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Morning Memo: Hundreds furloughed; U.S. Senate candidates make moves

HUNDREDS OF STATE WORKERS FURLOUGHED: The federal government shutdown caused the furlough of hundreds of state government workers whose jobs are fully or partially federally funded Tuesday, and state officials said several thousand more jobs could be be affected.

The state Department of Health and Human Services told 337 employees not to show up for work Wednesday morning. Officials said as many 4,500 DHHS workers could be furloughed or see their hours reduced. There was also a smaller furlough in the Department of Transportation, and a small group of workers at the state Labor Department saw their hours slashed in half.

#NCSEN DAY: The Republican challengers in the U.S. Senate race are all making moves this week to position themselves. Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris enters the race today, Thom Tillis is hiring staff and Greg Brannon is touting fundraising numbers.

***Read all the U.S. Senate race news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Protests at mansion draw 200, GOP senator says 'Let 'em yell'

'MORAL MONDAY' RALLY DRAWS ABOUT 200: Nearly 200 demonstrators were part of the procession that moved slowly from the First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh to the Executive Mansion. The event, touted as the 18th “Moral Monday,” was led by Youth and College NAACP groups from across North Carolina.

Gov. Pat McCrory was attending a Republic Governors Association meeting in Charleston, S.C., his staff told the media, and not at the Blount Street mansion while the young and old walked the perimeter of the property. “We’re going to make one circle around the governor’s mansion to let him know we plan to go all around this state,” the Rev. William Barber II, head of the state NAACP, told the demonstrators,

On Monday, it was the youth doing most of the rallying, though. “Just because the governor is gone doesn’t mean the issue is gone,” said Isaiah Daniels, a Shaw University student at the event. Read more here.

***Read a firebrand GOP response to the Democrats and get more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Amid controversy, political hire further fans DHHS flames

ANOTHER POLITICAL HIRE IN AGENCY UNDER FIRE: Former McCrory campaign filmmaker will work on DHHS 'brand' A lobbyist and filmmaker who made an election-night video for Gov. Pat McCrory is the new brand and marketing manager at the state Department of Health and Human Services. Aaron Mullins, 38, started the job Sept. 4. He makes $68,000 a year.

Mullins is one of several new staff members at state agencies with political connections. Ricky Diaz, who worked on McCrory’s campaign, is a spokesman at DHHS making $85,000. Heather Jeffreys, finance director for McCrory’s campaign, has a communications job at the N.C. Department of Transportation making $58,879. Read more here.

***Get a statewide political news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo -- and look for more polling numbers on the govenror later today.***

Morning Memo: New poll gives Hagan the edge; Hillary Clinton bashes NC voter law

U.S. SENATE POLL: Politico is offering a sneak peek at the latest U.S. Senate poll numbers in North Carolina this morning. Public Policy Polling shows Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan with an eight-point edge in hypothetical matchups against Republicans Thom Tillis and Phil Berger. Both legislative leaders, along with other possible candidates, have negative approval ratings with many voters still not sure what to think. The margin of error is 4 percentage points. Look for more numbers from PPP when the poll is released later today.

VOTER ID, ELECTIONS BILL SIGNED: The implications of Gov. Pat McCrory's signature on the elections bill that requires a voter ID at the polls is far-reaching -- and so is the coverage. Get a round up below -- including Hillary Clinton's comments on the bill, a new PPP poll showing it unfavorable and more. Also, a story from Boone shows Republicans taking over local elections boards will likewise mean major changes.

***The Dome Morning Memo continues below. Thanks for reading.***

Morning Memo: All eyes on the House, NAACP fires back at McCrory

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The budget and tax watch continues. House and Senate lawmakers are negotiating on both issues this week hoping to break the logjam. Some movement may emerge later this week. In House committees, lawmakers will discuss a power shift at the Charlotte airport, a sweeping bill to weaken environmental protections and consider four election-related bills. With the election bills, it’s not so much what’s in them now -- but how they may get amended. Talk is rampant about an highly-controversial omnibus elections bill. The chambers convene at 2 p.m. The abortion bill is in limbo but not likely to come to a House vote Wednesday -- though stranger things have happened. After a one-day delay, the Senate will debate a bill to impose drug testing and background checks on some welfare recipients.

NAACP PRESIDENT CALLS McCRORY REMARKS 'DISINGENUOUS': Gov. Pat McCrory's take on "Moral Mondays" didn't sit well with Rev. William Barber, the N.C. NAACP president who is leading the weekly demonstrations. In a statement, Barber said McCrory is trying to "play nice and move away from his original comments about Moral Monday protestors being outsiders." He compared McCrory's words to George Wallace, who dismissed segregation as a few isolated instances.

***Read more reaction below -- and get the latest North Carolina political news and analysis -- in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

75 mph dies in N.C. House

The N.C. House didn't want a law allowing posted speeds of 75 miles per hour on some highways. And as it turns out, even studying higher speeds was too much for most members.

The House rejected in a 44-64 vote a bill that would have had the state Department of Transportation study highways and propose four places where 75 mile per hour speed limits would be safe to test. The bill was a watered down version of a bill that would allowed DOT to increase speeds on some highways to 75 mph, five miles higher than the current limit.

House members said Thursday that raising speeds to 75 miles an hour is dangerous, and asking for four test projects would mean that higher speeds would eventually be allowed.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, sped through the Senate with little opposition.

Morning Memo: House begins budget writing

WILL THE STATE BUDGET FINISH IN TIME? As the House begins crafting its own state budget this week, the phrase "continuing resolution" is being heard more frequently in the hallways at the statehouse. The idea is this: with the Senate's budget delay, will the House finish writing its own in time to get it approved before the end of the fiscal year June 30? And if it gets close, and House and Senate budget writers are still deadlocked in conference, will they need to find an escape plan to keep government running? House budget writer Nelson Dollar dismissed the talk in an interview last week, but House Democrats are openly discussing the possibility. "I don't see how it's going to be avoided," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a veteran Democrat. The state budget negotiations this year are complicated by House and Senate Republican leaders' attempts to imbed a tax overhaul that cuts government spending into the state budget, especially because the two chambers are so widely split on the issue.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: With money on the table, a strong lobbying presence is expected this week. A group of physicians will make the rounds Tuesday asking the House to put money in the state budget to pay for youth tobacco use prevention. House budget committees begin meeting at 8:30 a.m. Another House panel will consider the new school vouchers bill at 10 a.m. and a transportation committee will hear a ferry toll bill at noon. The House convenes at 1 p.m. but there are no bills on the calendar. The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. but will also hold a skeletal session with no action expected. Gov. Pat McCrory plays Mayor Pat again Tuesday morning in Charlotte, speaking to the local rotary club. Elsewhere, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will honor military spouses at an even in Fayetteville.

***Read more Dome Morning Memo below to get a roundup of North Carolina political news from the holiday weekend. ***

N.C. House blocks attempt to amend I-95 toll bill

A House proposal that won unanimous approval last week to allow limited toll collection on Interstate 95 faced an unexpected challenge from toll foes when it returned for a final House floor vote Tuesday.

The House eventually gave its final approval -- not unanimous, this time -- and sent to the Senate a bill that would let the state Department of Transportation charge tolls only on new lanes added to interstate highways, while guaranteeing that drivers still can use the original lanes without paying tolls.

Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, tried to amend the bill to give the legislature power to veto any DOT decision to add toll lanes to an existing interstate highway. He said he supported the legislature's ongoing efforts to remove politics from transportation decision-making ... but not on toll roads. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave it in DOT’s hands” to decide which roads get tolls, Speciale said. “I don’t think we should abdicate our position and turn it over to an unelected bureaucrat, to let DOT make that decision for us.”

Morning Memo: Legislature an embarrassment, big issues dominate post-crossover Jones Street

NEARLY HALF VOTERS CONSIDER SAY #NCGA CAUSING NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT: One of the more intriguing poll numbers in the latest monthly Public Policy Polling survey due out later today: 45 percent. That's the portion of voters who believe the N.C. General Assembly is causing the state "national embarrassment." The poll question comes after a number of hot-button legislative issues received national attention -- and ridicule. Another 31 percent don't think the state legislature is a blemish and another 24 percent are undecided. (More from poll below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: No rest for the weary this week on Jones Street. The Senate appropriations committee meets at 8:30 to discuss its $20.6 billion state budget. Democrats will raise objections but no significant changes are expected. At the same time, the House Finance Committee will consider a major immigration bill that is drawing increasing fire from the ACLU and others concerned about Arizona-type provisions about stopping and detaining people who did not enter the country legally. At 11 a.m., the House Education Committee will get its first look at a new private school voucher bill. Senate and House floor calendars are light after crossover week's flurry, but the House will give final reading to a bill limiting tolling of existing highways.

Gov. Pat McCrory will meet with the Philippine ambassador at 8:45 a.m. in a private meeting and later attend a N.C. Department of Transportation luncheon. McCrory will speak to a group of under-45 CEOs as part of the southern chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization conference and travel to Charlotte this evening for a forum with the city's other current and former mayors.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo. Read more new exclusive PPP numbers below and get more insights into the state budget. ***

1369145279 Morning Memo: Legislature an embarrassment, big issues dominate post-crossover Jones Street The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

5 speeding tickets later, Sen. Hunt passes bill to hike speed limit

The Senate made fast work this week of Sen. Neal Hunt’s proposal to raise the top speed limit on North Carolina highways to 75 mph. Hunt, a Republican from Raleigh, filed his proposal April 2. It zoomed through a committee Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday, without debate.

“It’s a reasonable idea to let the professionals decide if traffic can move a little faster than we let it go now,” Hunt said Thursday. “It’s not mandatory, but if DOT thinks it’s appropriate to go that fast, then it’s OK with me.”

Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat from Raleigh, cast the only dissenting vote. He told the Associated Press later that he just wanted to know more about how DOT would decide which roads qualify for faster speeds than 70 mph, the current maximum.

Hunt, 70, knows what it’s like to go faster than DOT thinks is appropriate. His driving record includes five speeding convictions in five different counties between 1988 and 1998. A legal limit of 75 mph would have helped him in a couple of cases, but officers clocked him driving a little faster than that on three occasions. “Be sure to point out that I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 14 years,” Hunt said.

Asked whether he was driving more slowly these days – or just lucky, he chuckled and said: “No comment.” --Bruce Siceloff, staff writer

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