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Morning Memo: The poor dream too; legislature returns to town

COLUMNIST -- CAN'T BAN POOR FROM THE LOTTERY: You got any dreams? We want them, too. That’s what comedian Richard Pryor swears his wife’s attorney asked him when they showed up in divorce court. That’s also what State Rep. Paul Stam is saying to welfare recipients in North Carolina by proposing a measure that would prevent them from playing the lottery.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- a digest of the political headlines and upcoming news in North Carolina. Click below to read more. ***

CHRISTENSEN-- TAX REFORM COULD BACKFIRE FOR GOP: The Republican legislature’s “tax reform” plan represents a high-risk political strategy for the GOP. In fact, Republican tax reform has the potential to do for the GOP what health care reform did for the Democrats – create tremendous political blowback. Full column here.

THREE BIG STORIES THIS WEEK: 1. The N.C. General Assembly returns to Raleigh, along with the rest of the circus. How quickly will they move on controversial legislation. 2. Gov. Pat McCrory expected to take stance on unemployment benefits measure this week 3. N.C. Democrats meet Saturday to pick a new leaders.

LAWMAKERS TURN LOBBYISTS: As budget chairs last year, Harold Brubaker and Richard Stevens were among the most influential men in the state legislature, powerful because they held the state’s purse strings and respected by their peers because of their institutional knowledge. This year, they are beginning new careers as lobbyists, arguing for the causes of corporations and interest groups before their former colleagues.

To do so, they took advantage of a loophole in a state law that imposes a six-month cooling-off period. Brubaker and Stevens resigned before their terms ended so they could start lobbying almost immediately when the legislature convenes.That practice, in the view of some, renders the cooling-off period almost meaningless.

SHORTEST COOLING-OFF PERIOD IN NATION: But the practice has come under scrutiny amid ethical concerns about lawmakers having too much influence on their recent colleagues and legislative staffs. Thirty-five states have a cooling-off law that prevents a lawmaker from going straight from the legislature to lobbying, according to the Center for Public Integrity in Washington.

The center, which recently reviewed those laws across the country, found them “riddled with loopholes, narrowly written or loosely enforced.” North Carolina’s law, passed in 2005, has the shortest cooling-off period.

MORE BIG GUNS -- Six to watch at the statehouse this session.

THE LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: The legislative session starts Wednesday. Here's a look at the main issues on the Republican agenda.

TAXES: The outline of a plan to overhaul the state’s tax system is raising so many big questions that it prompts another: Is it too much to tackle this session?

ENVIRONMENT: Conservatives have grumbled about the state energy law that mandates renewables and efficiency programs ever since it was passed in 2007 with Democrats in control.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: Republicans are expected to take quick action to alleviate North Carolina’s $2.7 billion unemployment debt to the federal government by cutting benefits to jobless workers – sparking the first of many debates this legislative session about the role the state plays in protecting its most vulnerable.

THE BUDGET: Budget surprises got off to an early start this year with Gov. Pat McCrory picking Art Pope, former legislator, multimillionaire and conservative foundation financier to be his budget director and with Senate leader Phil Berger’s pronouncement that he wants the state budget, now at $20.2 billion, to be smaller next year.

THE CONSTITUTION: Some legislators are looking to make more changes to the state constitution.

EDUCATION: Legislators are preparing for a wave of new education policies that will envelop students and their teachers.

MENTAL HEALTH: Legislators begin the new session with mental health issues higher on their to-do list than they have been in the past four years.

GUNS: Whether or not GOP leaders want to tackle more pro-gun legislation in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and President Barack Obama’s gamble on public sentiment shifting toward more firearms control remains to be seen.

GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS: One of the banners Republicans began flying when they took control of the General Assembly included just two words: regulatory reform.

VOTER ID: The legislature seems poised to once again pass a voter identification bill, legislation that has sharpened partisan lines and sparked heated debate regarding voter fraud and voting rights.

BofA POLITICAL SPENDING TARGETED: Bank of America has succeeded in keeping stockholder proposals on the bank’s dividend and executive pay off its upcoming annual meeting ballot -- but the Charlotte bank is still battling one that would limit its political spending.


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