TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Another big day at the legislature as the legislative session nears the half-way mark and the bill filing deadline. 10 a.m.: The Senate Education Committee considers a bill to take charter school oversight authority away from the state's Department of Public Instruction and loosen requirements on the schools. Noon: House Public Utilities considers bill to stifle the state's consumer advocacy group. 1 p.m.: House Elections Committee will discuss repeal of campaign finance matching money for candidates, a measure included in the governor's budget. The committee sent a notice that the voter ID measure is on hold temporarily so it can consider other legislation, a reversal from what lawmakers planned. At the same time, the Senate Finance Committee will begin talk about taxes with discussion of a bill to reduce the burden on businesses but no votes are expected. 2 p.m.: The Carolina Panthers bill is on the House calendar. The Senate convenes simultaneously with no major bills on the desk.
Today, Gov. Pat McCrory sticks to his comfort zone for another address to another business group, this one is the N.C. Chamber's annual conference in Greensboro. Later in the day, he'll meet privately with the N.C. Sheriff's Association.
GAMBING MONEY PURGE CONTINUES: As the Morning Memo reported Tuesday, McCrory forfeited campaign contributions from a second sweepstakes company executive charged in an gambling ring. And as AP found, the purge is likely to continue: McCrory received another $8,000 in October from John Patrick Fannin and his wife, who live in Little River, South Carolina, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press. Fannin is also among the sweepstakes operators indicted by Florida prosecutors in the Allied Veteran's case. (A McCrory spokeswoman) said McCrory's campaign will review those donations, too.
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MORE GAMBLING DONATIONS FOUND: More from AP's Michael Biesecker and Mitch Weiss -- A new report by the campaign finance advocacy group Democracy North Carolina released to The AP on Tuesday shows at least another $50,000 that went to McCrory's campaign from 11 people identified through state business filings and other records as sweepstakes operators. Among them was William George of Rock Hill, South Carolina, who records show has been repeatedly arrested over the last two decades for gambling related offenses. He was convicted in North Carolina in 2001 for failing to register video games, illegally warehousing video game machines and allowing gambling in a public house.
The AP verified the donations Democracy North Carolina identified to McCrory's campaign finance reports and also searched for cash distributed by the same individuals to other campaigns. All told, they gave at least $140,000 in political donations in recent years. Those donations were part of a much larger flood of money from sweepstakes operators that quietly flowed into campaign accounts of North Carolina politicians from both parties during the state's most recent election cycle. Lobbyists for the sweepstakes industry are gearing up to push for new legislation legalizing the cafes, which continue to operate in the state despite repeated attempts by lawmakers to shut them down.
KICKER:"This industry has a long and sad history of engaging in pay-to-play politics and shoveling money into the campaign of key leaders who will do their bidding," said Bob Hall, the director of Democracy North Carolina.
ON THE CHARTER SCHOOL BILL: The set up from AP -- Some North Carolina lawmakers want to take oversight of taxpayer-funded charter schools away from the state school board that runs other public schools. A state Senate committee on Wednesday considers legislation that will broadly change how charter schools operate. A new 10-member charter school board would decide the financial accountability standards the schools must follow, and how to treat charter schools that aren't meeting expectations.
The measure would cancel the current requirement that at least half a charter school's teachers be certified. A charter school's directors would decide whether to check job applicants for any criminal history. Local school boards would be required to lease any available building or land to a charter school for $1 a year, unless they can demonstrate it's not economically or practically feasible.
STUDENTS TO PROTEST UNC SYSTEM CUTS: A group called the N.C. Student Power Union will hold a rally Wednesday morning outside the Department of Administration to voice opposition to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory proposed budget cuts to the UNC system and GOP lawmakers discussions about closing or consolidating oone ore more campuses. At the end of the 11 a.m. rally, the students will deliver a letter to Senate budge writer Pete Brunstetter. "The way to grow our state’s economy is not to cut our children’s future or divest from education, we should be investing more resources into quality public education. We cannot tolerate any further attacks on working families and public school," said UNC-Greensboro student Carla Guzman in a statement.
LIGHTFOOT RECORDS ANSWER FEW QUESTIONS: Gov. Pat McCrory’s allies closely monitored damage control for the ill-fated director of the state children’s division, whose hiring last month unraveled in a controversy about her online comments and questions about her support for pre-kindergarten programs. That scenario emerges in more than 300 pages of emails the state released to The News & Observer on Tuesday, and provides the first glimpse of how the controversy was handled. State officials have refused to talk about the public-relations blunder, nor will they release her resume. Full story here.
The big questions still remaining: What was the McCrory administration's vetting process -- if one existed -- for hiring Lightfoot? Was it aware of her stance on early childhood education and inflammatory statements on social media? Even months after the episode, the answers are key to knowing how the governor's team will fill thousands more patronage jobs in state government.
SCOTUS DIVIDED ON GAY MARRIAGE BAN: Supreme Court justices showed sharp divisions and passionate feelings Tuesday as they confronted California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriages During a roughly 85-minute argument that was both unusually long and, at times, markedly heated, the court’s conservative and liberal justices exposed fundamental differences that foreshadow difficult decisions to come. Tellingly, the frequent swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, revealed some personal ambivalence.
In a positive sign for gay marriage supporters, Kennedy voiced strong sympathy for the approximately 40,000 California children who have been adopted by gay couples. “They want their parents to have full recognition,” Kennedy said, with evident feeling, adding that “the voice of these children is important in this case.” But in a sign of just how complicated the outcome could be, Kennedy and Justice Stephen Breyer mused aloud about whether the Supreme Court should even have agreed to hear the case called Hollingsworth v. Perry at all. Full story.
ANTICIPATING LAWSUIT, LAWMAKERS GIVE DIX LEASE SPECIAL LEGAL PROCESS: Bill co-sponsor Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, added a provision for a three-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear any suit from Raleigh about the revocation of the Dix lease, which passed the Senate on Tuesday. The panel would include one Superior Court judge each from Wake County, the eastern part of the state and the western part. Pate said the process is similar to redistricting cases and is necessary because the lease involves a statewide asset. “This is a very cumbersome, very unwieldy proceeding that I haven’t seen anywhere else,” Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said of the amendment. “The only reason we’re really doing it is because we question the underlying action this represents." Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane also took issue with the new process. “It certainly seems that if this were to go to trial, we would have the right to a jury trial in Wake County like anyone else,” she said. Full story here.
SEANC GOES AFTER STATE TREASUER JANET COWELL: The pressure building for weeks between the state treasurer’s office and the state employees association erupted at a legislative hearing Tuesday. It comes as the association zealously tries to protect nearly 700,000 current and retired state employees and teachers from significant changes to their health insurance coverage and pension system. The changes in benefits are being considered by Treasurer Janet Cowell and lawmakers. Full story.
LAWMAKERS APPROVE CURSIVE REQUIREMENTS: AP reports -- Some North Carolina lawmakers want to require that school children learn how to write and multiply even in today's modern world. A legislative committee on Tuesday approved a proposal to change state law and require public schools to teach cursive handwriting and force students to memorize their multiplication tables. The proposal now moves to the House budget-writing committee.
NOT ALL N.C. STUDENTS NEED CURSIVE HELP: Twelve students advanced as state winners in the 22nd Annual Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest, which will name winners soon. A spokesman said more than 300,000 students grades 1-8 participated nationwide with winners from Charlotte, Fayetteville and the surrounding areas. In 2012, Trinh Tran, a 7th grader at Southwest Middle School in Charlotte, won his grade level. More info here.
HOUSE PANEL APPROVE HELMET-OPTIONAL LAW: Adult motorcycle riders would be free to ride without head protection under legislation, approved Tuesday by a House committee, to repeal North Carolina’s mandatory safety helmet law for most motorcyclists. Helmets would be required only for motorcyclists younger than 21 and for inexperienced older riders who have been licensed to drive motorcycles for less than 12 months. Riders without helmets would have to carry enough insurance coverage to cover the first $10,000 of their medical bills from crash injuries. Members of the House Transportation Committee agreed, in a divided voice vote, that North Carolina should join 31 other states that give most bikers the freedom to decide for themselves. Full story.
STATE REGULATORS PREP FOR FRACKING: Environmental regulators are moving ahead with plans to start measuring the air quality in Lee County in advance of potential shale gas exploration in the area. Full story.
HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE STATE:
LEAD STORY IN ELIZABETH CITY: Front page in today's Daily Advance, with big strip headline -- Gov. McCCrory backs bill killing span funds. Gov. Pat McCrory has announced his support for a bill that would end the state’s guaranteed-funding for the Mid-Currituck Bridge and two other toll-road projects in the state, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Full story.
CENTERPIECE IN FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER: Deputies raid sweepstakes cafes -- The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday began raiding video gambling sweepstakes cafes still operating in Cumberland County since the state Supreme Court in December ruled they are illegal. Full story.
FRONT PAGE IN WILMINGON: Legislators reluctant to take on HOAs -- Despite the lengthy and well-attended legislative hearings last year on homeowners’ associations, lawmakers have been reluctant to act in earnest on reforming HOAs – entities that can spawn neighborhood dramas rivaling reality television. Full story.