security is landmine for GOP

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The growing consensus at the legislative building: state lawmakers may stay in session through mid-July. And the not-in-a-hurry pace is evident in today's calendar. Only a handful of committees will meet and most of the work is being done behind the scenes among select lawmakers negotiating the tax bill and state budget. A bill allowing coastal jetties will draw a crowd in the 10 a.m. House Environment Committee. And on the floor, the House will consider a measure to up the speed limit to 75 mph in some places. The Senate will debate a bill that could allow mega-dumps for out-of-state trash, a political hot potato the McCrory administration now supports.

Gov. Pat McCrory will meet with legislators in the morning before attending a ribbon cutting in Greenville for a children's hospital at Vidant Medical Center and meeting with N.C. League of Municipality officials later in the day at the mansion.

McCRORY SIGNS RACIAL JUSTICE ACT: Talk about burying the lead -- Just before 6 p.m., the governor's office announced that he signed 56 bills Wednesday. Among them: the Racial Justice Act. It was tucked into the long list at the bottom, noted only by its bill number. From AP -- Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature Wednesday repealed a landmark law that had allowed convicted murderers to have their sentences reduced to life in prison if they could prove racial bias influenced the outcome of their cases. McCrory signed a repeal of the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which both proponents and critics say will restart the death penalty in a state that hasn’t executed an inmate since 2006.

***More on the Racial Justice Act, the GOPs latest political problem and McCrory's agenda below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

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