Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Hagan supports immigration bill, Burr against

HAGAN TO SUPPORT IMMIGRATION BILL: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Wednesday announced that she’ll vote for an immigration overhaul that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, saying it will help North Carolina’s economy and strengthen the nation’s border security. “I’m ready to support a common-sense bill that’s going to fix our broken immigration system so that everybody plays by the same rules today,” the first-term Democrat said. “After listening to a wide variety of stakeholders throughout North Carolina, it’s clear to me supporting bill is the right decision for North Carolina.”

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A couple hot-button measures are resurfacing at the state legislature Thursday. The Commonsense Consumption Act, an ALEC-sponsored bill to give food manufacturers immunity against obesity-related lawsuits, appears in the Senate judiciary committee at 10 a.m. The N.C. version of the bill also includes a "Big Gulp" provision to prevent cities from passing a ban on large-sized sodas. A Sharia law measure is off the agenda. On the floor, the House will take a final vote on a bill to privatize much of the state commerce department and require certain abortion-related education in middle school health classes. The Senate will consider a bill that would restrict the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, thwarting other state efforts to set tough rules on the issue.

Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a dinner hosted by a nonprofit organized to boost his agenda in Greensboro this evening, a day after he defended it against critics who say it represents pay-for-access for special interests. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to attend the dinner, which costs $1,000 for two tickets. Dr. Ben Carson, the latest conservative TV darling, will appear at a 6:30 p.m. event in Raleigh to benefit the Upper Room church’s school.

***More on Kay Hagan's immigration vote and her potential GOP rival Thom Tillis' campaign, along with SCOTUS reaction and Mel Watt's confirmation fight, all below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

HAGAN SAYS BORDER SECURITY IS KEY: Hagan said an amendment the Senate passed 69-29 on Wednesday to strengthen border security was an important part of what persuaded her to support the bill. It spends $46 billion for 20,000 additional border agents and 700 miles more of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. The plan also pays for additional cameras, drones and other surveillance equipment.

People throughout the state said “we have to have tough border security protections,” said Hagan, a vulnerable Democrat facing re-election race next year. “To me, that was a major litmus test for me being able to support this bill.”

RICHARD BURR TO VOTE AGAINST: Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., plans to vote against the immigration bill on Thursday, barring any “drastic changes,” his press secretary, Robert Reid, said Wednesday. Burr doesn’t believe the legislation does enough to stop illegal immigration, Reid said. He voted against the border security amendment. The aide said Burr’s view was that the amendment was throwing money at the problem, but its approach was inadequate. Full story.

TILLIS SKIPS CONTENTIOUS ABORTION BILL DEBATE FOR FUNDRAISER: House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running to replace Hagan in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, left the legislature Wednesday shortly after 3 p.m. to attend a 5 p.m. fundraiser in Charlotte. Tillis missed a debate on a bill about abortion education that critics say would put disputed science into N.C. classrooms.

Democrats pounced on the Tillis exit. "Speaker Tillis is showing North Carolina what he thinks of women’s health by walking out on this debate for a fundraiser,” said Ben Ray, a N.C. Democratic Party spokesman, in a prepared statement. “North Carolina women deserve leaders who stand up for their health instead of ducking important debates in the legislature to line their campaign coffers. Speaker Tillis, do your job.”

GAY MARRIAGE DECISIONS: The Supreme Court made history Wednesday with two victories for marriage equality, in California and nationwide.

In a pair of highly anticipated decisions, the divided court effectively undercut California’s Proposition 8 and struck down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Though one of the decisions was written narrowly, together they provide an emphatic, if incomplete, win for advocates of same-sex marriage. The decisions, issued on the final day of the term that started last October, address different issues. In each, a slim 5-4 majority rallied for the position that effectively supported same-sex marriage. Full story.

WHAT IT MEANS IN NORTH CAROLINA: Though advocates of same-sex marriage in North Carolina are drawing encouragement from the Supreme Court’s decision to reject parts of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, it may not lead to immediate changes in the state.

Stuart Campbell, executive director of gay advocacy group Equality NC, said the court’s ruling amounts to a moral victory. “What this decision does is provide encouragement to all gays and lesbians in North Carolina and the country as a whole,” Campbell said. “What the tangible impact will be for states like North Carolina remains to be seen.”

Many people are examining the Supreme Court opinion to determine whether it opens up new legal challenges to North Carolina’s amendment that makes in unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages, Campbell said. Otherwise, the path to same-sex marriage in North Carolina would require repealing the constitutional amendment, which Campbell admitted would be very unlikely with the current legislature. Full story.

EDUCATORS REACT TO ABORTION REQUIREMENT: Cyrene Hardy, a health and physical education teacher at Athens Drive High School, says she never discusses abortion in her classes. When students ask about it, she suggests they talk to their parents or counselors. But a bill the House tentatively approved Wednesday will require her and other teachers to educate students in seventh grade and above that abortion can cause premature births. Hardy said she wouldn’t mind the change in curriculum if it’s based in fact. “I don’t mind teaching facts, saying ‘These are the statistics,’ and I think kids should know the statistics,” she said. Opponents of the bill, however, argue that other research calls the bill into question. Absent from much of both sides of the debate are the views of health instructors who would actually be delivering the information to North Carolinian teenagers. Full story.

WAKE GOP CONDEMNS PROTESTS: Two days after the eighth wave of demonstrators assembled at the North Carolina Legislative Building, Wake County Republican Party leaders described the weekly protests as “just a test of wills.”

“These protests are really just a test of wills,” Donna Williams, chairwoman of the Wake County GOP, contended in a statement. “After one hundred-plus years of Democratic control in state government, the people rallied last November and said, ‘We want change.’ The protesters are not listening.”

Three more people – including NAACP state field secretary Rob Stephens – were cited in a protest at the state Capitol on Wednesday evening. The trio made it clear they wanted to be taken into custody, locking arms, singing spirituals and refusing to leave when observers were told to exit and the building closed. Full story.

DEMOCRATS FIGHT TO KEEP BENEFITS FROM EXPIRING: The top Democrats in the state legislature say they will continue to fight a new law that ends unemployment benefits for 70,000 people on July 1 – even though the odds are stacked against them.

At a news conference Wednesday, Democratic legislators railed against their Republican counterparts, who control the General Assembly, for heartlessly “punishing” the long-term unemployed at a time when the state’s unemployment rate of 8.8 percent is the fifth highest in the nation. They also complained that North Carolina is the only state in the nation that has taken action that will prevent workers from receiving extended, federally funded unemployment benefits that kick in after jobless workers exhaust their state-funded benefits. “This is getting to be a mean, mean place for people at the bottom and working families in this state,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville. Full story.

NOTE: Rep. Larry Hall filed a discharge petition in the House on Wednesday in an effort to revive a measure to block the expiration of benefits.

McCRORY WANTS TAX DEAL SOON: "I hope we can reach (a tax) consensus within the next week among the leadership. I don't want this to drag out much longer," the governor told AP. "I either want to come to a consensus on a plan, or move on to many of the other important items we all have to deal with."

WHEN WILL WE GET OUT OF HERE: Not before July 4. So if you picked July 3 in the adjournment pool, sorry. Sen. Tom Apodaca said Wednesday the Senate will leave July 3 for the holiday (extended) weekend and return July 8. And stay "until we are done."

McCRORY SIGNS LOTS OF BILLS: The list from the governor's office of bills McCrory signed Wednesday: HB 390, HB 664, HB 60, HB 219, HB 223, HB 240, HB 248, HB 322, HB 331 , HB 332, HB 333, HB 433, HB 459, HB 587, HB 597, HB 641, HB 686, HB 817, HB 830, HB 891, SB 8, SB 25, SB 285, SB 336, SB 358, SB 461, SB 494 and SB 639.

NCGA ROUNDUP: Convicted felons would be able to petition to own guns 10 years after finishing their sentences rather than the current 20 under a bill that had its first hearing Wednesday. It would also change the requirement that petitioners have only one non-violent felony on their record, and instead require they have no convictions for any violent felony. Read more from the legislature here.

WATT FACES CONFIRMATION FIGHT: U.S. Rep. Mel Watt faces an uphill battle Thursday at a Senate confirmation hearing as the nominee to lead the federal agency that oversees mortgage finance. Many Republicans are happy with the current caretaker and worry that the Charlotte Democrat will bring a social agenda to the post.

Watt, who has represented North Carolina’s 12th District since 1993, would bring plenty of policy history but little private-sector experience to the job of heading the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The little-known agency regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage-finance titans that have been in government conservatorship since 2008. Full story.

OBIT: Juanita Baker, a trailblazer for women and African-Americans in the N.C. Department of Corrections and the widow of former Wake County Sheriff John Baker, died Tuesday evening. She was 78. Baker served in positions at the Department of Correction most of her career, starting as a teacher for inmates and ending as the chairwoman of the statewide Parole Commission. Full story.

DUKE ENERGY POUNDED IN HEARING: Seniors on fixed incomes and moms who fear their kids face environmental ruin dominated the opening of a Wednesday night hearing in Charlotte on Duke Energy Carolinas’ latest rate hike. Under a proposed settlement filed last week, Duke would accept an overall 4.5 percent rate increase that grows to 5.1 percent after two years. That’s about half of what Duke initially sought. Typical residential bills would go up in September from about $103 a month to $110.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission still has to approve the increase, Duke Carolinas’ third since 2009, and some customer groups haven’t agreed to the settlement. The commission will begin hearing expert testimony in Raleigh on July 8. Full story.

THE DUKE OF THE UTILITIES COMMISSION: IndyWeek, a weekly alternative
publication in the Triangle, takes a look at the ties between Gov. Pat McCrory’s former employer Duke Energy and the N.C. Utilities Commission. Read it here.

PERSONNEL FILE: From the governor's office: McCrory reappointed Ed Finley as chairman of the N.C. Utilities Commission. "Ed brings vast experience and a wealth of knowledge on issues relating to the utility industry and our economy," McCrory said. "I appreciate Ed’s willingness to continue in this leadership role and I look forward to working with him in the future."

THE TRASH STORY FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BORDER: A view of the North Carolina landfill bill from the Virginia side. Read it here. Spoiler alert: They aren’t happy.

CHARLOTTE AIRPORT MESS REACHING AN END? Months of acrimonious debate over Charlotte’s airport may be headed to a cooling-off period, thanks in part to quiet interventions by the governor, a top lawmaker and a prominent Charlotte businessman. Two Mecklenburg County lawmakers Wednesday unveiled a proposal that would create a commission to study the future of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. One called the proposal “a work in progress,” and passage is far from assured. Full story.

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