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With limited debate, House approves tax cut measure

Cutting off debate after less than 30 minutes, N.C. House Republicans gave preliminary approval to a sweeping tax cut measure that debuted less 16 hours earlier.

The 77-38 vote came mostly along partisan lines with House Speaker Thom Tillis casting a vote in favor. The House will give the measure a final approval Wednesday.

The bulk of the debate focused on who will pay more and who will pay less, with Democrats casting it as tax cuts for the wealthy and tax increases for the poor.

Morning Memo: A call to action; Senate votes on welfare, Wake schools

Lawmakers don't get started until this afternoon with a committee meeting but that won't stop the protestors from showing up early.

NAACP President William Barber will be joined by clergy from around the state for a 10 a.m. news conference/protest at the General Assembly. The group plans to issue a "Call to Action to all People of Good Will of North Carolina to protest the immoral, mean-spirited, extremist and unconstitutional attacks against African-Americans, Latinos, poor and working people, women, students and the elderly launched by the far right."

Welcome to Monday, and thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. A roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below.***

Voter ID price tag put at $3.6 million

The proposed new voter photo ID law could cost as much as much as $3.6 million to implement – the price of providing free photos to those without driver's licenses, and voter education efforts, officials said.

The voter ID bill cleared another hurdle Thursday when it was approved by the House Finance Committee by an 18-10 party-line vote. It is scheduled for a full House vote next week.

The legislative staff prepared an analysis of how much it would likely cost to implement the law requiring voters to provide a photo ID by the 2016 election. It would also require a trial run for the 2014 election.

One of the biggest costs will be providing free photo Ids to persons who do not hold driver's licenses or other government-approved photos such as student Ids for state-supported campuses.

Lawmakers approve McCrory's six picks for state Board of Education

A joint session of the state House and Senate on Wednesday approved Gov. Pat McCrory’s six nominees to the state Board of Education.

Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, attempted to block the nomination of A.L. “Buddy” Collins, a member of the Forsyth County Board of Education who has drawn the opposition of a gay-rights group, Equality NC.

The group says Collins voted against a provision in 2009 that added sexual orientation to the anti-bullying policy. The group also cites remarks he has made that suggest he has a problem with gay and lesbian organizations.

Luebke, speaking for himself and not the Democratic caucus, said Collins’ position was “offensive to me, I think to many of us in this chamber and to many people in this state.”

Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, said, “I find it very unfortunate the member from Durham would want to try to politicize the situation. When our party was in the minority we generally respected the governor’s appointments and confirmed.”

The House approved the six nominees 80-33, and the Senate approved them 42-5.

Collins was on hand to watch the brief debate and votes from the gallery.

Diploma bill headed to McCrory

A bill directing the state Department of Public Instruction to come up with a plan for attaching "endorsements" to high school diplomas passed the House by a vote of 110-1 and is on its way to Gov. Pat McCrory.

The bill "tries to get the ball rolling on vocational education," said Rep. Bryan Holloway, a King Republican.

Legislators want high school diplomas to indicate whether students are prepared for work, college, or both after graduation.

Increasing vocational education was one of McCrory's campaign issues.

Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, objected to bringing the bill to a vote Wednesday evening, the same day it was debated in a House committee. But in the end, he sounded resigned.

"This is a feel-good bill," he said. "There's not much substance in it. There are still a lot of questions we could be debating on the floor."

Luebke voted for the bill. Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Democrat from Charlotte, voted against it.

State employees PAC rejects Dalton and McCrory

UPDATED: The State Employees Association of North Carolina PAC endorsed a slate of legislative candidates representing a range of political views. On what other endorsement list would Democratic Rep. Paul Luebke of Durham and Republican Rep.. Nelson Dollar  of Cary both find a spot?

Notably absent from the list of endorsees are candidates for governor or state treasurer.  Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the Democratic candidate for governor, and Republican candidate Pat McCrory were interviewed and neither got the nod.

No endorsement for state Insurance Commissioner, Labor Commissioner, or Agriculture Commissioner either. There aren't lots of competitive contests, but SEANC-endorsed candidates are eligible for PAC donations and other assistance.

In statewide races were it did make choices, the PAC endorsed Democratic candidates including Linda Coleman for lieutenant governor. incumbent state Auditor Beth Wood, incumbent Superintendent for Public Instruction June Atkinson, and incumbent Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.

Changed charter bill moves

A House committee approved a bill expanding charter schools in a party-line vote over arguments from Democrats that a main element is unconstitutional.

The bill eliminating the 100-school cap on charters is significantly different form the bill that passed the Senate last month. House Democrats were able to add limits on growth and include provisions that would have new charters make efforts to develop transportation plans for low-income children who live within three miles and develop a food service plan for poor students.

Democrats, who said they did not want lack of transportation or food service to keep poor children from attending charters, said the new provisions were not strong enough.

"It moves in the direction of less socioeconomic diversity in our public schools," said Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat.

And Democrats continued their campaign against a provision that would set up group separate from the State Board of Education as the main decision-maker on charters. Democrats argue that the proposed N.C. Charter School Commission is unconstitutional because it gives jurisdiction over a form of public schools to a group other than the school board. The school board could override a commission decision by a two-thirds vote. "

The commission is unconstitutional on its face and thereby renders the whole process unconstitutional," said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat.

Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican and the bill's sponsor, said he did not agree with Glazier's interpretation of the constitution.

"I don't think the constitution says what you say it says," Stevens said.

Adding up to 50 new charters a year is going to require a lot more attention than the state board can give, he said.

Farmer Luebke and farmer Weiss

Thoughts of Cary and Durham don't conjure images of rolling farm fields, yet two Democratic House members from those cities, Rep. Paul Luebke in Durham and Rep. Jennifer Weiss in Cary, were appointed to the House Agriculture Committee.

Yes, Weiss admits, she was surprised by the appointment. But she does care about healthy food.

"I care a lot about lot about farming communities," she says. "Getting more health foods into schools - buying more local foods."

She's also on the finance, elections, health and human services and judiciary committees - areas where she has more experience.

Luebke says there's a lot of interest in Durham in sustainable and organic agriculture. He's also on the finance, education, government and public utilities committees.

Luebke, in his 11th term, has experience in a number of areas, but he hasn't been the go-to guy for farm questions.

"Why it may not be my first choice, I will work with small farmers of Durham County to advance their interests," he says.

Legislators seek to dump Massey coal

A group of Democratic legislators is backing a bill that would force the state treasurer to sell off all pension investments in Massey Energy Corp., the coal giant whose safety and environmental record has been under scrutiny since an April mine explosion killed 29 men.

"Massey has been a bad actor, and it has been a bad investment," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat who is one of the bill's primary sponsors. "It would probably take only about 5 minutes to divest the state's money from Massey and invest it with a more responsible company."

The state employee pension plan's investment in Massey is about $17.4 million in stock, out of a total plan portfolio of $68.7 billion.

Last month, State Treasurer Janet Cowell joined with pension plan administrators from other states to urge institutional investors to vote against the reelection of current members of the Massey board, which they said had steered the company to put profits over safety and environmental stewardship.

In the past 10 years, 52 Massey miners have died in accidents while the company has raked up massive state and federal fines. The company accrued $12.9 million in fines during 2009, prior to the Big Branch disaster in West Virginia earlier this year.

The company also engages in the widely criticized practice of mountain top removal mining, in which explosives and heavy machinery are used to cut away mountain peaks to get at the coal underneath, filling in the valleys and streams below with the rubble.

Despite the efforts of Cowell and others, the Massey board members were reelected even as the company's stock price has plummeted. Though the state treasurer has the authority to order the sale of Massey stock on her own, the legislators said approval of the proposed bill would send a stronger message.

"If we do this in North Carolina, it'll provide a precedent for other states to do the same thing," said Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat who helped led a similar effort to divest state funds from Sudan due to the genocide in Darfur.

Define 'liaison'

State Rep. Larry Hall is holding a reception and fundraiser tonight in Durham.

Dome's collective eyebrows rose when we saw a copy of the e-mail invite addressed to "Legislative Liaisons," the title generally given to lobbyists for state government agencies. Lobbyists, of course, are forbidden by law from contributing to candidates for the legislature or statewide office.

Hall told Dome Thursday that the event is a holiday reception and contributions are not necessary for attendees (hear that, fans of hors d'oeuvres?). And the "legislative liaisons" label on the e-mail is how his e-mail contacts are organized, he said. The term refers to anyone, registered lobbyist or not, who might have talked to him about issues before the legislature.

"We're certainly not encouraging anyone to violate a regulation and if we were, we certainly wouldn't be sending out an e-mail encouraging people to violate a regulation," Hall said, adding that he has never received and wouldn't accept a contribution from a lobbyist.

The event is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Durham Arts Council, and will feature Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat and Durham Democratic state Reps. Mickey Michaux and Paul Luebke and Durham Mayor Bill Bell.

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