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Morning Memo: Crossover week begins at #NCGA; Ben Carson to visit Raleigh

Welcome to Crossover Week on Jones Street. Think the action’s been fast so far? Well, hold onto our elephant ears, this week lawmakers will be shoveling as many bills as possible through committee and out to their floors for a vote to meet a Thursday deadline dubbed crossover.

The House and Senate rules say that bills that don’t raise or spend money or propose amendments to the state constitution must pass either the House or Senate by Thursday to be considered during the session. Of course, rules are made to be circumvented, so there are many ways to keep legislation alive. Dome’s favorite: Strip a bill that has already crossed over of its language and insert your bill of choice.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Read more about the issues hanging in the balance this week at the legislature. And send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

BEN CARSON TO SPEAK AT RALEIGH EVENT: The newly minted conservative TV pundit Dr. Ben Carson will speak at the Raleigh Convention Center June 27. The event is hosted by state Rep. Jim Fulghum and his wife along with the Civitas Institute. It will benefit Upper Room Community Scholars Program, which is run by Rev. Patrick Wooden, an outspoken and often controversial minister.

The top ticket goes for $35,000 and includes a small roundtable with Carson at a VIP reception, dinner for 20 and seating for two with Carson, among other things. Individual tickets are $250 per person.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: House Democratic leader Larry Hall will start the day with a 10 a.m. press conference about workers rights and unemployment legislation. But the real action starts in the House at 3 p.m. with three committee meetings. The full House convenes at 6 p.m. to hear a couple dozen measures, including one to repeal the state's literacy test to vote. The Senate begins at 7 p.m. Its calendar includes the final approval of a bill to teach seventh graders disputed science about the affect of abortions on subsequent pregnancies. Gov. Pat McCrory will throw out the first pitch at the N.C. State baseball game at 6:50 p.m. It is his only public event today.

VOUCHER BILL AIRED TUESDAY: Speaking of fun, one of the bills that will be pushed this week is allows parents to spend taxpayer money on K-12 private school tuition. Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said there have been some changes to the original bill.

The bill as filed would have offered vouchers worth $4,200 a year. In the second year, children from families with incomes of 300 percent of the federal poverty level or below would qualify. This year, that income translates to $58,590 for a family of three.

Brandon said the revision tightens the income guidelines and will have 50 percent of the money each year reserved for children from families at 185 percent of the federal poverty level or below. That’s the level at which kids in a family would qualify for free or reduced lunch in public schools. “It’s a drastic improvement over what everybody first saw,” Brandon said. The bill also lowers the income ceiling, he said. “You can’t make more than $45,000 and get it.” The House Education Committee is set to hear the bill Tuesday.

VOTERS MAY DECIDE TABOR'S FATE: Lawmakers could also hear more this week about a “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” aka TABOR, which would have voters decide whether to limit government spending in the state Constitution. Here’s how Patrick Gannon of The Insider explains it: “The measure would establish a General Fund spending limit based on the previous year’s limit increased by a formula that takes into account inflation and population increases. The governor and General Assembly then could not spend more than that limit without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, according to a bill summary. Any revenue collected above the spending limit would go into an emergency fund, which could be spent by the state budget director in the event of a shortfall. The bill also would allow for the return of money to taxpayers if the fund exceeds a certain amount.”

The bill’s sponsor is Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, who says it’s needed to keep the state from overspending in good economic times. During a hearing last week in the House Government Committee, Deputy State Treasurer Vance Holloman told lawmakers that the amendment could result in the lowering of the state’s bond rating.
The bill goes next to the Finance Committee, and it must be approved by a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate and majority of voters in a referendum.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED: Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules. One more reason you can’t leave them alone for a minute: Gannon reports that Democrats on the House Government Committee were puzzled on Thursday to see they were considering a bill that had been voted down in a different committee the previous day. Even House Rules chairman, Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said he couldn’t immediately recall another time during his tenure as rules chairman that it had been done.

The bill, which would abolish the Courts Commission, was rejected by the House Judiciary subcommittee.
Moore told Gannon it had been done at the request of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly. The Courts Commission oversees judicial functions in the state. House Bill 820 has the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Justice and Public Safety take over that oversight. It also allows the governor to appoint district court judges without considering recommendations from the judicial district bar in the area where the vacancy exists. Currently, the governor makes those appointments from nominations submitted by the district bar.

Gannon reports: “Democrats on the committee expressed concern about putting the courts system under the oversight of the legislative branch, as well as giving the governor the discretion to appoint anyone to fill district court vacancies without input from local attorneys. Kim Crouch, a lobbyist for the N.C. Bar Association, said the measure was ‘politicizing the process.’ ... Moore, the Rules chairman, said he supports giving the elected governor the discretion to appoint judges over a non-elected group. “Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, an attorney, said he believed allowing lawmakers to oversee the courts represented a ‘clear separation of powers problem.’ Mildred Spearman, a legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, told the committee she believed those concerns were ‘very valid.’ Burr responded that lawmakers already oversee most state agencies. ‘This is the responsibility of the legislature,’ he said.” The bill may go to the House floor next.

THIS IS THE GUN DATA LAWMAKERS WANT TO SEAL SHUT: More than 60 people who hold active Mecklenburg County permits to buy handguns have been convicted of felonies, some involving guns, an Observer data analysis shows. Five were convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three of manslaughter, two of firing into occupied property and one of second-degree murder. Others were convicted of assaults that left victims badly injured or of using weapons to attack government officials.

The Observer’s analysis also found about 230 permit holders with drug convictions, including dozens of people with multiple convictions. North Carolina law says permit holders can’t use or be addicted to illegal drugs. The findings – which come from gun data the N.C. General Assembly is seeking to close to the public – reveal a faulty permitting system that fails to detect newly convicted criminals or to give law enforcement the authority to revoke gun permits. Read the story here and see an interactive map here.

POLITICO -- GOP, Koch brothers find there's nothing finer than Carolina: "The GOP lost big nationally in 2012, but may have found the key to future success in one southern state. Cash from groups backed by the Koch brothers and others helped North Carolina Republicans build a robust conservative infrastructure and fundraising network, leading to the GOP winning both the governor’s mansion and the state legislature in the same year for the first time since Reconstruction. …The hope, say conservatives, is to replicate their successes elsewhere.“Getting dramatic economic change at the federal level is very difficult,” said Tim Phillips, president of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. “A few years ago, the idea we had was to create model states. North Carolina was a great opportunity to do that – more so than any other state in the region. If you could turn around a state like that, you could get real reform.”

"…“I’ll do anything for an hour with David Axelrod and for him to tell us what do to,” said Martin Nesbitt, a top Democrat in the state Senate.

NO POPE INTERVIEW FOR YOU: "McCrory and Pope both declined requests for an interview. A spokesperson for the governor’s office told POLITICO they were being “selective in what kinds of interviews [Pope] does.”

DEMOCRATS REGROUP: "Dean Debnam, director of N.C. Futures Action Fund, a tax-exempt nonprofit which bankrolled a number of liberal outside groups in 2012, said he is meeting with donors and national groups to expand the donor base and has doubled his staff since November. “We don’t have a base that’s equivalent to the Koch brothers or an Art Pope,” Debnam said. “But there’s a great amount of concern and people are putting money at a level that they haven’t done before.” Full story.

STATE GOP REACH INTO LOCAL AFFAIRS GETS NATIONAL ATTENTION: AP story datelined from Atlanta -- Even with Republicans holding unprecedented political power across the South, Democrats remain mostly in charge of urban centers in otherwise conservative states. Yet increasingly that control is threatened, not at the ballot box, but by Republican-led legislatures reaching into local governing decisions, often over objections. In Georgia and North Carolina, GOP efforts range from regionalizing the Charlotte airport, the Atlanta metro transit system and the Asheville water system to redrawing district lines for local offices to benefit Republican candidates. Full story.

CHRISTENSEN: A salute to mom. Full story.

ICYMI -- Berger's bold tax plan: State Senate leader Phil Berger is a serious elected official with ambition and vision. His tax plan released this week is big and bodacious. His proposal will ignite a fierce debate about the size of state government, who and what should be taxed, and at what rate. Full story.

NATIONAL DEMS AGAIN USE N.C. TO RAISE MONEY: The latest email comes in the name of Donna Brazile on behalf of the Democratic National Committee. "Republicans in North Carolina are trying to make it harder for college students to vote. They're moving a bill through the state Senate that will impose a burdensome tax on the parents of North Carolina college students who choose to register to vote where they live, in their college communities. This bill is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and unconscionable. Tell Republicans in the North Carolina Senate that they've gone too far. Add your name to our petition."

LOBBYING MONEY SWAYS IMMIGRATION BILL: Money has played a major role in the current drama to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, with millions of dollars spent in the past year trying to influence or kill various proposals that could affect a variety of special interests. As senators begin debate on the so-called Gang of Eight’s proposal, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people here illegally, hundreds of lobbyists representing tech companies, agriculture interests and students, along with families living here illegally, have flanked Capital Hill to ensure members of Congress address their needs. Full story.
--Mary Cornatzer and Lynn Bonner contributed.


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