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Rucho resigns as co-chair over tax reform standoff with Berger

Updated Sate Sen. Bob Rucho has resigned his position as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in a dispute with the Senate's Republican leader over competing tax bills.

The Meckenburg County Republican prepared a detailed tax-reform bill earlier this year. But this week, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger crafted his own plan, calling it a compromise among Rucho's plan, a House plan and what Berger wants to see.

The Associated Press broke the story. Rucho says in his letter he and Berger have a "fundamental disagreement" over the issue.

"It is a huge disappointment that the Governor and the Speaker of the House did not provide the leadership or have the political backbone to fight the special-interest groups," Rucho wrote.

Rucho's bill would expand services subject to sales taxes, which Berger's plan does not.

Rucho spoke briefly with Dome this morning and said he thought a legislative meeting earlier this year with economists showed "a clear pathway" to tax reform, which his bill reflected.

"There just seemed to be a lot of resistance from a lot of special interest groups that would rather have loopholes than fair tax policy," Rucho said.

Update: Berger's office has released a letter in response, in which Berger "respectfully declines to accept" Rucho's resignation.

Rucho, Brown bill: Take mystery out of hospital bills

Taking aim at a hospital billing system that is shrouded in mystery, two N.C. senators introduced legislation Wednesday that they say would make it far easier for patients to shop for the best prices on medical procedures, The Charlotte Observer's Ames Alexander writes.

Hospitals would be required to publicly disclose their prices on their most common medical procedures under the bill, sponsored by Republican senators Bob Rucho of Matthews and Harry Brown of Jacksonville.

The legislation would also set up financial rewards for hospitals that provide low-cost care – and would ban a type of double-billing now common in radiology.

The legislation was prompted by a series of stories last year in The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, “Prognosis: Profits,” which found that nonprofit hospitals in North Carolina are inflating prices on drugs and procedures, sometimes as much as 10 times over cost.

Find the full story here.

Senate tentatively OKs boards & commissions bill, despite concerns about getting rid of judges

The Senate on Wednesday tentatively approved the bill that would give Republican legislators and the GOP governor the power to remove all members of several key boards and commissions and replace them with their own choices.

Republicans agreed to take another day for the final vote.

The approval along party lines came despite warnings from Democrats that the bill could be unconstitutional because the General Assembly is not allowed to remove individual judges from office. Republicans said it's OK to eliminate the positions of 12 special superior court judges, who often travel around the state to hear cases.

1360188338 Senate tentatively OKs boards & commissions bill, despite concerns about getting rid of judges The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

House, Senate seek common voice on fracking legislation

Advocates of fracking in North Carolina have fashioned identical bills in the state House and Senate, introduced Thursday, in hopes of minimizing squabbles and building support this summer to legalize the controversial method of extracting natural gas.

Sen. Bob Rucho has paired up with Rep. Mitch Gillespie of McDowell and Burke counties and other fracking supporters in the state House, who will be urging quick action on an identical piece of legislation among their members. Rucho touted the pair of fracking bills as “the very finest regulation, bar none, in the country.”

Bill moves legalize natural gas drilling through fracking

The state’s debate over fracking resumed Wednesday with the advance of a bill that would legalize the natural gas mining method within two years in this state, giving agency officials until 2014 to come up with provisions to protect the public health and the environment.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, is controversial even within the Republican-dominated legislature. It will compete for votes against a more moderate approach expected from Sen. Mitch Gillespie, a McDowell County Republican who favors greater public safeguards. Read more on the debate from the legislature here.

Black lawmakers decry Republican attacks on African Americans

Black lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly say the Republican leadership is attacking and showing a lack of respect for African Americans.

"Since taking control of the General Assembly last November, Republicans have shown little compassion on issues relating to African Americans in North Carolina," said state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. in a statement.

The carefully worded -- but nonetheless blunt -- statement from the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus came in a press release Thursday, hours after the Senate overrode the governor's veto of the Racial Justice Act and rumors swirled about a Republican effort to push through a law requiring voters to show ID at the polls.

Commerce department official calls Holmes subpoena unnecessary

General Assembly members took the unusual step Wednesday of voting to subpoena the head of North Carolina's unemployment benefits office to appear before a committee - an action that chills relations with the agency as the state decides how to pay down $2.6 billion in debt to the federal government.

The Legislature's Revenue Laws Study Committee voted unanimously to subpoena Assistant Commerce Secretary Lynn Holmes for its Jan 4 meeting. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger had already signed a letter authorizing the committee to issue the subpoena if a majority of the panel voted for it.

The panel had said at least a week and a half ago that it wanted to hear from Holmes about her plans to reform what was previously called the Employment Security Commission, according to Committee co-chairman Sen. Bob Rucho. Holmes had a personal conflict and couldn't attend, Commerce Department spokesman Tim Crowley said.

"The severity of this issue requires (Holmes') attention," Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said in an interview. "She should have been here to provide information to us on her plan to solve this problem." Read more here.

N.C. lawmakers taking trips to Pennsylvania to examine fracking rigs

As the fracking debate continues in the legislature, The News & Observer visited Pennsylvania to see how the process works in a state that underwent a similar debate.

And we found we weren't the only ones from North Carolina making the trip. A number of state lawmakers are going, too. From Sunday's big piece on the fracking debate:

"North Carolina is only in the beginning stages of modern energy exploration, conducting a study on the laws and regulations that would be needed to allow a controversial method of gas drilling to take place here. Still, state lawmakers have vowed to overturn Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of an energy jobs bill that would, among other things, start the process toward legalizing drilling and extracting shale gas through a process called "fracking."

"Think about what it delivers: Long-term economic growth and prosperity," said Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County who spent several days touring drill sites in Pennsylvania with Rep. Mike Hager, a fellow Republican from Cleveland and Rutherford counties. "This is energy independence and economic independence."

Read the full story here.

State energy policy gets all the attention

Fracking is again taking center stage in the debate about the future of the state's energy sources -- but it comes as prominent Republicans make nice with green energy.

On fracking, from today's News & Observer: "North Carolina's study on the potential for a shale gas industry should slow down and focus less on how the practice would be managed and regulated and more on whether it should be allowed at all, speakers said at a public hearing Monday night.

"Why do we have to have this whole study done by May?" Chatham County Commissioner Sally Kost asked state representatives at the crowded meeting in Sanford. With so many issues to consider, the state should take the time to do a comprehensive study, she said." Read more here.

State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican, suggests GOP legislative leaders nearly have the votes to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of an energy bill to allow offshore natural gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale.

But at the same time, prominent N.C. Republicans -- including U.S. Sen. Richard Burr -- cheered a renewable energy project (a $5 million solar farm) announced in Mount Airy -- a move that probably would surprise and excite fracking critics.

House Speaker Thom Tillis even test drove an all-electric Chevy Volt on the way to the event. At the solar event, he said the state "can come up with a comprehensive energy strategy that makes sense," according to his staff.

New congressional maps due out Friday

N.C. Republican lawmakers plan to release a map of new congressional districts Friday, with maps of new legislative districts on July 11, the chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee said this morning, reports Jim Morrill of the Charlotte O.

GOP Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews also said legislators will convene July 25 for a week-long session to approve the maps. They're also expected to take up election bills and other matters left over from the session that adjourned earlier this month.
Rucho said there will be two public hearings on the plans. On July 7, people across the state can weigh in on the congressional districts at a video-conferenced hearing. There will be a similar hearing on the legislative maps July. 18.

On July 21, Rucho said legislative redistricting committees will meet in Raleigh for three days of votes and amendments on all three maps. The entire General Assembly will meet the following Monday.

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