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Morning Memo: Medical marijuana, topless rallies, possums on today's legislative agenda

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Bring the Doritos and the duct tape for the House Rules Committee meeting Wednesday. The powerful panel will consider a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal use and another aimed at topless rallies in Asheville by women seeking gender equity. (The committe chairman recently suggested women could use duct tape to get around the law.) On the more serious side, a House committee will consider a measure to repeal the estate tax, even though top Senate Republicans are not interested in the issue as part of their tax proposal. The Senate Rules Committee considers the possum bill. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m.

ANN McCRORY'S INAUGURAL GOWN GOES TO MUSEUM: From AP -- North Carolina first lady Ann McCrory is turning over her inaugural gown to the N.C. Museum of History, which will include it in an exhibition about governors and their spouses. Ann McCrory's gown will be on display Wednesday evening during an event for History Museum associates. After that, it will be featured in the exhibit "Leading the State: North Carolina's Governors," which ends April 28. During the event Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory will speak briefly with the N.C. Museum of History Benefactors Circle and the Gold Quill Society.

Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo, a daily political tipsheet for North Carolina. Read much more below.

Abortion rights advocates may benefit from legislative decision on healthcare exchange

The decision by the Republican legislature not to set up a state health exchange may be good news for abortion rights advocates in North Carolina. Or maybe not.

There are efforts underway in 21 states that are setting up state health care exchanges to stop health insurance companies from paying for abortions for women, NBC News is reporting. The latest was legislation signed last Monday by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe.

The Affordable Care Act allows state to set up health insurance exchange market places and allows states to set up rules for states that take part. But states like North Carolina that decline to set up an exchange will rely on the federal government to run them.

But one expert said there even with the federal government running the exchange, there is a provision in the exchange that allows states to ban insurance companies from paying for abortion for being who purchase their insurance from the exchange.

Among the states which have passed laws banning health insurance exchanges from paying for abortions are Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

State receives $74 million federal grant for health insurance exchange

The state has received a $74 million federal grant to set up an online marketplace for health insurance, a key component of the new federal health care law.

The internet insurance mall would be for small businesses or individuals not insured through their jobs. The money would be used for getting guts of the system ready.

According to the grant application the state Department of Insurance submitted last year, more than half the money would be used by the state Department of Health and Human Services to link the software that creates the website to an existing software program called NC FAST, which is used by DHHS and county social services departments.

Gov. Pat McCrory has not said how he wants the state to approach the health care law - whether he wants the state to run its own exchange, whether the state will run it with the federal government, or if North Carolina will tell the U.S. government to do all the work.

Senate leader Phil Berger said Wednesday he did not want a state or state-federal exchange.

McCrory said he has concerns about health care exchange

Although Gov.-elect Pat McCrory was careful not to criticize Gov Bev Perdue, he said he personally would have preferred to wait for more information before deciding which model to choose to run the health care exchanges.

“She has every right to make that decision,” McCrory said in an interview Saturday. “But the decision is in flux with a new administration coming in and has the opportunity to change based on new information.''

“I don't think there is enough information for any governor to make a decision at this point in time,” McCrory said. “There are so many unanswered questions from the administration regarding the implementation, regarding the flexibility, regarding the waivers, regarding the Medicare costs. I think there are 35 questions that need serious clarification from the federal government. So I personally don't think any governor is in a position to make a decision on which exchange to implement.''

He said there is a strong concern among many governors, that state-run exchanges are state-run “in name only,” and that it would be controlled by the federal government with the state “taking on all the risks.''

“That raises a serious concern for me to implement the state-run program until those clarifications are made,” McCrory said. “I don't want to set up a failed system in the state that would be a tremendous burden on the taxpayers and on the Medicaid system and on a future bureucracy.''

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