Under the Dome

Morning Memo: House, Senate leaders claim victories in budget deal

BUDGET DEAL UNVEILED: House and Senate leaders released the compromise $20.6 billion budget plan Sunday evening. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger can claim wins. Eugenics compensation and vouchers are priorities for Tillis, a candidate for U.S. Senate. Berger has tried for more than a year to end teacher tenure. The two men's victories speak volumes about their political leanings and strategy and how a potential race between them would look. Berger will decide by the end of the month whether he will challenge Tillis in the GOP primary.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The 12th "Moral Monday" demonstration at the legislature will focus on a new voter ID measure. More than 800 protesters have been arrested so far with more expected Monday.

The Senate worked Friday and left the House quite a to-do list. The House calendar today includes bills pertaining to private school vouchers, a massive rewrite of state regulations, drug testing and background checks for public assistance recipients, fracking and charter schools. A bill to further delay Jordan Lake water quality standards is also on the agenda. The Senate won't take any votes Monday -- allowing Senate leader Phil Berger to attend the Republican State Leadership Committee meeting in California. He is chairman of the organization's campaign committee.

***Get more on the state state budget and a North Carolina political news roundup to start the final week of the legislative session below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

WHAT'S IN THE BUDGET: Legislators are set to vote on a historic $20.6 billion budget this week that would have the state take a giant step toward further privatization of education, end teacher tenure, and compensate victims of the government eugenics program.

Teacher assistants take a hit in the budget released Sunday, which reduces state spending on them by $120 million, or about 21 percent. The budget ends funding for the embattled Rural Economic Development Center, whose longtime president, Billy Ray Hall, resigned under pressure last week. The budget creates a division focused on rural economic development within the state Department of Commerce.

At UNC schools, out-of-state students would see tuition increases of as much as 12.3 percent next year. Tuition at community colleges will increase $2.50 per credit hour this year, bringing the cost to $71.50 per credit hour for in-state students.

The House and Senate passed separate budgets last spring that spent about the same amount of money, but represented different priorities. The budget released Sunday represents a compromise between the two chambers. Read more here. SIDEBAR: More on the Rural Center here.

FINAL WEEK: AP: The North Carolina General Assembly aims to wind down its 2013 session this coming week — perhaps just in time, too. House and Senate Republicans, like Democratic leaders once in charge before them, have seen tempers flare and frustrations grow as the session continued several weeks beyond projections, causing one GOP senator to complain last week he was "sick of the House." GOP Gov. Pat McCrory's legislative wish list and the weekly "Moral Monday" protests critical of Republican policies are adding to the tension.

WHAT THIS WEEK WILL LOOK LIKE: More disorder awaits the session's final days as lawmakers and lobbyists attempt to negotiate agreements on major outstanding legislation and find ways to kill bills — or at least put them off until the next regularly scheduled session in May. The legislature is likely to work from morning until evening, and maybe even after midnight, to close up shop, probably no sooner than Thursday. "It's chaos — unorganized chaos," Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said.

Harold Brubaker, who served 35 years in the House, including four as the Republican speaker in 1990s, said there's no route around the disarray. "It will look like a flurry of activity, with at some points no rhyme or reason, but that's part of getting the session to wind down," said Brubaker, who is now a lobbyist watching bills for his clients. "It's always been this way." Read more here.

ABORTION MEASURES CLOSE CLINICS IN OTHER STATES: The House version of the bill was rewritten to require abortion clinics to upgrade only to meet ambulatory surgical center standards that are applicable. Its sponsor says the wording was softened to ensure that the law doesn’t close clinics but protects health and safety. But abortion providers and their organizations are skeptical.

Clinics have closed in other states. Two clinics closed in Virginia following recent legislation there. Planned Parenthood says it is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on each of its three health centers in Virginia to put in new heating and air conditioning, deeper sinks with foot pedals, widening emergency exit doors, and installing aluminum awnings, according to Melissa Reed of Planned Parenthood Health Systems.

She said two of the clinics were built to the higher surgical center standards at the time, but aren’t allowed to be grandfathered in. Other clinics have closed in recent years in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Mississippi’s only clinic would close under a new law passed there, which has been put on hold by a lawsuit.

GOSNELL CASE PUSHES LEGISLATION ACROSS NATION: Forty-three provisions restricting abortions have been enacted across the country in the first half of this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the second-highest number ever. The institute supports abortion rights, but is widely regarded as providing authoritative research on the issue.

While the strategy has been employed for years, the recent surge may be due in part to a single person: The name Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been repeatedly invoked throughout the abortion debate in North Carolina and echoed in statehouses across the country. In May, the Philadelphia abortion doctor was convicted of murder in the deaths of three infants, involuntary manslaughter for a patient’s overdose death, and violating state abortion laws. He is serving three life sentences. Read more here.

USA TODAY STORY ON NORTH CAROLINA: From USA Today -- "Scott Bland of Waxhaw, N.C., is out of work — and the hardships that he and 70,000 other people face have grabbed national headlines. Sparks are flying over a recent change in North Carolina's unemployment benefits – the elimination of federally-funded compensation – bringing protests to the state capitol and leaving citizens and some legislators up in arms.

"Unemployment snafus in states across the country aren't new or unusual. But North Carolina is unique because it's the only state to cut off access to the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), a program that gives unemployed citizens money after they use up their state benefits.

"This leaves people like Bland in a tough position. "I was due to have a full year of benefits," Bland said. "Now I've had to tap into my 401(k) to pay the bills and mortgage."

"Since April, these cuts have been a topic of protest at weekly "Moral Mondays," rallies in Raleigh that have also addressed other issues like women's rights and health care. Protesters typically sign hymns, give speeches and chant as they carry signs, and several hundred have been arrested so far. Read more here.

McCRORY GREETED BY PROTESTERS IN BOONE: From the Watauga Democrat -- "The governor's presence in Boone attracted about 30 protestors speaking out against multiple state government actions, including the recent abortion bills, voter ID and various other issues. The crowd shouted, "Shame! Shame!" as McCrory exited Mellow Mushroom. Amiris Brown, an ASU student, held up a sign urging McCrory to veto House Bill 695 and/or Senate Bill 353, both of which would require abortion clinics to meet stricter standards similar to ambulatory surgical centers, though the House version of S353 includes a provision stating "while not unduly restricting access." "I'm out here as a feminist reminding him that he promised when people voted him into office that he would veto any legislation pertaining to women's health care," Brown said. Read more here.

CAN'T MISS LINE: From the same article -- "McCrory noted that a journalist recently criticized him for not having a "legacy project." "Excuse me, we've got to do day-to-day operations," he said. "My goal is not to have a legacy project. My goal is to run efficient and effective government and prepare for the next generation."

FINGERPRINT REQUIREMENT CONCERNS CRITICS: North Carolina residents applying for welfare could be asked to provide their physical fingerprints to the Department of Social Services under a House bill that tightens regulations on benefit applicants. The provision has angered Democrats and advocates for the poor, and raised concerns among DSS offices and law enforcement agencies about how prints would be collected and processed and who would pay for the procedure.

The bill – House Bill 392 – adds a search for outstanding felony warrants, and probation and parole violations to background checks already performed on benefit applicants. It also requires applicants to the Work First program, which provides families money and job training, to get drug tested if a county DSS office finds any reason to suspect them of illegal substance use. DSS would use drug convictions, warrants and arrests from the past three years; drug screenings; and written tests to determine the reasonable suspicion necessary for testing. The Senate approved an amended version of the bill July 10, and the House is expected to take it up Monday. Read more here.

CHRISTENSEN: PHIL BERGER AND ME: Columnist Rob Christensen writes about Senate leader Phil Berger's parallel upbringing to his own and how it informs the tax debate. An excerpt: "His solution (in the tax bill)? Trickle-down economics. Yes, the same warmed-over philosophy that the elder George Bush once called “voodoo economics” and Sen. Bob Dole called “a riverboat gamble.” But since then, it has become the holy grail of the Republican Party. This philosophy is now so politically correct that no one in the GOP would dare to utter the slightest question about it for fearing being labeled “a squish.” It seems that one might more easily defend Islamic law than question Reaganomics.
"A form of trickle-down economics is what passed in the Legislature last week: Cuts in corporate taxes from 6.9 percent to 5 percent, cuts in personal income tax rate ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent, to a flat 5.75 percent. And the elimination of the estate tax prevailed; it now only applies to estates valued at $3.5 million or more. Read more here.

McCRORY SAYS ITS WORKING, OTHERS SAY ITS A DISASTER: State officials say the new Medicaid bill-paying system is working better than expected. But for the company trying to get kids wheelchairs, the dentist who hasn’t been paid in a month and the providers who wait days to get their calls for help returned, the system is a near disaster.

The state Department of Health and Human Services warned providers to expect a few bumps after the new Medicaid billing system came online July 1. For many, the bumpy weeks have been worse than they imagined, and they have not been told when the frustration will end.

Under the government health insurance program, the state and federal government pay about $13 billion a year to 70,000 health care providers to treat 1.7 million poor, elderly and disabled people. The Medicaid billing system, which DHHS is calling NC Tracks, doesn’t just pay bills. It is the gateway to all kinds of medical services and information that ensures patients are seeing the right doctors and getting approved medicines. NC Tracks is failing in those critical areas, providers say. Read more here.

TOWNS, COUNTIES DODGE A BULLET IN TAX DEAL: The state’s new tax plan is projected to increase revenues for North Carolina municipalities. By expanding the current state sales tax and canceling tax holidays on retail items, the deal reached by Republican leaders boosts municipal revenues a total of $5 million this fiscal year and $16.4 million in fiscal year 2018-2019, according to an estimate by the League of Municipalities, a nonpartisan advocate for cities, towns and counties. Read more here.

WILMINGTON CLINIC WILL STAY OPEN: Planned Parenthood Health System says it won't close its Wilmington office even if the North Carolina General Assembly approves new restrictions on abortion clinics.
Spokeswoman Melissa Reed said the Wilmington clinic does not meet the standards of a freestanding surgical center but would raise the funds to do so if that's mandated, according to a report from The StarNews. Read more here.

LAWMAKERS BACK DOWN ON FRACKING MEASURE: North Carolina’s fracking commission is set to resume its work next week on creating a chemical disclosure standard everyone can live with, now that the state legislature appears have backed off from its recent attempt to seize control of the contentious issue. On Friday the state Senate approved a bill that would give select members of the Mining and Energy Commission the authority to review any “trade secret” claim made by energy companies before the chemicals used in fracking are brought out to a drill site and pumped into the ground. Read more here.

TRAYVON MARTIN CASE DRAWS PROTESTERS TO RALEIGH: In a rally that jammed Martin Street and filled a downtown Baptist church, the death of Trayvon Martin and the freedom of George Zimmerman brought a rallying cry for broad social change Sunday. Though Zimmerman’s verdict was settled eight days earlier – acquittal on all counts – speakers and protesters in Raleigh stoked outrage and looked to place their grief. Additional protests took place in dozens of other cities across the nation. Read more here.

AIRPORT FUED EXPOSES DEEP RIFTS IN CHARLOTTE: For years Charlotte’s legislative battles were often defined by geography. Urban vs. rural. “The Great State of Mecklenburg” vs. the rest of North Carolina. Now it’s a civil war, with city officials clashing with some of the county’s own state lawmakers. At stake is the future of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, one of the world’s busiest and a key to regional economic development. And at risk are future relations between city and a legislature that holds broad power over it. Read more here.

WAKE BILL ADVANCES: The state Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill letting the Wake County Board of Commissioners take control of school construction away from the school board. An earlier bill passed by the Senate that affected Wake and eight other counties has stalled in the House. Senate Republicans revived the issue by changing a different bill about school funding into one giving construction authority only to the Wake commissioners. Read more here.

BILL CURBS PROPERTY OWNERS PROTESTS AGAINST DEVELOPERS: Legislators may scale back the power of property owners to fight developers, with a bill that would eliminate the use of the “protest petition,” a bargaining chip for the neighbors of gas stations, shopping centers and other controversial developments. The push to end the practice comes in a package of proposed regulation reforms – and it has proven contentious. House Republicans have pushed for repeal of the practice, while Senate counterparts so far have protected it, with developers and local municipal leaders arguing on the periphery. Read more here.

SHARIA LAW BILL PASSES SENATE: The state Senate on Friday passed a bill that would keep courts from recognizing Sharia law. While proponents of the legislation said it would keep people safe from foreign laws, critics derided the bill as sending a message of intolerance and bigotry to followers of Islam. Read more here.

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