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Candidate emerges to replace Foushee in House

A candidate has announced his interest in replacing Democrat Valerie Foushee in the state House: Drew Nelson, a lawyer who represents indigent clients in appellate court.

Earlier this month,first-term legislator Foushee was named to replace veteran lawmaker Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, who retired in August. Foushee’s House seat is now open and her replacement will be chosen by a committee of the Democratic Party.

The District 50 seat represents Durham and Orange counties.

Nelson is a North Carolina native who received his law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and obtained a master’s degree from Duke. He is married to a doctor, and the family has lived in Orange and Durham counties for 16 years, according to his campaign website.

He’s a partner at Willis Johnson & Nelson in Raleigh. He says his political experience includes working on environmental issues and serving on former Rep. Joe Hackney’s staff.

Nelson, in a news release issued Thursday, said Republican “extreme policy changes” in education prompted him to seek the office.

“As the son of a North Carolina public school teacher and an elementary school principal, and as the parent of a child soon to be enrolled in public school, education is a critical issue driving my candidacy,” Nelson said.

Senate honors Kinnaird

The state Senate on Wednesday adjourned in honor of Ellie Kinnaird, the longtime senator who resigned her seat recently to concentrate on grassroots organizing.

On Sen. Floyd McKissick's motion, senators spoke fondly of the Democrat from Orange County.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale, said, "Ellie was an unabashed liberal. ... Be whatever you are, but be that," Tillman said.

Tillman said Kinnaird was a hard-working lawmaker who came to every Republican event she was invited to -- and probably some she wasn't.

Senate follows House in overriding both vetoes

The state Senate on Wednesday quickly overrode the governor’s vetoes of a pair of bills, following the same path the House took the day before.

There was never any real question about what the Senate would do, with its firm Republican majority, even though Democrats who had supported the bills in July lined up in favor of sustaining the vetoes on Wednesday. They failed to pick up GOP support for the vetoes.

Democrats offered no debate, however, and so both overrides were accomplished in just six minutes.

Afterward, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger echoed House Speaker Thom Tillis’ remarks from Tuesday downplaying the political damage that Gov. Pat McCrory might have incurred from losing the veto fight.

Watt nomination may be in trouble

DC Democrats are increasingly worried about the fate of North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt's nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Jonathan Allen of Politico reports.

Politico reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently pushed off a vote on Watt's nomination until after the August recess, a move that suggests that he doesn't have the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster.

President Obama barely mentioned Watt's name in a major housing speech in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Watt is so concerned about his prospects that he has asked his fellow Congressional Black Caucus members to lobby their home-state senators on his behalf, Politico reports.

Republicans are arguing that Watt is unqualified to head the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

And, for the Senate, it's a wrap

And at 1:43 a.m., Sen. Tom Apodaca announced, “The Senate stands adjourned.”

The Senate finished off a handful of bills to close out a long day that began Thursday morning and ended by clearing the calendar, including a vote on environmental protections at Jordan Lake.

Sen. Pete Brunstetter, a Republican from Winston-Salem, referred to that vote in his remarks on the adjournment resolution.

“Sen. Kinnaird referred to Jordan Lake as an impaired body, and I think this Senate can now identify with Jordan Lake,” he said.

The Senate is not scheduled to return until May 14, 2014 at noon – although they could return for a special session.

The House, meanwhile, returns at 9 a.m. Friday to wrap up its business. There are nine bills on the calendar, but Speaker Thom Tillis said he thought it could be wrapped up in a couple hours.

NC won't lift fracking moratorium

The effort to lift the state's fracking moratorium has died a quiet death, one of several casualties resulting from a House-Senate compromise on the state's energy policy.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the a comprehensive energy measure, Senate Bill 76, on Tuesday. It emerged publicly on Friday after a month of closed-door conference discussions between House and Senate members.

The resulting compromise has been stripped of controversial provisions that would have lifted the state's fracking moratorium in 2015, removed the State Geologist from the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, and allowed for the deep-injection of fracking waste in disposal wells.

Amended drug testing bill gets O.K. from Senate

An amendment strengthened support for a bill that requires drug testing of any Work First recipient suspected of being a drug user.

The bill, House Bill 392, passed the Senate Wednesday in a 43-6 vote. It would also enhance background checks to ensure federal benefit recipients aren't parole or probation violators, or have outstanding warrants. The bill now goes back to the House for concurrence.

Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, amended the bill to, among several things, specify that the drug tests would remain confidential and refer people who test positive to available treatment resources. The amendment was drafted with the help of the N.C. Department of Justice and the State Bureau of Investigation.

Fracking Commission to lawmakers: Hands off!

The head of the state's fracking commission has asked Republican lawmakers to honor a hands-off policy with regard to shale gas exploration.

N.C. Mining & Energy Commission Chairman James Womack wrote to lawmakers that the legislature's recent attempt to trump the commission's work not only creates the potential for abuse by the energy industry but also stirs up North Carolina's anti-fracking opponents.

The warning is the latest development in a fracking subplot unfolding between the year-old commission and the state legislature that created the commission last year to write 120-plus safety rules to govern fracking in the state. The warning is the latest development in a fracking subplot unfolding between the year-old commission and the state legislature that created the commission last year to write 120-plus safety rules to govern fracking in the state. Womack, a Republican himself, sent a 2-page letter late Sunday to the Republican leaders in the legislature: N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Negotiating teams picked for legislative fracking showdown

The fate of shale gas exploration in North Carolina is in the hands of 10 lawmakers elected to negotiate a deal out of two contrary pieces of legislation setting the state's energy policy.

The state House and Senate each picked five lawmakers, or conferees, for closed-door talks in the House-Senate conference on Senate Bill 76. The two bills couldn't be more different.

The Senate version would lift the state's fracking moratorium, boot the State Geologist from the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission, allow for injecting fracking waste in wells, and eliminate a registry for "landmen" who sign drill leases with property owners.

The House version would undo those changes. In addition, it would impose fines on fraudulent landmen and criminal penalties for operating without a state license.

House passes Racial Justice Act repeal

The full House on Wednesday gave its final approval of a bill repealing the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which would re-start executions in North Carolina if it becomes law.

The legislation has to return to the Senate for concurrence in minor changes a House committee made to the bill earlier this month. Wednesday’s vote was 77-39, mostly along party lines.

Democrats say the Racial Justice Act, which allows convicted killers to petition to get off death row if they can prove racial bias in their cases, has been proven as necessary by a Cumberland County judge’s rulings in a handful of cases already. But Republicans say there are other ways of challenging whether a trial was free of bias or not.

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