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Big voucher bill postponed, little voucher bill moves

A hearing on a broad voucher bill was pushed to after crossover, but a bill offering vouchers for disabled students to attend private schools continued its march to the House floor.

A bill offering vouchers of up to $6,000 a year to pay private school tuition for special education students who leave public schools cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. The bill would replace a relatively new law that offers tax credits to parents for the same purpose.

Low-income parents are excluded from the tax credit's advantages.

"We want to give everybody the opportunity to have a high quality education," said Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and a bill sponsor.

The bill's opponents said that the money won't come close to helping needy families, just those who can afford to supplement the voucher with their own money.

"We need to be pouring more money into the public system to help all children," said Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

State elections board slashes campaign fines

Former Democratic candidate Ty Richardson will pay far less than his $31,000 fine for failure to file timely campaign finance records during his 2008 campaign.

The N.C. State Board of Elections agreed Tuesday to let the former state labor commissioner candidate pay $5,000, in $400 monthly installments, after a mediation settlement. The board also approved penalties against 13 other political committees for not meeting filing deadlines, letting all pay far less than the original fine.

Bill would require quick reporting time for mental health issues in concealed firearm applications

A trio of Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill aimed at better tracking people with mental health problems who apply for concealed handgun permits.

House Bil 344 would set a deadline of 48 hours – not including weekends or holidays – for superior court clerks to report to the national background check system records of in- and out-patient involuntary commitments for mental health treatment, and involuntary commitment for susbstance abuse for those determined to be a danger to themselves or others. Also reported would be records of people found not guilty by reason of insanity or for those who are found mentally incapable to stand trial in a criminal case.

The bill would also require clerks report if someone has successfully petitioned to remove a previous legal barrier to purchasing, possessing or transferring a firearm. Primary sponsors are Rep. Verla Insko of Chapel Hill, Rep. Paul Luebke of Durham and Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville.

The federal background check system reportedly misses a large number of mental health records from the states.

1363809990 Bill would require quick reporting time for mental health issues in concealed firearm applications The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Morning Memo: Florida GOP governor takes N.C. Democrats approach

FLORIDA GOP GOV -- AN OBAMACARE HATER -- TAKES THE REP. INSKO APPROACH: That's right. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who first entered politics to fight the federal health care law, is proposing to take the money for Medicaid expansion for the first three years when Washington will pay the full cost. State Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, proposed the same thing in North Carolina, but Republican lawmakers shot it down repeatedly. "That's just completely nonsensical and doesn't work," Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar said of Inkso's idea.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House is taking it easy today. A skeletal session with no recorded votes -- none until Tuesday, in fact. The Senate will convene for action at noon. But most the action will take place in the Commerce Committee where the bill to speed up and incentivize fracking with get a hearing. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule. He leaves this evening for Washington to attend the National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association winter meetings. Wonder if McCrory will talk to Scott and Ohio Gov. John Kasich about how their recent decisions to expand Medicaid?

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more N.C. political news below.***

GOP effort to block Medicaid expansion, state exchanges advances to full House

Now with Gov. Pat McCrory's support, a measure to thwart President Obama's health care law is headed to the House floor.

A House health care committee tweaked Senate Bill 4 -- which blocks the expansion of Medicaid and prevents a state-sponsored exchange -- before approving it largely on party lines by a 16 to 7 vote. The House added a fix to help address concerns about funding of the state's current Medicaid system. The full House is expected to hear the bill Wednesday and Thursday and it will need to return to the Senate because of the change.

Lawmakers gave the legislation a healthy discussion and Republicans shot down two amendments offered by Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, who called the bill "an attack on poor people."

The debate rehashed partisan talking points with Republicans concerned about the financial obligations of the program, particularly after the federal government stops paying the full load, and Democrats eager to extend a safety net and reduce the number of uninsured people in North Carolina.

Resolution would ask U.S. Congress to overturn Supreme Court ruling

Staff writer Rosella Age reports that at a press conference Wednesday, Rep. Verla Insko, a Democrat representing Orange County, promoted a resolution that calls on the U.S. Congress to overturn a Supreme Court ruling.

Special education tax credit passes House

The House approved a bill that would give tax credits to parents of special needs children who send their children to private schools.

The bill passed 73-39 after extended debate and a significant change. The House approved an amendment to make the credit non-refundable, which means that people who do not pay income taxes would not be able to claim the credit.

The credit is for $3,000 a semester, or $6,000 a year.

House Minority Leader Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and the bill's sponsor, said the credit will cost less than it costs the state to provide education for special education students.

"It saves so much money for the public schools, we can afford to transfer a third of the savings to the State Board of Education," he said. 

Stam said he changed the eligibility requirements to accommodate legislators who thought the criteria were too loose.

Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, said public schools aren't doing a good job with special needs students, but the bill would help only children from families who can afford tuition.

"We're taking money out of our tax system, money that is paid by poor people, and we're giving it to people who already have means," she said.

Lawmakers to kids: Say no to junk food

Lawmakers are moving to further limit high-calorie junk food at public schools as a way to combat childhood obesity.

House Bill 503, which was debated today by a House education committee, would force the State Board of Education to adopt nutritional standards for "competitive" foods and beverages, defined as any snacks or drinks served on school grounds that are not part of the school breakfast and lunch programs.

That would include vending machines, snack bars, school stores and fundraisers that hawk candy bars and other sugary, salty food (though high school stsudents would be allowed to sell any kind of food in fundraisers conducted after the last lunch period of the day).

Current law already restricts soft drinks and vending machine snacks, which are not allowed in elementary schools.

The bill passed the committee with the understanding that an amendment will be offered on the House floor to apply the same restrictions to charter schools.

Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, pointed out that 23 states have similar standards to limit unhealthy foods available at schools.

DHHS committee adopts Perdue cuts as its baseline

Legislators working on the details of the state Department of Health and Human Services budget this week adopted most Gov. Bev Perdue's proposed cuts as a baseline, with the intention of finding more reductions.

The Perdue reductions the budget subcommittee adopted totalled $218 million, and did not include the proposed retirement incentives of $10,000 or $20,000 - which Perdue estimated would cut 53 positions -  and her reductions in the children's health insurance program called Health Choice. Perdue assumed the program's costs would drop while enrollment goes up.

This isn't how things usually go in budget committees, and some legislators wondered why they were voting on items the group may well revisit.

The DHHS committee has to find $591 million in cuts.

"Why do we need to vote if we're going to go back and change it?" asked Rep. Beverly Earle, a Charlotte Democrat. "I don't really trust anything around here these days. Why is it necessary to vote one way or another?"

Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, said she didn't like all Perdue's recommendations, while Rep. Bert Jones, an unaffiliated member from Reidsville, said adopting Perdue's cuts may impede legislators' carving deeper.

"We're going to be different from how we see things in the budget," he said.

Subcommittee co-chairman Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, said voting did not limit what legislators could do, and described the $218 million as a starting point.

"We have another $373 million in reductions that we have to go," he said.

Democrats decry GOP focus on federal health care law

Democrats in the state House on Monday raised more objections to one of the first efforts by the new Republican majority: A bill that would exempt North Carolinians from being required to buy health care insurance. The mandate was in the health care reforms passed by Congress last year.

The state House is poised to act this week on the exemption bill, HB 2, reports Dome correspondent J. Andrew Curliss.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, has acknowledged that the bill is in many ways symbolic, part of efforts already under way on the federal level to undo health care reform.

Democrats said there are more important things to focus on given a massive projected budget shortfall and relatively high unemployment statewide.

Rep. Verla Insko, an Orange County Democrat, helped organize a news conference to highlight the issue Monday. She said requests for a public hearing on the bill were denied by Republican leaders.

"Dealing with this here in North Carolina is really irrelevant," she said. "It's a federal issue. It's already being addressed at the federal level. We need to be spending our time getting North Carolinians back to work.... It's a 'run on' bill for 2012."

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