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Bill would take taxing, condemnation powers away from unelected boards

Unelected local governmental entities such as special districts and authorities wouldn’t be able to impose taxes or condemn property without approval from the board of commissioners of the county they’re in, under a proposed constitutional amendment outlined in a bill filed Tuesday.

The bill is aimed at curtailing the power of local boards like the sewer district in Buncombe County and the proposed airport authority in Charlotte, which have generated controversy.

“They’re not scrutinized like they ought to be, and I think at the end of the day, if you’re going to condemn or tax you ought to have to go to somebody that’s elected by the people and get permission to do so,” Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville told reporters.

Nesbitt endorsed the bill by accompanying its sponsor, freshman Sen. Ben Clark, a Democrat from Fayetteville. Nesbitt said Clark came to him with the idea, and he liked it.

Nesbitt noted that some Republicans in the legislature have supported submitting to voters a constitutional amendment restricting condemnation, so he was hopeful there might be bipartisan agreement on this proposal, Senate Bill 705.

What's on the menu? Gubernatorial grits and good conversation

Since the first week of the legislative session, Gov. Pat McCrory has invited 29 state lawmakers to breakfast at the mansion.

The roster includes powerful Republicans -- House and Senate majority leaders and committee chairs -- but not one Democrat, according to a list of names received by The News & Observer through a records request.

Democrats sound alarm on fast-tracked bills

"I think they want to leave town just as soon as possible."

That was Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt's parting words on Thursday, a day that saw Republicans speed-voting two major pieces of legislation toward quick approval with little public discussion.

Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, and Rep. Larry Hall, the House minority leader from Durham, were joined by a couple dozen other General Assembly Democrats to complain about two bills that would cut unemployment benefits and reject expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Picking up on a theme from last session, the Democrats said GOP committee chairs are not allowing public comment, sharing information with Democrats only at the last minute and then rushing into law bills crafted in private with help from business interests.

House Republicans, meanwhile, countered that the unemployment insurance bill has been studied and debated in the open for several months leading up to Thursday's committee meeting.

Bill would cut size of Environmental Management Commission

A Senate committee on Tuesday whittled the 13-member state Environmental Management Commission to nine members. Republicans said it would streamline the commission, which oversees the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

But critics said it would take valuable technical knowledge away from the commission.

Senate gives final approval to education reforms

The Senate gave final approval Monday to a sweeping education reform plan pushed by President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

The Democrats mounted an effort to amend the bill on third reading in a evening debate, but the Republican dominated body killed the effort. With the 31-17 vote the bill now moves to the House, where it's fate is uncertain.

Inside the clockwork at the state legislature

 

To add context to the unprecedented midnight session last week, the N&O analyzed more than 19,000 votes at the N.C. General Assembly since 2001 to see how often lawmakers took action in the early morning hours.

Nowhere did we find lawmakers starting a different session after midnight -- that remains its own record. But the analysis found that less than 1 percent of all votes are cast after midnight. It weakens Republican claims that late votes are common and adds weight to Democrats and open government advocates concerns about transparency. To read the full story, go here. And here's a few more interesting facts:

-- 7 a.m. was the only hour in which a vote was not taken.

-- Of the 170 votes taken between 12:01 a.m. and 6:23 a.m., the top three issues were the budget, education and taxes.

-- The bulk of votes – 45 percent – occurred between 2 and 5 p.m.

-- 2001 and 2008 were the only years without post-midnight votes.

-- In 2010, during the short session under Democratic leaders Marc Basnight and Joe Hackney, there were 31 votes after midnight, nearly 4 percent of all votes taken that year.

Democratic leaders ask for cash to challenge GOPs redistricting maps

N.C. Democratic legislative leaders are asking for money to help challenge the GOP-drawn redistricting maps in court.

The solicitation sent Thursday from former House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate Democratic leader Martin Nesbitt is titled "Can you help us stop the GOP's gerrymandering?"

The effort is being coordinated through a secretive political nonprofit called The Democracy Project. As a 501(c)4 group under tax law, it can raise and spend unlimited money without disclosing its donors. Democratic strategist Scott Falmlen, a former executive director at the state party, is the director of the group, state records show.

"We need your help now to have the resources to be heard in court," the email proclaims. "Carrying this fight to the courts is an expensive proposition, but critical for the future of our state."

The message goes further to lay out the Democrats claims about the new political boundaries drawn by the Republican-dominated state legislature, noting the split precincts and consolidation of black voters in certain districts. 

As rare Sunday session starts, lawmakers' objectives unclear

Ask state lawmakers why they are returning to the state capital this week and this is the answer you hear most often: “I don’t know.”

The three previous mini-sessions – in July, September and earlier this month – all had distinct purposes: veto overrides, a constitutional amendment and redistricting. But the goals for the three-day session that began Sunday are less clear. “I can’t tell either,” said Senate Democratic leader Martin Nesbitt. “It’s a whole lot of ifs and rumors.”

The resolution governing the session is lengthy and ambiguous. And Republican legislative leaders are keeping their options open. “I think a lot of this is set up to catch us off guard,” said state Rep. Diane Parfitt, a freshman Democratic leader.

A spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis said the agenda is a moving target, particularly when it comes to the five vetoed bills awaiting a possible override vote.

Much speculation focused on the rare session Sunday evening after the holiday weekend. Republicans leaders promised not to take any votes Sunday and scheduled the 8 p.m. session to satisfy procedural rules that require some bills to receive three days of consideration. Lawmakers plan to leave town Tuesday.

But a radical environmental group called Croatan Earth First planned an Occupy protest Sunday, suggesting Republicans would not keep their word. At 6:30 p.m., the halls of the legislative building were ghostly and the front doors were locked. Two security guards waited outside.

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