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Morning Memo: Controversial bills bubble up, Wos again in the spotlight

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: As the final two days of the self-imposed crossover deadline begin, it's crunch time. You can tell from the lobbyists working the halls, either trying to get a bill to move or asking committee chairman to "pray on it" for a little while longer. And the controversial bills are coming the surface. A House committee will consider a bill to extend "protections of conscience" to more medical professionals and cover more things, such as providing contraception. In the same committee, another measure dubbed the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" is sure to recall attempts earlier this session to declare the state's ability to establish an official religion.

The full House - which convenes near 2 p.m. -- will also consider a bill to soften rules on where local governments must post public notices. A controversial amendment would tell newspapers how much they could charge for such advertisements. The Senate this afternoon will consider measures to amend environmental regulations and repeal local smoking bans. Gov. Pat McCrory is spending another day in New Orleans at a Republican Governor's Association event.

WOS ROADSHOW CONTINUES: A week after a major gaffe by Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos, her statewide tour to tout Medicaid reforms continues. She visits Durham on Wednesday where she will encounter members of the Medical Professionals for Expanded Health Access who expect to question her about the state's decision to reject a Medicaid expansion. Wos blamed Democratic Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin for the decision -- even though it was ultimately made by her boss, Gov. Pat McCrory. The event starts at 4 p.m.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a roundup of North Carolina political news and notes. Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

ABORTION CLINIC REOPENS: For the second time in six years, a southeast Charlotte abortion clinic has reopened a short time after the state forced it to shut down because of safety issues, most recently the improper administration of a drug that terminates pregnancies. A Preferred Woman’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive will be allowed to open at 9 a.m. Wednesday after the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services lifted its order suspending clinic services, according to an official with the state agency who provided information on background. Full story.

GOP TRIES TO PRESSURE McINTYRE ON IRS:The National Republican Campaign Committee is targeting vulnerable Democrats and trying to smear them with the taint of the IRS scandal in Washington. North Carolina Congressman Mike McIntyre is among them. The NRCC -- which spent big money to try to defeat the Democratic incumbent -- wants McIntyre to condemn the IRS actions, as other Republicans and Democrats have done. "Silence is simply not an option," reads a NRCC statement, one of many the group is sending about the issue. "It’s time for McIntyre to speak out on this outrageous abuse of power."

PLANNED PARENTHOOD TARGETS #NCGA IN MAILING: Planned Parenthood's local North Carolina chapters are criticizing state lawmakers for going "too far" in a new mailing. "They want to interfere in woman's most persona and private health care decisions," it states, listing cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control, pap tests and abortion. The flier is specifically targeting Senate Bill 308 ("Amend Woman's Right to Know Act") and House Bill 716 (sex-selective abortions). It asks those who receive it to call Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and Gov. Pat McCrory. "Tell them -- Women don't turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care or cancer treatments," it says.

THE INDY's EARLY ENDORSEMENT IN 2016 GOVERNOR'S RACE?: In the Triangle's alt weekly, Bob Geary takes a look at BlueNC blogger's James Protzman's bid for governor: "I'm not predicting that Protzman will win. Like him, I consider that a longshot—but, as he says, "stranger things have happened."I am recommending that his candidacy be taken seriously, for two reasons. One is that Protzman is a serious person and arguably would be a helluva governor. The other reason addresses what it will take to topple the radical Republicans or at least persuade them to moderate their crazy, regressive agenda." Full story.

WITH LITTLE OPPOSITION, McCRORY'S PERSONNEL BILL MOVES: The legislature is poised to curtail civil service protections for state employees, giving preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill pushed by Gov. Pat McCrory. House lawmakers voted 110-5 to remake the grievance procedures for about 90,000 state workers, moving the key link in the appeal process from the hands of an independent administrative law judge to hearing officers named by political appointees of the governor. The House is expected to give its final approval Wednesday, sending the bill to the Senate. At the same time, the bill would increase the number of political hires – positions exempt from the civil service protections of the State Personnel Act to 1,500. Six months ago there were just 400. Full story.

LOCAL SMOKING BANS MAY GET SNUFFED: Senate Republicans took a step Tuesday toward striking down local rules governing where smokers like Proulx can light up. Senate Bill 703, which passed the Senate Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources Committee, prohibits local governments and community colleges from regulating outdoor smoking in a manner that’s more restrictive than state law. It is just the latest way state lawmakers are taking action to overturn or limit local policies they oppose.
Because state law doesn’t impose restrictions on smoking outdoors, the measure would nullify other anti-smoking laws for publicly owned open spaces such as parks, beaches and community college campuses. “Around the state, a number of localities and other institutions are trying to take this legal product and say you can’t consume it outdoors,” said Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican, the bill sponsor. “I just personally find that objectionable.”

Ouch: Newton said the legislation is designed to void smoking restrictions on Wrightsville Beach, which voters approved in November. “That’s what makes it so frustrating,” Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti said. “The same folks who don’t like the federal government telling us what to do are turning around and telling local governments what to do.” Full story.

BEER AND POLITICS: As "beer writer who covers politics," as one of my bosses likes to say, how can you not do a report on the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association's growler party. Read about the beer politics at the statehouse in this week's Pintful column.

JORDAN LAKE PROTECTIONS MAY BE SCRAPPED: Rules developed over several years to help clean up Jordan Lake would be repealed under legislation approved in a Senate committee on Tuesday. In their place, new rules would take the emphasis off the upstream causes of pollution – development, agricultural pesticides and wastewater from cities – and focus on treating the lake itself.

DENR IN AWKWARD SPOT: The proposal puts the state’s environmental agency in an awkward position, politically. The Division of Water Quality in the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has worked for a long time on Jordan Lake, drafting the original rules after a year and a half of stakeholder meetings. Yet the state regulators are now part of a new Republican administration, with a department run by an appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory.

Asked for its position on the bill Tuesday, DENR released a statement saying it would be “disappointed to see the existing Jordan Lake rules repealed entirely before their full effect is realized.” On the other hand, the statement says, “the department notes that a fresh approach may produce a new set of rules, regulations that will protect the future uses of Jordan Lake with less controversy and cost than the existing rules package.” Full story.

MORE HERE: Get a roundup of legislative action from Tuesday here.

ASHEVILLE WATER AUTHORITY LAW ON HOLD: Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday afternoon preventing the City of Asheville’s water system from being transferred to a regional water system.
The city had sued the state after the Republican-led legislature passed a bill transferring its water system. More here.

Read: Gov. Pat McCrory's latest newsletter here.

DOT EASES I-40 REPAIRS:It’s good news for taxpayers when highway bids come in far lower than expected, but Transportation Secretary Tony Tata was not eager in March to approve a repair job expected to give Wake County drivers three years of bad news. When he finally awarded a contract Tuesday to rebuild 11.5 miles of the I-40/440 Beltline across South Raleigh starting in January, Tata said he had taken steps to reduce the misery for commuters, truckers and other drivers who rely on Raleigh’s busiest freeway. Full story.

AUSTIM BILL GETS NEW LIFE: From Rose Hoban at N.C. Health News: "For kids with autism in North Carolina, it’s possible to get insurance coverage for the process of diagnosing the developmental disorder. But for the bulk of those kids, getting an insurance company to cover treatment is another matter. A bill that’s been making a last-minute dash for a vote on the floor of the state House of Representatives would change that. The bill went through two committees on Tuesday, and was attached with seven amendments when it crossed the finish line." Full story.


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