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Morning Memo: GOP not united on budget; Tillis explains abortion vote

REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO PASS THEIR OWN BUDGET: Ten House Republicans voted against their party's $20.6 billion spending plan, including one of the chief budget writers. GOP leaders held an extra lengthy caucus meeting Tuesday to whip members to vote for the bill but hours before hand lobbyists reported that it looked like it could fail.

The House passed the budget on a 66-52 preliminary vote. … It’s somewhat unusual for the majority party to lose more than a handful of its members’ on a budget vote. It’s even rarer for a budget committee leader to vote against the budget as did Rep. Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican.“I was not pleased with the education budget,” Johnson said. (More below.)

THOM TILLIS SETS HIS ABORTION VOTE STRAIGHT: Every move House Speaker Thom Tillis makes is viewed through the prism of his U.S. Senate campaign in 2014. And for weeks the Republican's rationale for supporting the House's much-debated abortion measure remained quiet. Asked about it Tuesday, Tillis said "it happens to be something that I support and I thought if I didn't, they'd say, 'Why didn't you?' so I thought would solve the question by making it very clear where I stood on the bill." It puts Tillis, who is considered a moderate Republican, in the same position as Rick Santorum. (Read why below.)

***Keep reading for more North Carolina political intelligence in today's Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The headlines from Jones Street will look familiar today: more discussion on the state budget, voter ID and election laws. And more Finance and Rules committee meetings in the House and Senate that will surely create more surprises to the whirlwind end of session. The Senate Rules Committee will consider a bill to rewrite the state's personnel laws and give McCrory more political appointments, a top priority of the governor. The House Rules calendar includes a bill to allow the city of Cary to put public notices from local governments online instead of publishing them in a local newspaper.

The House and Senate will take final votes on the budget while the full Senate tackles the elections bill Democrats call a "monstrosity." The House calendar also includes two local measures: a bill giving the Wake County commissioners control of school buildings and another delaying Jordan Lake water quality rules. Gov. Pat McCrory is having breakfast with lawmakers and lists items on his public calendar.

WHY REPUBLICANS VOTED AGAINST THE BUDGET: No House Republicans spoke against the budget during the debate, but afterward several offered a range of reasons why they were opposed. Some didn’t like that that it phases-out teacher tenure, eliminating it in 2018. Some didn’t like that some teachers working on advanced degrees won’t get the pay raises promised for earning them.

Rep. Nathan Ramsey, a Buncombe County Republican, said he voted for the House version even though it includes a voucher program that gives tax money to some students to attend private schools, something he does not support. The House and Senate pass separate budgets before negotiators in each chamber work on a compromise.

Provisions to end teacher tenure added to the compromise budget pushed Ramsey over the edge. “When I talk to my teachers back home, they feel like ‘What have you done for us lately,’ ” he said.

With teacher salaries scraping the bottom of national rankings, Democrats said budget writers ignored an opportunity to increase their pay and to keep thousands of teacher assistants and teachers employed. “This budget is better called ‘No Teacher Left Standing,’ ” said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat. Read more here.

VOTER ID, ELECTION BILL LEAD TO BITTER PARTISAN END: North Carolina lawmakers are poised to approve one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the nation, curtail early voting, and limit voter registration efforts under a Republican-crafted bill that expanded Tuesday to include a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s election laws.

The measure crystallizes a legislative term in which Republicans flexed their unprecedented political muscle to shift the state’s political compass, and ensures that the session ends with a bitter partisan fight that will draw more national scrutiny.

The bill’s sponsors say the measures are needed to restore integrity to the state’s elections, despite statistics showing little verified voter fraud. Democrats say the legislation is a thinly veiled attempt by the state’s ruling party to cement its advantage for future elections, rammed through the legislature in the final days of the session.

The full Senate is expected to approve the measure Wednesday and send it to the House, where Speaker Thom Tillis said it would pass. Read more here. SIDEBAR: Students worry bill restricts young voters. Read more here.

ELECTIONS BILL PUTS TILLIS IN TOUGH SPOT: House Speaker Thom Tillis said the chamber he leads will support the Senate's sweeping elections measure. But earlier this year, he said it was the wrong direction to limit early voting -- which the bills does.

Here's what Tillis told News 14's Tim Boyum: “I think that as long as we do not really restrict the number of days,” Tillis said. “There are some inconsistencies around counties, but I think that early voting is a good thing. In my election, I won before election day in early voting. The question about whether we should have consistent days and times across the state is a valid question and I’m sure people will ask about that. But, I don’t see a significant ratcheting back of the number of days available for early voting. Part of that is the cost involved. If you compress it as we’ve heard in Florida and other states, you could have a significantly greater number of people waiting a significantly longer amount of time on election day, so we need to take that into account.” Get more from News 14 here.

McCRORY SIGNS TAX BILL AT MANSION: Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders struck a deal on the plan a week ago after months of consternation about the party’s signature legislative issue. But economists suggest the final measure doesn’t meet Republican’s pledge to reform the tax system to make it more stable. It also represents a retreat for the governor, who pledged in the campaign and his State of the State address to make it revenue neutral, meaning it would not affect government spending. Read more here.

SIDE NOTE: Earlier this year, McCrory redefined "revenue-neutral" and now his staff is redefining the building where he lives on Blount Street. For months, McCrory's office called it the "Executive Mansion" -- but now media releases call it the "Governor's Residence." (Maybe the word "mansion" didn't look good on a press release about the signing of a tax bill that gives lager breaks to higher-income earners?) No matter what the governor's office calls it, the sign out front still says "Executive Mansion."

LITTLE-NOTICED BUDGET PROVISION SWEEPS CLEAN TWO ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSIONS -- The son of SB10 is in the budget: The budget before the legislature this week would make significant changes to two commissions that adopt environmental regulations in North Carolina. The bill would end the terms of nearly all the members on both commissions, giving Gov. Pat McCrory and current legislative leaders unprecedented power to appoint new environmental rule makers. It would also shrink the size of both commissions and eliminate some seats designated for people with certain interests and expertise.

Terms for all but three members of the 19-person Environmental Management Commission would expire at the end of the month. The EMC is responsible for setting a range of environmental regulations, including allowable levels for air and water pollutants and rules for protecting groundwater, managing stormwater and guiding development in environmentally sensitive areas. … “It is unprecedented to eliminate all of the current members on a commission like the EMC,” Smith said. “I don’t know what the make-up of the new EMC will be. My fear is that the new appointees will be selected to follow the radical agenda of the current Republican leadership.” Read more here.

ROUNDUP: More legislative news here.

FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE RICK SANTORUM ENDORSES N.C. ABORTION BILL: From a press release: "Former Republican presidential candidate and Chairman of Patriot Voices Rick Santorum announced today his support of Senate Bill 353, currently before the North Carolina legislature that, among several notable measures, would increase protections for mothers and unborn children and prohibit abortion based on gender. 

"I am pleased to stand up and support critical legislation that will protect unborn babies in North Carolina.  If we don't take a stand to support our most fundamental right to life, then no other rights matter.  Every life should be protected and every life has value, and I am pleased to join pro-life allies in North Carolina to see that this bill becomes law," said Rick Santorum.  "I have been proud to stand with pro-life leaders around the country to usher in a new era of pro-life legislation that will protect our unborn children.  It is my hope that the two chambers can come to an agreement on strong pro-life legislation that the governor will sign into law."

NOT A GOOD HEADLINE: As North Carolina lawmakers approve a measure backed by Gov. Pat McCrory to push forward with offshore drilling, another headline from the Gulf of Mexico won't help: "Gas well in Gulf catches fire after blowout" Read the story here.

IT'S NOT THIS CRAZY: The end of the legislative session can seem overwhelming -- especially for political reporters and junkies -- as lawmakers push through major policy changes without taking much of a breath in between. But it could be worse -- there could be this story.

McCRORY SIGNS MORE BILLS INTO LAW: The governor signed another 30 bills into law, highlighting only one about breast density awareness (HB467). The others only received an acronym: HB 26, HB 194, HB 232, HB 255, HB 510, HB 616, HB 636, HB 646, HB 662, HB 700, HB 701, HB 796, HB 802, SB 43, SB 73, SB 140, SB 200, SB 223, SB 344, SB 372, SB 386, SB 406, SB 407, SB 444, SB 454, SB 455, SB 488, SB 505 and SB 659.

GOOD QUESTION: What does the governor make of the state budget, the elections bill or the flurry here at the end of session? Good question. He didn't take them from reporters Tuesday.

FORMER LAWMAKER SUES MAN KILLED IN CAR WRECK: A former North Carolina legislator who was seriously injured in a 2011 car crash is suing the estate of the man killed in the accident as well as the bar which he says served the victim too much alcohol. The Winston-Salem Journal reports former State Rep. Larry Womble filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that David Allen Carmichael drank too much and was driving recklessly, leading to the crash that killed him.

Womble also sued 6th & Vine, a bar and restaurant which he says served Carmichael too much alcohol, even after it was evident that Carmichael was intoxicated. The lawsuit seeks more than $10,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Read more here.

JUDGE HALTS PRACTICE OF PRAYER BEFORE GOVERNMENT MEETINGS: AP: A federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday ordering the Rowan County commissioners to halt their practice of opening government meetings with a prayer. The ruling was issued in U.S. Middle District Court in Greensboro by Judge James A. Beaty Jr. 

“We are very pleased that the court reaffirmed one of the most basic principles of religious liberty - that all members of the community should be treated and welcomed equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, who is representing the plaintiffs. “Opening government meetings with prayers that are specific to only one religion not only alienates people of different beliefs but also clearly violates the Constitution's protection of religious liberty,” Brook said in a statement issued after the judge's decision. Read more here.

REP. HAMILTON TAKES JOB AS TOWN MANAGER: From the Wilmington StarNews: "State Rep. Susi Hamilton is adding another position: Carolina Beach town manager. Hamilton, who is serving her second term in the state House, has no plans on stepping down. In a statement issued Tuesday, Hamilton wrote, "It is important to note that the North Carolina General Assembly does not require a member to resign in order to accept a full-time position, and there are no immediate plans for any change in my elected status." Read more here.


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