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Senate defeats effort to make judicial reprimands confidential

The N.C. Senate voted down a measure to keep the Judicial Standards Commission's reprimands of judges secret.

In a 13-21 vote, prominent Republicans joined Democrats in a rare move to defeat the bill because it reduced government transparency. Senate Bill 652 was later revived but sent to the Senate Rules Committee where it is expected to remain without further action this session.

Under the legislation, a commission reprimand of a judge would remain confidential unless the N.C. Supreme Court concurs and makes it public.

Morning Memo: NC House prepared for all-nighter

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Got your Red Bull handy? It promises to be a long day folks.

The House budget, having survived the Appropriations Committee mostly intact, goes to the Finance Committee this morning. The plan laid out by House Speaker Thom Tillis calls for the bill to be taken up on the House floor later today. Tillis told lawmakers there would be time for a lengthy debate and that — if the first vote comes late in the evening — he'll keep them there after midnight to have the final vote after midnight. The upside? They'll get the rest of Thursday off.

Welcome to Wednesday and Dome's Morning Memo.

Stripped down fracking bill emerges in House

A state House committee rejected an effort to lift the state’s fracking moratorium in a backlash against an aggressive push in the state Senate to promote shale gas exploration in North Carolina.

The legislation sailed through the Senate three months ago but underwent about 30 revisions in private negotiations in the House between lawmakers during the interim. The bill that emerged Wednesday was stripped down to such an extent that its sponsor, Republican Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton of Johnston County of Wilson, called it “a step backwards, or two steps backwards” and suggested it could delay energy exploration by several years.

Goolsby and Newton to head Senate J Committee

Senators Thom Goolsby of New Hanover and E.S. “Buck” Newton of Wilson have been named chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.

They replace Sen. Peter Brunstetter, who chaired the committee during the past session.

Senate leader Phil Phil Berger also re-appointed Senators Austin Allran of Catawba and Warren Daniel of the Senate Judiciary II Committee.

He also plans to appoint Senators Goolsby, Newton and Stan Bingham to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety.

Berger also announced that he was reappointing Senators Jerry Tillman of Randolph and Dan Soucek of Watauga as co-chairmen of the Senate Committee on Education/ Higher Education. They will also serve with Sen. Tom Apodaca as co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education/Higher Education.

Democrats apologize to Buck Newton for 2010 campaign charges

Democratic former state A.B. Swindell and the state Democratic Party have issued an apology to Republican state Sen. Buck Newton regarding charges made in the 2010 campaign as part of a settlement in the suit.

During the Senate campaign, Swindell and the state Democratic Party ran radio ads and distributed mailings saying that while in college at Appalachian State University in 1990 Newton was arrested for selling illegal narcotics.

“The ads and mailings were based on records we obtained from the Watauga County Clerk of Court,” says the letter signed by Swindell and Jay Parmley, who is executive director of the Democratic  Party. Swindell was defeated in the election.

“The court file we received did not contain an Addendum to the dismissal of the charges against Buck Newton, signed by an Assistant District Attorney in Watauga County.” the letter said.

The letter cites the letter from the assistant DA saying Newton's arrest was a case of mistaken identity and he was not involved the matter.

“Based upon the statements in the Addendum, Buck Newton was not involve din any way in these drug sales,” the letter said. “Had we received the Addendum along with the rest of the Court file, we would not have run the ads or distributed the mailings during the campaign.”

“The North Carolina Democratic Party and I regret this mistake and sincerely apologize to Senator Newton and his family for any embarrassment and harm we may have caused,” the letter says.

In a statement, Newton said he was satisfied with the apology and the resolution of the lawsuit.

“As I have said from the beginning, and as their apology states, I was completely innocent of the charges made in their advertisements,” Newton said. “I appreciate my name being cleared and finally getting an apology.  It is past time to close the book on this kind of politics and put all of this behind us.''

Fred Smith set to run for state Senate

Word on the street is that former Republican gubernatorial candidate Fred Smith is planning to run for the state Senate next year.

Smith, a builder and a former state senator from Clayton, plans to announce in the next couple of weeks for Senate district seat 11, which is now held by Republican incumbent E.S. “Buck” Newton of Wilson. That would likely set up a GOP primary.

Smith served three terms in the state Senate before seeking the GOP nomination for governor in 2008, losing to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

Smith, 69, is president of the Fred Smith Company.

The Democrats' turtle attack

The Democrats are going after GOP freshmen Senators Thom Goolsby of Wilmington and Buck Newton of Wilson for co-sponsoring bills to repeal the plastic bag ban along the North Carolina coast.

The Democrats have produced a video featuring talking turtles with human bodies complaining about plastic bags showing up in their food. The turtles blame Goolsby and Newton, and ask why they aren't focusing on creating jobs.

The YouTube video has received more than 4,000 hits since it went up over the weekend.

The 2009 plastic bag ban effects Dare, Currituck and Hyde Counties.

According to the Democratic Party, the American Chemistry Council,  the plastics lobby, launched a plastics bag defense campaign last week.

Goolsby told a Wilmington TV station that “it's time we opened that discussion” on whether the disposal shopping bags should be banned. He noted that he was a surfer.

State Democratic Chairman David Parker said Goolsby wasn't seeking a discussion but repeal.

“It's what I believe surfers like the senator call a wipe-out,” Parker said. “For a freshman senator from a coastal county to attempt to repeal popular coastal environmental legislation is a major early mistake – and hopefully a lesson for him.”

Lock and load

The Senate today tentatively approved a bill to make it easier to use deadly force against an intruder who unlawfully enders a home, vehicle or place of business.

Under current law, citizens may be required to prove an intruder intended to harm or kill them or commit a felony before using deadly force to protect themselves or their property. The Castle Doctrine establishes that an unlawful entry in and of itself endangers the victims and provides legal justification for deadly response.

“Citizens should not be treated like criminals for defending their home, themselves or their family,'' said state Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, a Republican from Wilson, a sponsor of the bill. “No one should be required by law to retreat from an unlawful intruder under any circumstances.”

Handing out the Senate gavels

Incoming Senate leader Phil Berger continues to roll out the GOP committee leadership posts.

This morning he announced three co-chairs of the Senate Judiciary II Committee: Senators Austin Allran of Hickory, E.S. “Buck” Newton, a freshman from Rocky Mount, and Warren Daniel, a freshman from Morganton.

The committee oversees the state's criminal justice system and laws.

Berger also recently announced that Sen. David Rouzer of Benson and Sen. Don East of Pilot Mountain would serve as co-chairs of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources. Sen. Brent Jackson of Autryville was named as as vice chairman.

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