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Vouchers are good/vouchers are bad

Debate over the House bill that would offer vouchers to public school students to attend private school turned into a real back and forth Tuesday as people for and against took turns arguing their positions.

The committee heard introductory remarks from the bill sponsors and public comment. Committee members didn't debate the bill, and there was no vote.

Charles Brown, chairman of the Scotland County Board of Education and vice-chairman of the Scotland Republican Party, said vouchers will undermine public education. "Education is not the place where free market principles work as intended," he said Public schools take all comers, while private schools do not, Brown said.

House debuts new school voucher bill

House lawmakers will consider a revamped plan to provide taxpayer dollars to help send public school students to private schools.

Rep. Rob Bryan, a Charlotte Republican and lead sponsor of House Bill 944, said the new provisions help address concerns about accountability by requiring schools that receive more than $300,000 in voucher money to submit to an audit. Another part of the bill requires schools with more than 25 voucher students to report aggregate test scores.

The maximum voucher is $4,200 for a child who is eligible for free or reduced lunches, or $3,780 for families with income at 133 percent of the threshold that qualifies for the federal program.

Senate committee approves school construction bill

A state Senate panel approved a bill Wednesday that would allow Boards of Commissioners in nine counties, including Wake, to take away from their local school boards their authority to build and own schools.

Senate Bill 236 would allow boards of commissioners in those counties to take over all facets of school construction, including the locating, constructing, owning, maintaining, renovating and building of schools. These responsibilities have traditionally been held by school systems.

In the counties that take advantage of the legislation, the bill would leave school boards only the ability to advise commissioners on school construction.

Big voucher bill postponed, little voucher bill moves

A hearing on a broad voucher bill was pushed to after crossover, but a bill offering vouchers for disabled students to attend private schools continued its march to the House floor.

A bill offering vouchers of up to $6,000 a year to pay private school tuition for special education students who leave public schools cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. The bill would replace a relatively new law that offers tax credits to parents for the same purpose.

Low-income parents are excluded from the tax credit's advantages.

"We want to give everybody the opportunity to have a high quality education," said Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and a bill sponsor.

The bill's opponents said that the money won't come close to helping needy families, just those who can afford to supplement the voucher with their own money.

"We need to be pouring more money into the public system to help all children," said Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

Morning Memo: Expect a late night at legislature as bills fly fast

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The action starts early Tuesday and will likely stretch past 10 p.m. again. The House and Senate plan to convene a skeletal session just before 10 a.m. to read in committee reports, then recess until 2 p.m. House Speaker Thom Tillis said the session will go until 5:15 p.m. or so before a dinner recess for committee meetings. The chamber will reconvene at 7 p.m. and go late. The Senate isn't expected to stay as long but its calendar is getting crowded. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events.

McCRORY'S OFFICE WON'T RELEASE DAILY SCHEDULE ANYMORE: The governor's Communications Director Kim Genardo is changing the office's policy of releasing a daily calendar. Genardo said if there is no event scheduled, she won't send out a notice stating as much, meaning some days will have no notice to the governor's schedule. McCrory pledged to release a daily schedule during the gubernatorial campaign as he bashed his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, for taking a "secret" trip to Pennsylvania to study fracking rigs. Republicans jumped on McCrory's Democratic opponent for not pledging to do the same. “Everyone knew where I was as mayor,” McCrory said a year ago. “My records were open."

***A busy week means lots of news below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send more news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. ****

Voucher bill, with changes, headed to House committee

The House Education Committee is set to hear a bill Tuesday allowing parents to spend taxpayer money on K-12 private school tuition.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and one of the bill's primary sponsors, said there have been some changes to the original bill.

The bill as filed would have offered vouchers worth $4,200 a year. In the second year, children from families with incomes of 300 percent of the federal poverty level or below would qualify. This year, that income translates to $58,590 for a family of three. Brandon said the revision tightens the income guidelines and will have 50 percent of the money each year reserved for children from families at 185 percent of the federal poverty level or below. That's the level at which kids in a family would qualify for free or reduced lunch in public schools.

"It's a drastic improvement over what everybody first saw," Brandon said. The bill also lowers the income ceiling, he said. "You can't make more than $45,000 and get it."

Morning Memo: First Lady ventues into policy, TABOR bill gets a hearing

FIRST LADY BACKS BILL TO REGULATE PUPPY MILLS: Venturing into public policy for the first time as First Lady, Ann McCrory issued an open letter to lawmakers supporting House Bill 930 to establish standards for dog breeders. The bill is a weakened version of the original legislation which sought to crack down on puppy mills. "| am writing to thank you for your unanimous support of l-louse Bill 930. Passing legislation to establish basic standards of care for large commercial dog breeding facilities is a very important issue to me, and to people across our state," Ann McCrory wrote in the letter. "| especially wish to Representatives Saine, McGrady and Brown for their leadership on this issue. l hope you and other members of the General Assembly will continue to advocate for this bill, and other legislation establishing higher standards for Commercial breeders. These policies increase our quality of life in North Carolina and ensure better care for dogs across the state. You have my full support."

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A House committee will consider a Taxpayer Bill of Rights measure, known as TABOR, that would restrict state spending. Its hugely controversial and produced varied results. Other legislative committees will consider trimming environmental regulations and altering rules governing midwifery. On the Senate floor, lawmakers will hear a bill to prevent undercover whistleblower operations at farms and processing plants. And in the House, a bill about cancer drugs that split Republicans faces another vote, as does the LEED certification bill. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more North Carolina political news below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: Fracking board under fire, Letterman takes shot at 'Dick' Burr

ENERGY COMPANY THWARTS FRACKING RULE: After more than six months of congenial meetings, the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission was set to approve its first fracking rule Friday, perhaps the most important of all the safety rules the commission will write to protect the public and safeguard the environment. The standard spells out which chemicals fracking operators have to publicly disclose when drilling natural gas wells in North Carolina.

But commissioners learned Thursday the proposal they had approved in committee in March is on ice. The problem: Fracking giant Halliburton has told North Carolina’s environmental regulators the rule goes too far. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is working to get the rule changed.

The developments raise questions about the independence and integrity of the Mining & Energy Commission, a panel created by the state legislature last year to create safety rules for shale gas exploration. Fracking refers to fracturing shale rock formations using high-pressure water and chemicals to release the natural gas trapped inside. Full story.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis from the North Carolina political arena below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: More strong numbers for McCrory, immigration ads debut

CIVITAS POLL PUTS McCRORY ABOVE 50%: A Civitas poll puts Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's favorability rating at 54 percent, a touch higher than a poll earlier in the week showing it at 49 percent. His unfavorable rating is 30 percent, according to the political nonprofit that traditionally supports Republicans. Look for more numbers on Dome soon.

IMMIGRATION ADS PROVIDE GOP COVER: Americans for a Conservative Direction, a group backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is airing an ad in North Carolina that defends the immigration legislation. The Hill reports that it is targeted at six red-leaning states and designed to support Republicans who favor the plan. From the story: "Anyone who thinks that what we have now on immigration is not a problem is fooling themselves," (Marco Rubio) says in a news clip featured in the ad. A narrator goes on to say that "conservative leaders have a plan," and cites news outlets like McClatchy, CNN and the Washington Post in describing it as "the toughest enforcement measure in the history of the United States," "bold" and "very conservative."

***Happy Friday! Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. A quiet day in N.C. politics. No legislative action and the governor lists no public events. Find more news and analysis below. ***

Morning Memo: Gift ban repeal dead, Hahn investigation seeks motive

TILLIS SAYS LOBBYIST GIFT BAN WILL REMAIN INTACT: House Speaker Thom Tillis took to Twitter this week to declare Republican Robert Brawley's bill to lift the ban on lobbyists giving lawmakers gifts is dead. "Benny, does the fact that the bill is dead give you any idea?" @thomtillis wrote. The speaker's office confirmed the 10:10 p.m. Tuesday tweet was legit. Tillis addressed the response to Benjamin Ray, an operative at the N.C. Democratic Party pushing Tillis on the issue and tying it to his office's controversial past with lobbyists and the fact the bill came from one of his committee chairman.

MOTIVE FOR JAMIE HAHN'S STABBING TURNS TO CAMPAIGN MONEY: As the Triangle mourned slain political strategist Jamie Hahn on Wednesday, attention turned to whether the man who police say stabbed her had made questionable campaign finance reports while working for Hahn’s firm. More on the story below.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- click below for much, much more from a busy day in N.C. politics. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. ***

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