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State treasurer warns lawmakers pension fund needs more flexibility, or else

State Treasurer Janet Cowell is urging lawmakers to give her more flexibility to invest the state’s pension money, warning that is is “very unlikely” returns will meet projections without the change.

In a recent letter to legislative leaders, Cowell said returns on the state’s $80 billion pension fund are in jeopardy because global stock markets are hitting an all-time high and bond returns are expected to fall. If the state doesn’t meet the 7.25 percent return rate, Cowell said the taxpayers may be on the hook to buttress the promised retirement benefits.

SB558 letter to General Assembly.pdf

Growler bill, in-stand beer sales approved by House committee

A trip to the grocery store may soon include a growler fill along with the carton of milk. A House panel approved a bill Wednesday to allow retailers such as grocery stores and beer specialty shops to fill half-gallon jugs known as growlers from a beer tap, just the state's growing list of craft breweries can do. South Carolina allows a similar practice. "With our burgeoning craft brew industry, what this bill would allow is the same thing to happen here in North Carolina," said sponsor Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican.

N.C. Republicans hear from big-time GOP message-shaper Frank Luntz

The Legislative Building got real quiet late Thursday morning. Like Friday morning quiet.

Between the House and Senate sessions, most legislative Republicans headed over to the new state science museum for a joint caucus meeting where they heard from nationally-known political wordsmith and Republican strategist Frank Luntz.

Rep. Edgar Starnes, House majority leader, said the point of the meeting was "to make everybody feel good."

Rep. Ruth Samuelson, House Republican conference leader, the session was about communicating more effectively with constituents.

Luntz is credited with coining the term "death tax," referring to the estate tax. His web site says he "showed that parents don't debate 'school vouchers,' but they do discuss 'opportunity scholarships.' And he showed Americans don't want 'drilling for oil,' but they do want 'American energy exploration.'"

Tillis: Religion resolution well-intended, but one little problem -- unconstitutional

Speaker Thom Tillis said Friday the ill-fated and embarrassing “religion resolution” filed in the House this week was “well-intentioned” BUT it had “lots of technical problems – not the least of which was one of the provisions was unconstitutional.”

Tillis, speaking on Bill LuMaye’s program on WPTF, said there are better ways to accomplish what the resolution’s primary sponsors were trying to do, which was express support for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in their lawsuit with the ACLU over saying a Christian prayer at the beginning of each meeting.

GOP introduces bills to curtail early voting, end same-day registration

Two new bills filed Thursday would change the way North Carolinians vote.

The state's early voting period would be shortened and Sunday voting eliminated under one bill. The bill from House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Caldwell County also would eliminate straight-ticket voting and same-day registration. And it would make non-partisan judicial elections partisan.

The bill could help Republicans.

It would lop a week off the early voting period, which Democrats have used more successfully than Republicans. It would also stop straight-ticket voting. Democrats cast 300,000 more straight tickets than Republicans in 2012. And by ending Sunday voting, it would stop the heavily Democratic "Souls to the Polls" efforts to get voters out after Sunday church services.

A bill introduced by Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville would eliminate public financing of judicial and other statewide races now eligible for it. --Jim Morrill, Observer staff writer

House GOP chooses leaders

The state House GOP caucus on Saturday, meeting in High Point, chose its leaders for the coming session.

Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam of Apex was promoted from majority leader to speaker pro tem. This will be his seventh term.The previous pro tem, Rep. Dale Folwell, left office to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. The pro tem steps in to run sessions when the speaker is absent. Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius was re-elected to the post last month.

Rep. Edgar Starnes, from Caldwell County, was chosen Majority Leader. Starnes has been in the House since 1993.

A third candidate emerges for House Republican leader

The House GOP power struggle is becoming more intriguing as a third candidate emerged for Republican majority leader: Rep. Edgar Starnes.

Starnes, a nine-term lawmaker and committee chairman from Hickory, said he is seeking the post regardless of whether the Republican caucus decides to split the job -- as it will discuss in Saturday's meeting.

If it is split, Starnes said he would make a bid for the day-to-day operations role, managing the caucus and running the Republican agenda on the floor.

"I've seen a lot of leaders come and a lot of leaders go and I think I have an idea of what the caucus needs and I think that my leadership style will best suit the members," he said in an interview Wednesday.

House committees shrink from 37 to 18

House Speaker designate Thom Tillis will be handing out fewer gavels than his predecessors, fulfilling his promise to cure committee bloat by cutting more than half of them.

To get from 37 House committtees to 18, three Judiciary committees will be replaced by one, with subcommittees handling civil, criminal and family law. Juvenile justice has been absorbed into Judiciary. 

Ways and Means and Science and Technology were rolled into the Commerce Committee, said Rep. Edgar Starnes, who as chairman of the caucus Committee on Committees, was in charge of committee reduction.

There also consolidations in Health and Human Services, Commerce, Environment, and Agriculture.

Jacumin won't run in '10

Sen. Jim Jacumin, a three-term Republican from Burke County, won't run for reelection next year.

Jacumin decided not to run again because of concerns over his wife's health, according to a report in the Lenoir News-Topic.

"I've always tried to put God first, family second and country third," Jacumin said in the story. "We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary a year ago. Everything I've been able to do, she has been a part of it. I told her, 'We've got to put you first now.'"

Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican in his eighth term, will make a decision about running for the seat before Thanksgiving.

Full House will hear records bill

A bill that would all but guarantee attorneys fees for those who sue over public records cleared a key committee Wednesday morning.

The bill's supporters narrowly escaped an amendment that would have also guaranteed attorneys fees if a government agency wins a records lawsuit. The amendment failed on a tie vote.

The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Bill Owens, an Elizabeth City Democrat, was necessary to ensure that news organizations and state residents don't flood government with frivolous lawsuits.

"It's said we need to look out for the people's information," Owens said. "We need to look out for the people's money as well."

Supporters of the original bill said that government agencies, cities, counties and towns are not above using their staff attorneys to stonewall citizens.

"Since when has fighting city hall been described as a level playing field?" said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican.

Owens amendment, or one like it, seems likely to resurface when the bill hits the House floor, possibly next week.

More after the jump.

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