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Budget cut would force SHP to drop accreditation

The State Highway Patrol would no longer be nationally accredited, under budget cuts the General Assembly is considering.

The five-person office that oversees the accreditation process would be eliminated in order to save about $400,000.

Losing the national recognition won’t affect the patrol’s daily operations, a spokeswoman says. But, privately, some troopers are reportedly upset the state will be dropping the designation.

“There will be no impact,” says Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Crystal Feldman.

Another closed prison goes for $1

With the state’s prison population declining and some of its prisons closing, the state occasionally sells the land for a nominal buck.

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday gave the green light to selling the closed Gates Correctional Center in the northeast part of the state to Gates County for $1. The county wants to use it for emergency services functions.

Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Raleigh, didn’t let the issue pass without commenting about recent opposition to the deal selling the Dorothea Dix property in Raleigh for less than market value. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, had complained about the Dix deal even while sponsoring a bill in 2011 selling a closed prison in his mountains district to a community college for $1.

Hise, a member of the Rules Committee, also voted for the Gates deal, which was placed on the Senate calendar for later Wednesday.

Morning Memo: NC's new brand; protests expected to swell

NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW BRAND: "North Carolina’s national brand may be changing – but not the way Gov. Pat McCrory intended when he talked during his campaign about the Tar Heel state undergoing an image makeover," writes columnist Rob Christensen. "… The new brand that McCrory seems to want is that North Carolina is more business-friendly. But since he took office in January, the state has been undergoing a brand change of a very different kind. The sharp rightward turn of the legislature and the Moral Monday protests have turned North Carolina into one of the nation’s top political spectacles. … The national coverage is worth millions of dollars of publicity. Unfortunately for North Carolina, it may also be the wrong kind of publicity." Read more here.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: They’re back! The House, after taking off a week to let its conflicts with the Senate – taxes, budgets, gun control – simmer, will be back in town Monday night. The calendar is mostly low-profile, local bills except for a final vote on the bill creating a separate regulatory board for charter schools. The state charter school board would be responsible for handing out new charters and shutting down inadequate schools. The bill would dilute the state Board of Education’s powers. The Senate passed the bill in May. Also back: Moral Monday demonstrations, which are expected to draw huge crowds after the Senate's approval of a major abortion bill.

***Get a complete roundup of political news from the extended holiday weekend below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Legislature an embarrassment, big issues dominate post-crossover Jones Street

NEARLY HALF VOTERS CONSIDER SAY #NCGA CAUSING NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT: One of the more intriguing poll numbers in the latest monthly Public Policy Polling survey due out later today: 45 percent. That's the portion of voters who believe the N.C. General Assembly is causing the state "national embarrassment." The poll question comes after a number of hot-button legislative issues received national attention -- and ridicule. Another 31 percent don't think the state legislature is a blemish and another 24 percent are undecided. (More from poll below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: No rest for the weary this week on Jones Street. The Senate appropriations committee meets at 8:30 to discuss its $20.6 billion state budget. Democrats will raise objections but no significant changes are expected. At the same time, the House Finance Committee will consider a major immigration bill that is drawing increasing fire from the ACLU and others concerned about Arizona-type provisions about stopping and detaining people who did not enter the country legally. At 11 a.m., the House Education Committee will get its first look at a new private school voucher bill. Senate and House floor calendars are light after crossover week's flurry, but the House will give final reading to a bill limiting tolling of existing highways.

Gov. Pat McCrory will meet with the Philippine ambassador at 8:45 a.m. in a private meeting and later attend a N.C. Department of Transportation luncheon. McCrory will speak to a group of under-45 CEOs as part of the southern chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization conference and travel to Charlotte this evening for a forum with the city's other current and former mayors.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo. Read more new exclusive PPP numbers below and get more insights into the state budget. ***

1369145279 Morning Memo: Legislature an embarrassment, big issues dominate post-crossover Jones Street The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Two Correction officials named

Two prison officials have been promoted in the state Department of Public Safety.

Joe Prater will be deputy commissioner for administration and George Solomon will be director of prisons. They were named by Correction Commissioner David Guice.

Prater has been acting prisons director since January, and before that he was assistant section chief for prisons. He spent eight years in community corrections, and before that worked in local government and private sector jobs.

Solomon supervised prisons in the Piedmont and central part of the state, and was also a prison superintendent, deputy warden, assistant chief of security and correctional officer.

Married prison workers arrested on tax evasion charges

A married pair of state prison workers from Warsaw have been arrested on felony tax charges, the state Department of Revenue reported Wednesday.

Andrew Riddick, 51, a correctional sergeant, and Sharon Sutton Riddick, 55, a staff nurse, both worked at Duplin Correctional Center in Kenansville. They were reassigned on Wednesday to other prisons while an internal investigation gets under way, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety said.

Both were charged with 12 counts of attempt to evade or defeat tax. Arrest warrants allege the Riddicks fraudulently claimed they were exempt from state income tax withholding from 1999 to 2010.

The couple appeared before a magistrate in Wake County and each was placed under a $30,000 bond. The case was investigated by an agent with the criminal investigations section of the state revenue department.

Sharon Riddick has been reassigned to a prison in Greenville, and her husband to one in Burgaw. They will not have any contact with inmates during the investigation, the public safety department reported.

Perdue has six bills left

Gov. Beverly Perdue signed another batch of bills Friday afternoon leaving five remaining unsigned bills on her desk.

The six remaining are:

HB 104: Clarifies which documents produced by lawmakers are exempt from the public records law. Would make requests by lawmakers sent to state agencies exempt from the public records law.

HB 945: The Studies Act of 2009 catalogues a host of items and issues to be studied while the legislature is out of session.

HB 1166: Insurance Law Changes. Makes several changes including a new requirement that to get a license, insurance agents must submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.

SB 947: Provides more opportunity for a homeowner to halt foreclosure if he or she can demonstrate they can pay what is owed.

HB 836: Makes technical corrections to the state budget.

HB 1329: Consolidates various state stautes regulating criminal record expunctions. 

Among the 40-plus Perdue signed Friday are:

SB 167: Prohibits tobacco products and cell phones in prisons. Makes it a crime to provide tobacco or cell phones to inmates.

HB 667: Allows wineries to sell wine during business hours.

SB 138: Bans the recreational use of salvia divinorum, an hallucinogenic herb. Still allows the mint-like plant to be used in landscaping.

SB 786: Authorizes capital projects on University of North Carolina system campuses. The projects have a funding stream to repay debt for the projects. List includes $21.8 million for a parking deck at N.C. State University, a $10 million renovation of the Carolina Inn at UNC-Chapel Hill, $35 million for a Partnership, Outreach and Research for Accelerated Learning Building at UNC-Charlotte.

SB 464: Requires statistics on race to be kept to help identify and prevent racial profiling by law enforcement. Also requires that a law enforcement officer ensure a child is in safe hands if the child's parent gets arrested. The last provision would have prevented a case last year in which three children were stranded on Interstate 85 in the middle of the night for eight hours when a sheriff's deputy arrested the children's mother, an illegal immigrant.

Correction: Perdue had six bills to sign, not five as we previously reported. Dome regrets the oversight. 

Prison smoking, cell phone ban passes

A bill that would ban the possession and use of tobacco products and cell phones in state prisons received final legislative approval today and is on its way to the governor's desk.

The prison smoking ban comes at the request of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association, which asked that a statewide smoking ban in some public areas be extended to prisons.

The cell phone component grew out of a story in The News & Observer that highlighted problems that have occurred in North Carolina and other states when inmates have used cell phones to set up attacks on each other, coordinate escapes and continue to run illegal enterprises outside of prison.

The ban passed the House on Wednesday despite objections that it was another blow to the tobacco industry, which has taken major hits this year with the statewide ban in bars and restaurants and a tax increase in the state budget.

Quick Hits

* Game on: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee puts out first Web video targeting U.S. Sen. Richard Burr; hits ATM comments.

* Burr's consultant, Paul Shumaker, estimates the race may end up costing a total of $60 million, says Burr is ready for fight. 

* Bicycles may soon be required to have lights on both the front and the back under a Senate bill that passed committee.

* Conservative blogger Joe Guarino thinks U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan should not sign onto a study of the nation's criminal justice system.

Name changers need 'good character'

About one in five name change requests in Alexander County come from inmates.

Longtime Superior Court Clerk Seth Chapman told Dome that he gets between 10 and 20 requests from inmates of the Alexander Correctional Institute out of about 50 a year.

The reasons given vary: Some say they never used their birth name, others cite religious reasons.

Chapman said that he already turns down a substantial number of the requests based on the state law that requires petitioners be "of good character." Often, other inmates are given as character references.

"The simple fact that you're in prison speaks to me about your character," he said.

He said he considers felony convictions for murder, rape and robbery more serious when considering name changes than driving while intoxicated.

Chapman supports a bill from Rep. Ray Warren that would shift the burden of proof to the prisoner away from the clerk.

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