ABORTION DEBATE DOMINATES AGENDA: N.C. House lawmakers will focus on social issues Thursday, scheduling a three-hour debate on an abortion bill that critics say will restrict access but supporters argue is aimed at safety standards. Republicans will get one hour to push the measure while Democrats will get two hours to rebutt the controversial bill that is putting North Carolina in the national spotlight along with Texas. The House convenes at 11 a.m.
VETO THREAT: Pandering or real? Republican Gov. Pat McCrory publicly warned on Wednesday morning that he would reject the Senate’s bill unless his public health agency’s concerns about it were resolved. The threat came even as his administration and key House members were signing off on a rewrite of the bill, which was unveiled less than two hours later in a legislative committee. His statement came at 8:30 a.m. A House committee took up the new bill two hours later. The move allowed McCrory to appear like a hero to womens rights groups who had pushed him to uphold his campaign pledge not to sign new abortion restrictions into law. But his legislative team likewise worked with House members to craft the new measure those groups oppose. The question now: Will he sign or allow the newest bill to become law?
***Read a scene-setter on the abortion legislation and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***
TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The abortion bill will get the most attention. But other major legislation will also get a look. The House environment committee will consider a bill at 10 a.m. to repeal rules designed to clean up Jordan Lake, a drinking water source in Wake County. A different House panel will debate a bill to shift control of school buildings to the Wake County commissioners, a move opposed by the local school board.
On the House floor, lawmakers will vote on another measure that changed abruptly Wednesday. A wildlife resources bill was amended to add a constitutional amendment regarding eminent domain to the the 2014 ballot. Also on the House calendar: SB112, is a far-reaching bill to cut state regulations regarding the environmental and billboards, among others. The Senate will decide whether to agree to the House changes to permit the 751 project in Durham, a bill advocated by Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat.
TILLIS STARTS SENATE RACE WITH $250K IN THE BANK: From National Journal: "(House Speaker Thom) Tillis raised close to $300,000 in the second quarter of the year, following his May 30th announcement (for the U.S. Senate in 2014), consultant Phil Shumaker said, and will report about $250,000 on hand. "That's about ten days worth of work," Shumaker said.
Tillis has held a few fundraisers in the state already and his supporters have formed a super PAC supporting his candidacy. He has also brought on big-name consultants like OnMessage Inc.'s Brad Todd and Public Opinion Strategies' Glen Bolger." (Campaign reports won't become public for another week.)
As first reported by the N&O, the National Republican Senatorial Committee visited Raleigh this week to look at potential candidates -- even though conventional wisdom suggested they had already put their chips on Tillis. "Asked about the impression that the NRSC is seeking an alternative to Tillis, Shumaker said, "That was clearly not the indication given to us." Full Journal story.
THE ABORTION BILL: A controversial abortion bill was caught up in tensions among Republican legislators on Wednesday, as Gov. Pat McCrory threatened his first veto and House and Senate lawmakers stood their ground on different versions.
Despite complaints from Democrats and abortion-rights advocates that there was no advance notice and that the bill was being rushed, Republicans on the judiciary committee approved the legislation and sent it to the full House. The House is planning three hours of debate on it Thursday and then will vote. The bill will then return to the Senate if it’s approved.
With the Republican governor working closely with House leaders to shape the bill, its prospects of passing in that chamber are good. But that’s not necessarily the case in the Senate, where the bill’s main Senate proponent was not happy with Wednesday’s turn of events.
SENATE REAX: Sen. Warren Daniel, a Republican from Morganton, said he didn’t know how other Senate Republicans would view the compromise worked out with the governor’s administration. But he said he preferred the original version, which he contended gives the state Department of Health and Human Services the flexibility it needs to regulate abortion clinics. “We believe we sent a good piece of legislation to the House,” Daniel said. Read more here.
McCRORY RESPONDS TO NYT EDITORIAL: The New York Times editorial titled the "Decline of North Carolina" is just the latest in a litany of troubling clips about the Tar Heel State, but it was powerful enough to draw a reaction from the governor's office. McCrory's office released a statement on the editorial to News 14 on Wednesday: "The New York Times editorial is riddled with errors, and maybe if they came to North Carolina, they would understand that Governor McCrory remains 100 percent focused on the economy, education, and government efficiency as he has been for the first six months in office."
Earlier in the week McCrory responded to the negative publicity by saying: "I think the major issue that businesses have is, 'Is your state stable financially and do you have a quality workforce?' I think these other peripheral issues, which are important, aren't as important to employers,” McCrory said.
The governor added North Carolina lawmakers are not alone in taking on tough causes that incite strong debate or protest. "We're not the only state going through difficult legislative process. Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio. We're not as unique as you.. you might just be reading the articles from North Carolina at this time,” said Gov. McCrory. Read more here.
TAX WATCH: Rep. David Lewis, the lead House tax negotiator, indicated that the House and Senate are 80 percent of the way toward a deal but the remaining 20 percent will be difficult. He expects the House counter offer to the Senate (or possibly a compromise between the two chambers) to debut in a new bill in the Finance Committee next week. The House and Senate met with Gov. Pat McCrory twice Wednesday on the issue.
JETTIES AND GROINS CAP TO REMAIN: The legislature is debating how far to shift a policy that had traditionally banned the kind of hard structures built along shorelines to control sand from being built along North Carolina’s coast – a move that geologists call an effort to stop the New Jersey-fication of the state’s beaches.
The Republican legislature, responding to pressure from beach homeowners and resort communities, ended a 26-year ban on building jetties or groins along the North Carolina coast in 2011, approving the construction of four projects in what was then described as a compromise.
The Senate this year has gone further and passed a bill that would allow unlimited groins to be built along the entire 301-mile coast. But the measure has run into resistance in the House and from the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. As a result, a compromise has been worked out that would retain the cap. Read more here.
U.S. SENATE FAILS SHORT-TERM LOAN RATE FIX: Under pressure to find a quick way to lower rates on federally subsidized student loans, Senate Democrats failed to extend a low rate for another year. Their plan was blocked by bipartisan supporters of a compromise effort to tie the rate to what the government pays to borrow money. It could get a vote possibly on Thursday and would lower rates on all types of student loans, at least for now. "I’m optimistic we’ll reach an agreement,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., one of the sponsors of the bipartisan measure, who was involved in the negotiations. Read more here.
OVERTESTING QUESTIONS GRIP STATE ED BOARD: Complaints about new tests in subjects from science to civics have the State Board of Education reconsidering how to use the results and who will write future exams. This year, schools began giving students in grades four through 12 tests in areas such as science, history, physics and geometry – subjects that are not already tested by end-of-grade or end-of-course exams. These are not the high-stakes tests used to judge schools, but the state plans to use the results to help evaluate teachers. A swell of complaints from teachers that the test questions did not match what they taught in class has the state rethinking its plans.
But making changes won’t be easy. The promise that the state would have a way to evaluate teachers that includes a measure of student growth was a factor in getting out of the No Child Left Behind law. The state also promised in its winning application for a $400 million Race to the Top grant that the tests would be used to help evaluate teachers. Read more here.
MODIFIED DRUG TESTING BILL ADVANCES: An amendment strengthened bipartisan support for a bill that requires drug testing of any Work First recipient suspected of using drugs. House Bill 392 passed the Senate quickly Wednesday in a 43-6 vote. It also requires more stringent background checks to ensure benefit recipients aren’t parole or probation violators, and don’t have outstanding felony warrants. The bill now goes to the House for concurrence.
Rep. Dean Arp, a Republican from Monroe and the bill’s main sponsor, amended it to say that the results of the drug tests would remain confidential and that people who test positive would be referred to treatment resources. Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, presented the amendment in the Senate. “We’ve worked really, really hard to make this bill fair,” Arp said. “I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns.”
OBJECTIONS REMAIN: Only Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Chapel Hill Democrat, spoke against the bill. She said afterward that the $10 drug test cost is still a burden on those who receive public assistance. The tests would affect recipients of Work First, which offers cash benefits, training and support services to families. “There is no evidence that people who are getting (Work First) checks are more likely ... to be drug users,” she said. “This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down.” Full story.
LAWMAKER MOVE TO ADDRESS BOONE HOTEL DEATHS: North Carolina hotels would be required to install carbon monoxide detectors near fuel-burning appliances, under a new legislative proposal that appears headed for approval. The measure, tucked into a bill approved by a House committee Wednesday, comes a month after revelations that three Boone hotel guests died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“These were, in my opinion, needless deaths,” said Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, who persuaded legislative leaders to include the language in a regulatory reform bill. “When people come into our state or travel across our state … and stay in hotels, we want them feel their safety is assured.” Read more here.
SEA TURTLE PROTECTIONS: From AP: The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission is meeting in Beaufort to discuss issues that include new protections for sea turtles. The Star News of Wilmington reported the 15-member commission meets Thursday, when members will hear an update on the state's response to critical habitat designation for sea turtles in North Carolina.