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Advocacy group says two-thirds of legislature failed environment

Environment North Carolina says 112 lawmakers received a failing grade by their marks this session with only one Republican receiving a passing score.

The group's 2013 legislative scorecard put 65 percent of the 170-member N.C. General Assembly in the failing category based on nine contested votes in the House and 13 in the Senate. Nearly two-thirds of the Senate didn't pass the environmental advocacy group's test.

“This year, the Senate approved extreme measures to rush the state into fracking, do away with protections for our beaches, rivers and lakes, and dismantle our environmental commissions,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, Environment North Carolina state director, in a statement. “Given all the Senate’s attacks on the environment this year, their dismal scores are disappointing, but not all that surprising.”

Democrats cross aisle to vote for unemployment overhaul

Four Democrats crossed the aisle Tuesday to vote for the Republican-backed bill overhauling the state's unemployment system.

The bill, which is up for its final vote in the Senate today, passed 36-13 on Tuesday. Joining the Republicans were Democrats: Ben Clark of Cumberland County, Clark Jenkins of Bertie County, Gene McLaurin of Anson County and Michael Walters of Columbus County.

When the bill passed the House last week, it also received support from Democrats — three to be exact: William Brisson of Bladen County, Ken Goodman of Hoke County and Paul Tine of Beaufort County.

Last year, Brisson sided with Republicans on a few otherwise partisan issues, most notably overrides of the Perdue's vetoes of the Racial Justice Act and the legislature's budget.

So far, the unemployment bill has received unanimous support from Republicans.

Chamber is trying to help Brisson

The N.C. Chamber of Commerce's political committee is weighing in to help re-elect Rep. William Brisson of Dublin in the Democratic primary.

The Chamber moved to back Brisson, after the N.C. Association of Educators supported his challenger Matt Dixon in the May 8th primary.  The trial lawyers have also been running ads against Brisson in his district that includes Bladen, Sampson and Johnston Counties.

“Rep. Brisson has been supportive of key initiatives to position North Carolina to be more competitive in the race for jobs and economic prosperity for all North Carolinians,” said Lew Ebert, the chamber's president and CEO.

Because there is no Republican running, the winner of the Democratic primary will win the seat.

Brisson was one of five conservative Democrats who voted with the Republicans last year to help pass a GOP-crafted budget.

NCAE tries to take out Brisson

The North Carolina Association of Educators is trying to take out Democratic Rep. William Brisson of Dublin for voting for the Republican budget last year.

The NCAE PAC has endorsed Matt Dixon, Brisson's Democratic challenger in the House District 22 that includes parts of Bladen, Sampson and Johnston Counties.

Since there is no Republican running, the winner of the May 8th primary will win the seat.

The NCAE charges that Brisson's vote for the Republican budget cost 220 local education jobs in the three counties. They also criticize him for backing a GOP-backed bill to end the payroll dues check off for the NCAE.

Mental health bills modest

A legislative oversight committee adopted a set of proposed changes to how the state's mental health system works Tuesday and what may be most remarkable about them is how unremarkable they are.

The system has been failing, as a series in The News & Observer noted, and last year, lawmakers adopted a series of reforms. Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a chairman of the legislature's oversight committee on the issue, said Tuesday that unlike every other year, his committee is recommending that the state keep doing what it has been doing. 

"The things we did last year appear to be working," Nesbitt said. 

Among the committees recommendations are changes that would:

--Require the Department of Health and Human Services to maintain a database recording any deaths that occur in state facilities.

--Double to 180 days the time a person must live in the state before seeking Medicaid assistance for services in state facilities. The change is intended to stop other states from sending patients to North Carolina for treatment.

--Increase salaries for state psychiatric hospital staff to help the state recruit qualified employees. This provision is intended to help curb abuses and neglect in state facilities.

--Expand the amount of beds available for patients in their communities, which would free space in the state's psychiatric hospitals.

It is not yet clear how much the proposals would cost. The state is facing a severe budget deficit that experts predict will be $2 billion or more out of a $21.5 billion budget. 

Rep. William Brisson, a Dublin Democrat said he is afraid of the reaction other legislators will have to an increase for more money. 

"It's hard to keep asking when we're not getting our money's worth," Brisson said.

The bills had not yet been drafted but will likely be filed soon.

One more from the guest list

FAYETTEVILLE—One more name for the list today.

State Sen. Larry Shaw, a Fayetteville Democrat, is also on the guest list.

By Dome's reckoning, that means state Reps. Mary McAllister and William Brisson are the only Cumberland County Democratic legislators not on the list.

Not sure what, if anything, that means. 

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