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Morning Memo: From voting rights to marriage, N.C. eyes turn to SCOTUS

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The legislative pot is beginning to boil. A busy week with a lot of moving parts continues Wednesday. A House panel will consider a bill to allow nonprofits to have casino gambling events for fundraisers while a Senate committee considers changes to the state health plan that are being closely watched by the State Employees Association. Another House committee will debate a bill -- S638 -- that the Sierra Club warns would “declassify almost half North Carolina's wetlands overnight.”

Democratic lawmakers will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. to highlight the end of federal extended unemployment benefits July 1, a move prompted by a Republican-crafted bill to curtail benefits and lower the state's debt for paid claims. The N.C. NAACP will also press Gov. Pat McCrory's office this afternoon on a variety of issues as part of its continued effort to blunt the GOP legislative agenda.

The Senate calendar is full later in the day and the House will consider a massive overhaul of the state’s commerce agency with a bill that would privatize some job recruiting efforts and debate a bill about abortion education. Gov. Pat McCrory will hold an event this morning to sign the transportation funding bill, one of his early policy victories.

SCOTUS RULING PUSHES VOTER ID FORWARD: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act could have far-reaching effects in North Carolina – affecting everything from voting districts to voter ID legislation. The court effectively struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Though it left intact Section 5, which gives the Justice Department special oversight over voting laws in some states, it nullified the formula on which that oversight is based. The ruling’s most immediate impact could be felt in the expected passage of a new voter ID requirement in North Carolina. “(It) should speed things along greatly,” Sen. Tom Apodaca said.

***More on the voter ID measure in a lengthy rundown of the action at the #NCGA below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

THE DECISION: The 5-4 decision drew strong criticism from Democrats. President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed.” U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, whose 12th District has been the subject of no less than four Voting Rights cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the ruling “leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to discrimination in the most fundamental right of citizenship – the right to vote.” But many Republicans hailed the decision. “It’s time to bring the Section 5 rulings into this century, not the last century,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee.

Though Section 5 covers only 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, federal oversight has made itself felt across the state. Since 1981, the Justice Department has rejected North Carolina redistricting plans eight times.

VOTER ID: Apodaca said a voter ID bill is expected to emerge from a Senate committee next week. The House already passed an ID bill along party lines. Under Tuesday’s ruling, the bill apparently would no longer need Justice Department approval. “It becomes law on passage and that should give everybody grave concern,” said Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat opposed to the legislation. Critics say it would primarily keep low-income voters from the polls. Full story.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY EVENTS PLANNED AHEAD OF TODAY'S RULING: All eyes return to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as decisions in two gay marriage cases regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 are announced. The LGBT Center in Raleigh will hold a "Decision Day" viewing party this morning and an 8 p.m. event at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church also organized by United for Marriage.

BILL PASSES, MONEY FLOWS TO TILLIS: From AP -- The man who helped direct a $1.8 million political and lobbying effort for consumer finance lenders is co-hosting a fundraiser for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis' fledgling U.S. Senate campaign, less than a week after a bill hiking profits for the industry became state law.

Tillis was expected to be in Greenville Tuesday for a luncheon co-hosted by Time Investment Corp. president Royce Everette, who owns 19 consumer finance offices across the state. Everette is also the chairman of legislative affairs for the Resident Lenders of North Carolina, an industry group that championed passage of a bill raising interest rates and fees on the consumer finance loans marketed to low-income borrowers. More here.

NOW HERE IS A HEADLINE ... courtesy of the Asheville Citizen-Times website: "Tom Apodaca: Moral Monday protest was 'crap'" Read the story here.

CR KEEPS GOVERNMENT ALIVE AT 95% LEVELS: The state House and Senate passed a short-term spending plan Tuesday to keep government running after Sunday, the end of the budget year. The bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign, allows the state to spend money on “nonessential functions” and pay salaries through July 30. It’s expected that the state will have a permanent budget by then.

The continuing resolution, as it’s called, funds state operations at 95 percent of current levels. It was approved 37-12 in the Senate and 111-0 in the House. Full story.

CHARTER SCHOOL BOARD NIXED: The main advocate for a semi-independent state board to govern charter schools has dropped the controversial idea in favor of setting up a new charter advisory council. Sen. Jerry Tillman, sponsor of a bill that would have set up the semi-autonomous board, said he was satisfied with most of the changes a House committee approved Tuesday.

With a rewritten bill in hand, opposition largely dropped away, with some Democrats and the N.C. Public Charter School Association saying they could now support the measure. Top-level education officials, including new State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey, opposed the idea of a charter board making decisions that could be overruled only by a supermajority vote of the State Board.

Under the revised law, only half of a school’s kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers would need professional licenses, down from 75 percent. Matt Ellinwood of the Justice Center questioned the change. “There’s no shortage of certified teachers,” he said. Full story.

ANTI-TESLA EFFORT STALLS: Without mentioning the California carmaker by name, a House committee pulled the plug Tuesday on a campaign by the state’s automobile dealers to block sales in North Carolina of the electric-powered Tesla. A bill that won unanimous Senate approval in May would make Tesla’s business model illegal, requiring the company to sell through franchised dealers.

House leaders were cool to the proposal, which came to light just as Tesla was reporting quarterly profits and earning rave reviews for its Model S sedan – the Motor Trend magazine Car of the Year. House Speaker Thom Tillis said good things about the Tesla sedan after he took it for a test drive, and Gov. Pat McCrory took a spin, too. Full story.

LAWMAKERS MAY PRE-EMPT FRACKING RULE-MAKING BOARD: A state Senate committee voted Tuesday to allow shale gas drilling companies to engage in fracking in North Carolina without disclosing all the toxic chemicals they plan to inject into the ground. The unexpected move could sideline the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission – which had vowed to write the nation’s strictest chemical disclosure rule – from developing safety standards for one of the most important and controversial aspects of shale gas exploration. Full story.

McCRORY'S OFFICE DRAFTS COMPROMISE TAX OUTLINE: As part of the high-stakes tax overhaul negotiations, Gov. Pat McCrory’s office distributed a scenario that appears to offer a compromise – but one that suggests a much more modest tax cut than Republican lawmakers desire. The document that State Budget Director Art Pope recently sent to select House lawmakers outlines a concept that would gradually reduce state income taxes and expand the sales tax to dozens of additional services, such as car repairs and appliance installations. McCrory reviewed the alternative proposal before it was shared with lawmakers, but his office was careful to say he did not endorse it.

In the first year, the plan is revenue neutral, though an analysis from the governor’s office shows it could add state tax dollars. In the next three years, the cuts to state revenues from tax breaks are modest, limiting spending by a fraction of what House and Senate Republicans leaders are proposing. Full story.

ABORTION EDUCATION BILL MOVES TO FLOOR: A North Carolina House panel endorsed a bill Tuesday requiring educators to teach that abortions are linked to later premature births, sending the measure to the full body for approval. If passed without changes on the House floor, the bill would move on to Gov. Pat McCrory. An amended version of the bill that passed the Senate with Democratic support last month requires students to learn about other risk factors for preterm births besides having an abortion, but House Democrats pushed for additional changes.
Opponents of the bill have questioned the scientific basis for linking abortion to preterm births later in life and have called the bill an attempt to rewrite curriculum to align with conservative political ideology. Full story.

SPEED LIMIT BILL MAY BECOME STUDY: The 75-mph speed limit proposal from Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, cleared the Senate quickly in April with only one dissenting vote. But House members from both parties attacked the proposal during two days of floor debate last week, and during its second airing Tuesday in the House Transportation Committee. “I don’t think this is good safety policy,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, a Concord Republican. “I don’t think it’s even worthy of a study.”

Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat, said her 15-year-old grandchildren were “mortified” by the prospect of higher speeds on state highways. “I’ll support this study, but sometimes when a bad bill should be killed, it is revived by a study,” Carney said to Rep. Frank Iler, an Oak Island Republican who co-chairs an oversight committee that would evaluate the proposed DOT study. “I trust you to look seriously at this.” Full story.

AIRPORT AUTHORITY EFFORT STALLS: The push for a new Charlotte airport authority, which at one point appeared fast-tracked for passage, might be delayed until next legislative session. N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley, the lead House sponsor of the authority measure, told the Observer on Tuesday that it could be headed to a study committee. “We’re probably going to create a study of the airport,” said Brawley, a Mathews Republican. “We probably will not have an authority by the end of the session.” Full story.

OBAMA CLIMATE CHANGE PUSH KEY FOR DUKE ENERGY: The nation’s second-largest source of greenhouse gases, Duke Energy, will have much at stake as the Environmental Protection Agency crafts carbon standards for new and existing power plants. Only Ohio-based American Electric Power ranks higher for carbon emissions, the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reported this month. Duke says it ranks 14th in carbon intensity, which measures emissions by unit of energy generated.

The nation’s largest utility had little to say directly about Obama’s climate plan Tuesday, praising his call for a diverse mix of energy sources. Duke said it will work with the EPA on a plan “that will allow us to deliver a secure and reliable supply of electricity at affordable rates and that will not adversely impact the economy.” Full story.

ICYMI: Atkinson fears teacher shortage if conditions don't improve: North Carolina is losing ground in teacher pay and losing teachers to other states, state Schools Superintendent June Atkinson said Monday. That could leave the state facing a teacher shortage down the road, Atkinson said during a meeting with Citizen-Times editorial board. Full story.

McCRORY TALKS TRANSPORTATION: The governor gave an interview to the Fayetteville Observer on Tuesday about his new transportation plan. Read it here. The news didn't make the front page, which is dominated with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and cuts to Fort Bragg.

A FINAL NOTE: Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos recaps her statewide tour in a guest column.


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