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Morning Memo: GOP not united on budget; Tillis explains abortion vote

REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO PASS THEIR OWN BUDGET: Ten House Republicans voted against their party's $20.6 billion spending plan, including one of the chief budget writers. GOP leaders held an extra lengthy caucus meeting Tuesday to whip members to vote for the bill but hours before hand lobbyists reported that it looked like it could fail.

The House passed the budget on a 66-52 preliminary vote. … It’s somewhat unusual for the majority party to lose more than a handful of its members’ on a budget vote. It’s even rarer for a budget committee leader to vote against the budget as did Rep. Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican.“I was not pleased with the education budget,” Johnson said. (More below.)

THOM TILLIS SETS HIS ABORTION VOTE STRAIGHT: Every move House Speaker Thom Tillis makes is viewed through the prism of his U.S. Senate campaign in 2014. And for weeks the Republican's rationale for supporting the House's much-debated abortion measure remained quiet. Asked about it Tuesday, Tillis said "it happens to be something that I support and I thought if I didn't, they'd say, 'Why didn't you?' so I thought would solve the question by making it very clear where I stood on the bill." It puts Tillis, who is considered a moderate Republican, in the same position as Rick Santorum. (Read why below.)

***Keep reading for more North Carolina political intelligence in today's Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

State drops death by vehicle charges against Womble

Charges against state Rep. Larry Womble related to a deadly car crash last December have been dropped, according to the Winston-Salem Journal .

Womble, a nine-term Democrat from Forsyth County, had been charged with a misdemeanor after being involved in a crash that caused the death of David Allen Carmichael and seriously injured the retiring nine-term legislator.

State Democratic Party names delegate to fill vacancies

UPDATED: N.C. Democrats named two delegates Thursday to replace vacancies ahead of the national party convention.

State Rep. Larry Womble will not attend and Rep. William Wainwright died recently.

Per party rules, Bernita Sims, the chairwoman of the delegate selection committee, and state Party Chairman David Parker selected elevated alternate delegates George El-Khouri and Kevin Smith of Garner, to fill the vacancies, respectfully.

State Rep. Earline Parmon and state Sen. Gladys Robinson were named to fill the alternate delegate seats.

House eugenics bill gives $50,000 to victims

A House bill  introduced Wednesday would offer $50,000 to people ordered sterilized under the authority of the state Eugenics Board. The board authorized thousands of sterilizations from 1933 to 1974. Rep. Larry Womble, a Winston-Salem Democrat, has been working for years for victim compensation.  House Speaker Thom Tillis took up the cause last year.

Under the bill, the state Industrial Commission would determine individuals' eligibilty.  Eligible people would receive the $50,000 tax free. An initial committee meeting on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday.

Tributes to Womble at task force meeting

Eugenics task force members and forced-sterilization victims paid tribute to Rep. Larry Womble as the champion behind the movement to win compensation for victims. 

Womble, 70, is hospitalized in critical condition in Winston-Salem after a two-car, head-on accident that killed the other driver, David Carmichael.

A police investigation determined that Womble crossed the center line of a Winston-Salem road at about 11 p.m. Friday night.

Rep. Earline Parmon, a friend of Womble's said he underwent another surgery this morning.

In addition to statements of support at the meeting, Dr. Laura Gerald, head of the task force considering compensation amounts for eugenics victims, and Charmaine Fuller Cooper, director of the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, released prepared statements.

From Gerald: “Today marks the first time we have gathered as a Task Force without him in the room.  We send our prayers and well wishes to Rep. Womble and his family as he fights to recover from his injuries. We likewise extend condolences to the family of Mr. David Carmichael.”

From Cooper: "Rep. Womble has fought on behalf of eugenics victims for years and always states that he is not finished until justice is found. I am proud to know him. As the Task Force moves forward, the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation will continue to carry out the Governor’s directives to assist victims and asks the media and the public to persist in helping us to reach out to those affected by the state’s former Eugenics Board program.” 

Larry Womble in critical condition, but alert

State Rep. Larry Womble, critically injured in a car accident last week that killed another driver, is alert and responding to stimuli, according to a doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The hospital held a news conference this afternoon where Dr. Russell M. Howerton and Rep. Earline Parmon spoke.

Howerton said Womble has several broken bones and will undergo "a series of treatments and procedures."

Womble, 70, is a Democrat from Winston-Salem serving his ninth term.

Womble was injured in a head on collision in the accident late Friday night that killed the other driver, 54-year-old David Allen Carmichael.

Parmon said the Womble and Carmichael families have been close for years, and this was a trying time for both families.

Repeal of Racial Justice Act passes House, stuck in Senate

Following through on a campaign promise from last year’s battle for control of the state legislature, victorious House Republicans voted Thursday to repeal North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act.

UPDATE: In a big surprise, Senate leaders said they will not take up the bill before adjournment.

"When we come back in May, I guess we will pick it up then," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville. "We had our schedule for tonight, and that was not on it. I want to go to the mountains."

Approved in a 2009 party-line vote when Democrats were in charge, the act allows an inmate facing the death penalty to file an appeal asking a judge to consider whether racial prejudice played a role in his or her sentence. If such evidence is compelling, the law gives state judges the discretion to commute sentences from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In a 63-53 vote that fell along party lines, the House passed Senate Bill 9, “No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty,” which repeals the Racial Justice Act. The bill now returns to the Senate.

On Thursday, House Republicans said the new law had resulted in clogged courts as nearly every inmate on death row had filed a Racial Justice appeal.

“This basically put a moratorium on the death penalty,” said Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle. “The legislation will move North Carolina back in the right direction. We are one of only two states who have a law like this, and that’s two too many.”

Democrats countered by citing statistics that blacks convicted of killing whites are 3.5 times more likely to get the death penalty than whites.

The law was a major campaign issue in last year’s election, with the N.C. Republican Party sending fliers to voters in the home districts of Democrats falsely suggesting the the act would result in murderers being released from death row to move in next door.

Rep. Larry Womble, a Democrat from Winston-Salem who was one of the act’s original sponsors two years ago, said Thursday was a sad moment in the struggle for equal rights.

“This is reminiscent of the civil rights era, when efforts to ensure equal treatment and fairness were called threats to order in society,” said Womble, who is black, during the floor debate. “Then, as now, fear is the central theme of these efforts. ... This law is not soft on crime. People who prove they were the victims of racial discrimination will still have to spend the rest of their life in prison. Not a single inmate will be released from prison as a result of this law.”

DNA bill gets final approval, samples taken on arrest

After a lengthy, contentious debate that included accusations of racism, the state House gave final approval to a bill that requires law enforcement officials to collect DNA samples from suspects when they are arrested.

Currently, DNA is collected from people when they are convicted. The bill requires DNA samples to be collected from suspects arrested for violent felonies and other crimes such as stalking. A magistrate would be required to hold a person in jail if they refuse to submit a sample.

The bill cleared the House 83-21.

Opponents objected to the shift in policy that requires samples taken and entered into a database for people who are still presumed innocent.

"The bill suffers still from a primary problem that is a major invasion of privacy," said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said the provisions requiring a person who refuses to give a sample to be held in jail go too far.

"A person who's convicted of a minor crime can get bail while he appeals his case," said Michaux, a lawyer. "Here a person who hasn't been convicted, who refused to incriminate himself or give a DNA sample and he's got to stay in jail until he goves one."

After an hour of debate, as the clock hit 2 a.m., things got testy. Rep. Larry Womble, a Winston-Salem Democrat, asked Rep. Bill Faison, an Orange County Democrat, if the proposal was "a code bill."

Faison had earlier said he believed even more DNA should be collected, possibly at birth, to help stop and solve crime.

"You know better than to suggest for a moment that there is anything racist that I do here," Faison said in a loud and

That led Rep. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, to rise.

"The racism in this bill is not about the ends we are seeking. It's about the process," Bryant said, adding that black people will be disproportionately affected by the bill because they are disproportionately affected by the justice system. "I don't care how loud you speak. That perspective is displaced on your part."

Hackney banged his gavel and cautioned House members to keep the debate civil.

The bill now goes to Gov. Bev Perdue for her signature.

Executions bill leads to emotional debate

Judges would be allowed to consider whether racial bias played a role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty, according to a bill on which the N.C. House voted Tuesday evening after a long and emotionally charged debate.

"This is a fairness bill," said Rep. Larry Womble, the Winston-Salem Democrat who helped champion the bill. "If we're going to kill people, we must be as fair and objective as we can. This allows one more chance for justice to be blind. ... It's not a get-out-of-jail free card for anybody."

Democrats cited studies showing blacks are far more likely to be sentenced to death in North Carolina than whites. Further, a defendant is 3.5 times more likely to face the death penalty when the victim is white than when the victim is black.

Republicans strongly oppose the measure, saying its passage will clog the courts with frivolous appeals, cost millions and impose a de facto moratorium on executions.

"This bill is not really about race," said Rep. Paul Stam of Wake County, the minority leader. "It's about the death penalty."

The N.C. Racial Justice Act passed its second reading in the House 61-55, with every Republican and four Democrats voting no.

A final House vote could come today, and the bill would then return to the Senate, where it may have a difficult time gaining approval and may require a compromise. That's because the House version left out a section of the Senate bill designed to help remove obstacles that have effectively halted executions for two years. Senate leaders said that provision must be included for the Racial Justice Act to pass that chamber. (N&O)

Looking for support

An effort this week to help drum up interest in a bill to support past victims of forced sterilization in the state had an unfortunate opening line.

“Good Morning Eugenics Supporters,” read the e-mail sent from Rep. Larry Womble’s office.

Womble, a Winston-Salem Democrat, has been a longtime supporter of reparations for the more than 7,600 estimated people who were sterilized in the state’s former eugenics program. He also is a key sponsor of a bill calling for, among other things, the development of counseling services for eugenics victims, reports April Bethea of The Charlotte Observer.

That bill will be heard Tuesday by the House Education committee. The e-mail urged recipients to attend the meeting to show their support.

Tiffany Jones, an intern in Womble’s office who sent the e-mail, said the message was meant to notify bill supporters and the media that it was on the calendar.

She said the opening line hadn’t drawn any complaints, but noted “it wasn’t intended to offend anyone.”

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