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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.

Legislative spat over Durham development yields public hearing

The Durham development called 751 South has again divided the legislature. This time, it took the form of a fight between the House Rules chairman and a House Finance co-chairwoman. Finance won going away, in a 75-36 vote.

That means a public hearing on the bill requiring Durham to annex land for the controversial subdivision is on for 4 p.m. Monday.

Rep. Julia Howard, successfully argued to Senate Bill 315 transferred back to her Finance Committee after it had been moved to Rep. Tim Moore's Rules Committee.

Howard said Finance had decided to hold a public hearing, so it wouldn't be right to move the bill.

House GOP caucus revolt blocks tax overhaul efforts

UPDATED: A split in the House Republican Caucus exploded into the open Wednesday morning, throwing a major tax bill into further jeopardy.

House Republican leaders, led by Speaker Thom Tillis, sought to strip a provision added to the bill a day earlier that added $500 million in cost. But a cadre of Republicans and Democrats joined forces in the Appropriations Committee to block a proposed substitute bill from even being considered.

The move left the House tax overhaul -- the top GOP agenda item this session -- in limbo and the lawmakers bewildered. Committee Chairman Nelson Dollar left the meeting dumbfounded and unable to find the words to explain what happened. Other clumps of Republicans huddled in the corners of the committee room, discussing one of the largest fissures in the Republican Caucus this session.

Morning Memo: State lawmakers begin tackling taxes

TAX DAY: State lawmakers will tackle this session's biggest topic Thursday, with Senate leaders expected to put their tax overhaul plan into writing and House lawmakers taking a first look at a bill backed by House Speaker Thom Tillis. No votes are expected on either but much discussion is expected. One interesting tidbit about the House plan: the absence of Rep. Julia Howard, the finance chairwoman. Howard demurred when asked why she wasn't involved in the legislation. "Read what you want into it," she said. Asked what she thought about the plan, which is being spearheaded by Elections Committee Chairman David Lewis, Howard said, "I haven't read it yet."

The key in the Senate is the language of the bill. Senate GOP leaders -- including President Pro Tem Phil Berger -- have been working on it since outlining a framework and debuting a spiffy website a couple weeks ago. No major changes are expected, but the question is how the final language addresses the possibility that many would see a tax hike over the long-term under the plan.

McCRORY PREPARES FOR HIS BIG SUMMER ROLE: Weather forecasters are calling for an active Atlantic hurricane season -- putting Gov. Pat McCrory into a key role as disaster chief in his first year on the job should one hit North Carolina. McCrory will talk hurricane prep Thursday at a news conference. Saturday marks the start of the season, which ends Nov. 30.

***A full roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Republican lawmakers craft bill to trim unemployment benefits

State legislators are considering an overhaul of the state unemployment system that includes a major reduction in benefits for laid-off workers.

The potential cutbacks, unveiled Wednesday morning by a Republican-controlled committee, are included in a draft bill that takes a broad-brush approach to dealing with the state’s $2.48 billion debt to the federal government. The money was borrowed to pay for unemployment benefits.

Republican leaders are portraying the proposal as spreading the pain among employers and the unemployed. “It ain’t kind. It ain’t nice. But it’s important,” said Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican from Mocksville and co-chair of the Joint Revenue Laws Study Committee. “No one loves this bill.”

But advocacy groups for the poor contend the unemployed, who already are reeling from the effects of a struggling economy, would be hit disproportionately hard. Read more here.

Howard to challenge Stam for No. 2 post in N.C. House

A contest is emerging for the No. 2 spot in the N.C. House. Rep. Julia Howard, a 12-term veteran and committee chairwoman, said she would challenge House GOP leader Paul "Skip" Stam for the speaker pro tem job.

Howard cited her previous leadership experience as majority whip and  she would use the position to help orient the large incoming freshman class. "I have no agenda," the Mocksville Republican said.

Howard also made a point to say she has no interest in running for House speaker in 2014, when Thom Tillis is expected to relinquish the position under self-imposed term limits. "I will be totally focused," she said.

The Tobacco Caucus

Which legislators have tobacco companies in their districts?

With the General Assembly again considering enacting a smoking ban in restaurants and workplaces, Dome decided to see who represents the tobacco firms.

Alternative Brands, Mocksville:
Rep. Julia Howard, Sen. Andrew Brock

Commonwealth Brands, Reidsville:
Rep. Nelson Cole, Sen. Phil Berger

Lorillard, Greensboro:
Rep. Maggie Jeffus, Sen. Don Vaughan

Philip Morris, Concord:
Rep. Jeff Barnhart, Sen. Fletcher Hartsell

Reynolds American, Winston-Salem:
Rep. Larry Womble, Sen. Linda Garrou

Reynolds American, Tobaccoville:
Rep. Dale Folwell, Sen. Pete Brunstetter

In the 2007 session, Reps. Howard, Jeffus, Barnhart and Womble voted for a smoking ban in public places, while Reps. Cole and Folwell voted against it.

And another House bill

Two more interesting House bills:

H.B. 71: Four-Year Terms, Reps. Bruce Goforth, Harold Brubaker, Becky Carney, Julia Howard

H.B. 72: Four-Year Terms Implementing Statute, Reps. Goforth, Brubaker, Carney, Howard

House members file more bills

State representatives are off to a brisk start.

Aside from Rep. Hugh Holliman's smoking ban legislation, a handful of other bills have been filed already in the House.

The actual bills are not available yet, but the titles give some hints that they are either local bills or housekeeping legislation:

H.B. 3: Disapprove Lake Jordan Rules, Reps. Cary Allred and Darrell McCormick

H.B. 4: Good Faith Exception/Exclusionary Rule, Rep. Paul Stam

H.B. 5: Increase Fire and Rescue Benefits, Rep. Julia Howard

H.B. 6: Davie's Law/Humane Euthanasia in Shelters, Reps. Allred, Rick Glazier, Ty Harrell and Pat McElraft

On the Budget: Julia Howard

Julia HowardRep. Julia Howard
Mocksville Republican
Eleventh Term

What two things would you cut in the state budget? She would stop spending on statewide primary school testing that does not fulfill the federal No Child Left Behind requirements. "If we did a stay on those state tests that is $40 million that we could save (over two years) and probably with no harm to anyone." She also said that the state could save money in production and mailing costs by allowing hunters to get licenses electronically.

Are there any taxes you would be in favor of increasing? "I can't think of any."

— Dan Kane

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