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N.C. House adds an art gallery to its chamber walls

UPDATED: The N.C. House is now part art gallery. House leaders added eight landscape paintings to the gray brick walls to give the chamber a little more life.

From just the right angle, when Wilmington Republican Rick Catlin stands to speak, it looks like he's back on the shoreline for a sunrise on Coquina beach. And likewise, state Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, an Apex Republican, can appear on the serene shoreline of Cherokee Lake.

The paintings are part of J. Chris Wilson's "Murphy to Manteo an Artist's Scenic Journey." Wilson is a Georgia native who moved to North Carolina in 1974. He served until 2012 as a faculty member at Barton College in Wilson.

Fourth mental hospital back-burnered

The proposal to build a fourth state psychiatric hospital went no where this session, but the legislator pushing for it says the idea's not dead.

Rep. Justin Burr, an Albemarle Republican, gave the usual GOP explanation for why the state can't spend much money -- Medicaid costs too much -- but said he still wants to work on getting a hospital to serve Mecklenburg and about a dozen other counties.

"It will live to fight another day,"Burr said. He plans to work on it in the months between the long and short sessions, and continue to talk to other lawmakers about why the state needs another hospital.

Morning Memo: Civitas protester database draws complaints

HOUSE OFFER MOVES ON CORPORATE TAX: From AP: The House's latest tax offer to the Senate would reduce the corporate income tax rate more quickly compared to the package the chamber approved two weeks ago and agrees to the Senate's position on the future of several sales tax exemptions, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The House offer would still retain the 2 percent local tax on groceries. The Senate wants to eliminate it. Both proposals would result in several hundred million fewer dollars for state tax coffers over the next two years, with the Senate proposal now sitting in a committee holding the higher price tag.

CIVITAS MORAL MONDAY PROJECT STIRS BLACKLIST COMPARISONS: The Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank the largely supports the Republican legislative agenda, posted the name, age, address and employer of all protesters arrested at the legislature during the Moral Monday events, along with other personal information in a new database online. Read more on the reaction below.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Click below for more about a GOP lawmaker's last minute addition to the state budget, President Barack Obama's pick for the federal bench in North Carolina and more.***

Bucking speaker, House Republican committee chair resigns post

In a rare move, a leading Republican lawmaker resigned his committee chairmanship Wednesday, citing a litany of differences with House Speaker Thom Tillis and accusing him of a conflict of interest.

It's the second time in less than a month that a Republican lawmaker broke ranks to condemn Tillis' leadership as he considers a bid to challenge U.S. Sen.Kay Hagan in 2014.

Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville's decided to step down as a Finance Committee chairman in a letter that listed four reasons, including the speaker's apparent business relationship with Time Warner. "You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and state that you have a business relationship with Time Warner and wanting to know what the bill was about," Brawley wrote, not mentioning the specific legislation. "You and I both know the bill stifles the competition with MI Connections in Mooresville."

Brawley also asserts that the House's vote in last year to make the N.C. Bail Agents Association the only group allowed to certify bondsmen gave a monopoly to Rep. Justin Burr's family. (The bondsmen dispute was thesubject of a 2012 article in the News & Observer.) Burr's father, Phil Burr, is the current president of the association. The junior Burr excused himself from the vote. A judge later issued an injunction blocking the law.

"I look forward to working with you and the Republican team for Republican goals and objectives, but I reserve the right to continue to represent my district and to fight for what I believe is American," Brawley wrote.

Morning Memo: Crossover week begins at #NCGA; Ben Carson to visit Raleigh

Welcome to Crossover Week on Jones Street. Think the action’s been fast so far? Well, hold onto our elephant ears, this week lawmakers will be shoveling as many bills as possible through committee and out to their floors for a vote to meet a Thursday deadline dubbed crossover.

The House and Senate rules say that bills that don’t raise or spend money or propose amendments to the state constitution must pass either the House or Senate by Thursday to be considered during the session. Of course, rules are made to be circumvented, so there are many ways to keep legislation alive. Dome’s favorite: Strip a bill that has already crossed over of its language and insert your bill of choice.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Read more about the issues hanging in the balance this week at the legislature. And send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: Obama to name Watt to housing post, taxes split Republicans

OBAMA TO NAME MEL WATT AS HOUSING CHIEF: President Barack Obama intends to nominate Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government regulator that oversees lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a White House official told the Associated Press.  The president was expected to name Watt, a 20-year veteran of the House, on Wednesday, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

HOUSE, SENATE STILL APART ON TAX PLAN: Senate Republicans are expected to debut a comprehensive tax plan in coming days -- but don't expect the House to stand at their side. Rep. David Lewis, the lead House tax negotiator, said Tuesday they still haven't found complete agreement. "The two chambers are not yet on one accord," he said. Lewis said he's optimistic the two sides will still unify around a single plan. He wouldn't identify the sticking point but it is likely how to pay for the plan -- with the Senate wanting to tax dozens of new services and the House wanting a more modest approach.

***Click below to keep reading the Dome Morning Memo for more details on Watt's new post -- and what it means in North Carolina -- as well as more political news and analysis.***

House panel advances major gun bill

A measure designed to limit access to firearms for mentally ill people won approval in a House committee Wednesday, but not without much debate about other provisions in the legislation to loosen the state's gun laws.

The mental health provisions are aimed at preventing another Newtown school shooting, the bill's supporters said. It requires local clerks of court to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System within 48 hours when a person is committed for a mental illness, admitted for substance abuse treatment and a danger, deemed mentally incompetent in court and three other conditions.

But most of the discussion in the House Judiciary Subcommittee A focused on a provision in House bill 937 to allow concealed handgun permit holders in restaurants and bars that serve alcohol unless the establishment posts a sign prohibiting it. It also allows concealed carry permit holder to have a handgun in a locked vehicle at a public college or university.

House bill limits pre-kindergarten eligibility

A new House bill would limit eligibility for the state's pre-kindergarten program so for a child to get in next year, families couldn't make more than half what the do now.

The bill would reduce income eligibility from about 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. If the income limit was in place this year, a family of three could not make more than than $19,530 a year to have a four-year-old qualify for N.C. Pre-K. Some of the other ways to qualify, such as having developmental needs or being a child in a military family, remain in the bill, although a child with limited English proficiency would no longer meet the guidelines.

The program started to help "at-risk" four-year-olds get ready for kindergarten. But in the last two years, the definition of "at risk" triggered a heated debate between the former Democratic governor and the new Republican-led legislature. Poor school districts ended up suing, and Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning said the legislature could not erect barriers to enrollment for at-risk children.

GOP effort to block Medicaid expansion, state exchanges advances to full House

Now with Gov. Pat McCrory's support, a measure to thwart President Obama's health care law is headed to the House floor.

A House health care committee tweaked Senate Bill 4 -- which blocks the expansion of Medicaid and prevents a state-sponsored exchange -- before approving it largely on party lines by a 16 to 7 vote. The House added a fix to help address concerns about funding of the state's current Medicaid system. The full House is expected to hear the bill Wednesday and Thursday and it will need to return to the Senate because of the change.

Lawmakers gave the legislation a healthy discussion and Republicans shot down two amendments offered by Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, who called the bill "an attack on poor people."

The debate rehashed partisan talking points with Republicans concerned about the financial obligations of the program, particularly after the federal government stops paying the full load, and Democrats eager to extend a safety net and reduce the number of uninsured people in North Carolina.

Morning Memo: GOP 'stupid party,' lawmakers may restrict access to gun records

JINDAL TO GOP: STOP BEING THE STUPID PARTY: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday night challenged fellow Republicans to “go after every voter” and cautioned them to “stop being the stupid party.”

“It’s no secret we had a number of Republicans who damaged the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments,” he told around 200 members and guests of the Republican National Committee at the Westin hotel. Jindal, considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, said Republicans can beat Democrats on their ideas while appealing to all Americans – beyond Washington.

***Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for N.C. politics. Click "Read More" below for more news.***

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