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Morning Memo: Arrest top 300, legislative work heats up

ARRESTS NOW TOP 300: The 151 protesters arrested Monday brings the grand total this session to more than 300. But even the roughly 1,000 people who attended the rally outside the Legislative Building pale in comparison to tens of thousands who attended the Wisconsin recall protests. (Read more on the demonstrations in the memo below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House Finance Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on its plan to tweak the state's tax system when it meets at 8:30 a.m. It is a partial overhaul compared to the Senate, but would still cut $1 billion in tax money over five years for future government services. A House transportation panel will revive a controversial bill to transfer control of the Charlotte airport to a regional authority. The Senate Commerce Committee will consider two beer bills while the judiciary committees have packed agendas. The House convenes at 2 p.m. and is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 325, which would change the election boundaries, election dates and composition of Wake school board seats. Expect some heated debate from Democrats before the bill is ultimately passed by Republicans and sent back to the Senate. In the Senate, lawmakers will consider adding making it unlawful (apparently it wasn't) to drink in EMS and police vehicles.

Gov. Pat McCrory and the Council of State will meet at 9 a.m. and then the governor will take a tour of Strata's solar energy farm in Willow Spring. The visit sends a statement the legislature considers a bill to end state mandates on renewable energy.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the ultimate source for North Carolina political news. Click below for a can't miss photo from the protests Monday. ***

Morning Memo: Senate race takes shape, mass arrests continue

SENATE RACE TAKING SHAPE: A U.S. Senate race with national stakes is taking shape in North Carolina, with one Republican jumping in, one bowing out and a handful of others waiting in the wings. They’re aiming at Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the GOP’s top targets in 2014. She’s one of seven Democratic senators in states carried last year by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Republicans call them the “Red State 7.” “If it’s not the Number One race, it’s top three for sure,” says Kevin McLaughlin, senior advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “North Carolina is very, very ripe for the picking.” This weekend several announced and would-be candidates are expected to attend the state GOP convention, which begins Friday at the Charlotte Convention Center.

MORAL MONDAYS CONTINUE: A larger-than-ever crowd is expected at the statehouse Monday evening for the latest in the wave of civil disobedience protests leading to arrests at the legislature. James Protzman, a Democratic activist who says he will run against Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, announced he will be among those arrested. Are they working? Read Rob Christensen's column below the jump.

***It's the second week of June and adjournment is not in sight. Get a legislative roundup and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

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. ***

North Carolina lawmakers win easily against South Carolina in charity game

RALEIGH -- A deep bench and powerful inside presence under the basket gave North Carolina lawmakers the advantage they needed to make a second half run and beat a squad of South Carolina legislators 35 -27 in a charity game Wednesday.

With the win at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, North Carolina reclaimed the trophy from its southern rival and extended its series lead to 11-6 in an on-again, off-again competition that dates to 1979.

"It was a great game," said Rep. Burt Jones, a Rockingham Republican who coached the team and reveled in his post-game interview. "I think we played just a little bit better. ... We had a little run in the second half and pulled away."

The 6-foot, 5-inch center Rep. Chris Millis, a Hampstead Republican, scored big points for the bipartisan N.C. General Assembly team and swatted a few big South Carolina shots, easily winning the crowd's MVP nod. "Everybody played hard," he said, sounding just like a professional athlete. "It was a team win."

Gov. Pat McCrory made an appearance in the second half, playing good minutes but later clanked two free throws late in the game. "I've never been so nervous in my life," McCrory said at the line.

Teacher tenure bill moves swiftly through House committee

A bipartisan House bill that would change the state's teacher tenure law moved swiftly through the House Education committee Tuesday.

The bill would allow veteran teachers to keep tenure, though they would lose it with two consecutive years of poor performance. Teachers with four years experience who are rated "highly effective" would be granted tenure.

The House bill is on a collision course with a Senate bill that abolishes teacher tenure.

NC House touts bipartisan bill to improve school safety

A bipartisan coalition of North Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday to add more law enforcement officers and social workers to elementary and middle schools and install panic alarms in every classroom in the state.

The measure includes $17 million to add the officers, staff and alarms and mandates additional crisis drills and training to prepare for violent attacks at schools.

House Speaker Thom Tillis launched the effort more than a month ago and the legislation is designed to dovetail with Gov. Pat McCrory’s newly announced Center for Safer Schools. State Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said the legislation represents “a strong bipartisan consensus on an issue that should not have any partisan overtones.”

Diploma bill headed to McCrory

A bill directing the state Department of Public Instruction to come up with a plan for attaching "endorsements" to high school diplomas passed the House by a vote of 110-1 and is on its way to Gov. Pat McCrory.

The bill "tries to get the ball rolling on vocational education," said Rep. Bryan Holloway, a King Republican.

Legislators want high school diplomas to indicate whether students are prepared for work, college, or both after graduation.

Increasing vocational education was one of McCrory's campaign issues.

Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, objected to bringing the bill to a vote Wednesday evening, the same day it was debated in a House committee. But in the end, he sounded resigned.

"This is a feel-good bill," he said. "There's not much substance in it. There are still a lot of questions we could be debating on the floor."

Luebke voted for the bill. Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Democrat from Charlotte, voted against it.

Teachers group endorses GOP House members

The N.C. Association of Educators, a group long associated with Democrats, announced endorsements Wednesday of three Republican House members over their Democratic challengers. 

Reps. Bryan Holloway of Stokes, Linda Johnson of Cabarrus, and Hugh Blackwell of Burke County won NCAE's nod in what the group said is its first round of legislative endorsements. The other 13 endorsements announced Wednesday all went to Democrats.

Holloway and Blackwell are House education budget writers. Johnson is a co-chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The House pushed money toward the K-12 budget this year, though not all made it into the final budget.

"These three legislative leaders were courageous, strong and vocal for public school educators and students this past short session, and our educators are going to be strong and vocal in working for their re-election this November," NCAE President Rodney Ellis said in a statement.

House approves national tests for middle, high schools

The House approved a bill that will require the State Board of Education to plan for and administer ACT pre-tests to 8th and 10th graders and the ACT to 11th graders, if they have the money.

The state board has been talking for months about administering the national tests in middle and high school to see if students are prepared for college.

Under the bill, schools would also be able to administer a test called WorkKeys that's meant to determine whether students are ready for community college or jobs.

The legislature voted earlier this session to eliminate four state end-of-course exams. The ACT bill sponsors said the national tests would be better than the state tests at determining how students are doing.

"It truly gets to the problem we need to address, finding a way to address accountability and remediation," said Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg Democrat and a bill sponsor.

Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Stokes County Republican and bill sponsor, said in an interview that the tests are "needed to address the remediation problem, especially in community colleges."

The community colleges have found for years that  significant numbers of students are not ready for college work.

Offering the tests will cost about $7 million, and the House budget writers have not included the money in their proposal. But Holloway said they were trying to find it.

House approves bill that expands use of school diagnostic software

The House approved a bill Tuesday that requires the state's schools to use a software tool to help diagnose students' progress.

The state has already made the system, called the Education Value Added Assessment System or EVAAS, available to schools. The bill now requires districts to use it or an equivalent program. The state and not local districts will pay for the software, which is owned by SAS. The House budget included $1 million for expanding the system.

Supporters say the system works and has shown improvements in student performance. Schools are already required to incorporate data and diagnostic systems in their improvement plans.

State Rep. Bryan Holloway, a King Republican and a former teacher, said he objected to forcing school systems to use the software.

"Now we as a state legislature are going to tell our superintendents, many of them have PhDs, our principals who have master's degrees, how they have to implement their school improvement plans?" he asked. "Someone has got to type that data in. Someone has to enter that data. I imagine it's going to be passed off to the teachers. They're not going to be thrilled to find out they have another duty added to their vast plate."

The bill passed the House 94 to 19 and now goes to the Senate.

UPDATE: SAS says the software does not require any extra work for teachers.

SAS applies its analysis to standardized test scores supplied by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said spokesman Trent Smith.

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