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Morning Memo: Voter ID legislation takes stage after crazy day at legislature

VOTER ID DUEL STARTS THE DAY: Democratic leaders frame the day with a 9:45 a.m. press conference about recent election legislation, from curtailing early voting to voter ID measures, but it better not take too long because House Speaker Thom Tillis will take the same podium at 10:30 a.m. A Republican announcement of a voter ID bill is possible given next week's Elections Committee hearing seeking public comment on the issue.

GOP FLOODGATES OPEN: Voter ID joins a long list of other major policy changes blossoming at the same time in the middle of this legislative session. Let's try to put it in one sentence: With voter ID, the House is launching the most politically volatile issue of the session at the same time Senate Republicans explore a major income tax overhaul that would redefine who carries the burden of the state's tax system and Gov. Pat McCrory readies a long list of policies to reverse course on Democratic rule for the past 20 years, starting with his Medicaid overhaul and state budget proposal, while other lawmakers push plenty of smaller but equally major bills to create a separate governing system for charter schools, repeal the state's renewable energy credits, support gun ownership, restart the death penalty, legalize some sweepstakes, put restrictions on those seeking public assistance, consider an Arizona-styled immigration checks and establish a resolution that says N.C. towns and cities can set an official religion. All this arose in various ways in a single day. When's sine die?

***Don't miss today's Dome Morning Memo -- a recap of news and analysis from a big day at the statehouse. More below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THE MADNESS: Regardless of what you think about the legislation discussed Wednesday, it was a crazy busy day. Doesn't it need a tag? Like "The day ___" I put this question to #ncpol watchers. Some submissions: @keithmasonjr: The day North Carolina became Mississippi. (Shout out to Gov. Bev Perdue.) @clarkriemer: The day the media lied. (Reference to confusion between a bill and resolution) @laconically: The day we ford'ed the Holy Waters. (Per the resolution on religion) Or @nationhahn: The day that the empire struck back. (A nod to GOP power/Or the day the people stood up to fight -- not sure).

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The legislative action continues today but with less noise than the day before. A Senate committee will hear a bill to toughen penalties for firing a gun inside a building or to incite fear. The full Senate convenes at 11 a.m. The House starts action at 1 p.m. and will resume debate on a bill to mandate criminal background checks on many seeking and receiving public assistance. Also on the calendar, a bill requiring that students learn cursive handwriting and multiplication tables. Elsewhere, a two-day conference at Wake Forest that will explore the state's sterilization program starts today.

GOVERNOR SIGNS THREE BILLS: Per McCrory's office, on Wednesday the governor signed: SB 44 (Brown) - A bill to to permit disclosure of certain information pertaining to workers’ compensation coverage by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, as recommended by the Joint Legislative Committee on Workers’ Compensation Insurance Coverage Compliance and Fraud Prevention and Detection; SB 45 (Randleman) - A bill to amend the laws governing incapacity to proceed; and SB 97 (Goolsby) - A bill to require release of property taxes in any area that was part of a municipality for six months or less and was then deannexed.

THE RESOLUTION HEARD ROUND THE WORLD: Two Rowan County lawmakers drew nationwide attention Wednesday for pushing a resolution that says North Carolina and its counties and towns have the right to establish an official religion. … It acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution prevents Congress from creating an official religion. But the First Amendment prohibition, the resolution argues, doesn’t apply to states, counties or towns – despite federal court rulings to the contrary. It asks the legislature to adopt a resolution supporting their right to set up their own religious laws. But even the evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham and other religious leaders disagreed, saying that it wouldn’t be a good idea to establish a state religion. Graham, however, supported the right of governments to have prayer before meetings. Media from NBC News to the Huffington Post have weighed in with stories calling the resolution borderline “neo-secessionist” and drawing thousands of comments. Full story.

McCRORY WANTS TO MOVE MEDICAID PATIENTS TO PRIVATE COMPANIES: Gov. Pat McCrory wants to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program by having managed care companies offer health care plans for poor, elderly and disabled people. The overhaul, unveiled by administration officials Wednesday, would diminish the role of a nationally recognized nonprofit agency while opening the state’s Medicaid business to private companies that now provide such services in more than half the states in the country. McCrory said Wednesday that the change would benefit health care providers and the state by bringing predictability to Medicaid expenses, which the state has trouble estimating from year to year. Full story.

GOP TRIES TO THREAD THE NEEDLE WITH IMMIGRATION BILL: Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are expected next week to propose a sweeping new state law that would grant driving privileges to residents living in the country illegally but also would adopt Arizona-type enforcement measures authorizing police to check the immigration status of people they question for other suspected offenses.
Supporters say the proposal, a sign of a more welcoming approach that some states are taking with their unauthorized residents, would make the roads safer and help identify those who had been living hidden in society.

The measure also has significant political implications as national Republican leaders have warned the party must expand its appeal to Latinos. It’s not an easy task for a Republican-led North Carolina legislature, which must walk a fine line in reaching out to the state’s rapidly growing Latino community without antagonizing the party’s conservative base. Full story.

RACIAL JUSTICE ACT REPEALED: The state Senate on Wednesday voted to repeal the remnants of the Racial Justice Act, the third attempt in three years to erase the 2009 law that allows convicted killers to be spared the death penalty if they can prove racial bias in their cases. Senate Republicans were spurred in their campaign by a Cumberland County judge’s findings last year that jury selection in the cases of four death-row inmates was tainted by conclusive evidence of racism, a ruling that automatically converted their sentences to life in prison without parole. Those were the first four of more than 150 challenges filed under the 2009 version of the law. Wednesday’s vote was 33-14 – strictly along party lines. Senate Bill 306 now goes to the state House. Full story.

OPPONENTS TO CHARTER SCHOOL BILL REMOVED FROM MEETING: The vote occurred as members of Public Schools First NC, which opposes the bill, were ordered to leave after protesting not being allowed to speak Wednesday. Sen. Dan Soucek, the committee co-chairman and a Watauga County Republican, said there was no need for public comment Wednesday because they had it during last week’s committee meeting. In protest, members of the group tied scarves around their faces.
Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly police, said three adults and two children were escorted out of the complex by his officers. He said the protesters had refused a request to sit down. He said they also refused a request to leave, which the group denies. Full story.

N.C. LOOKS TO GEORGIA ON VOTER ID: Georgia’s top election official said Wednesday that a photo ID bill did not discourage voter participation or result in lower participation among African-Americans in his state. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, expressed skepticism about warnings that if North Carolina adopted a photo ID requirement, it would disenfranchise large numbers of voters. … Kemp was the star witness for the House Republicans as they prepare a voter ID bill that is almost certain to be passed. A voter ID bill passed the GOP-led legislature in 2011, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. But Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign such a bill. Full story.

DESPITE TAINTED MONEY, LAWMAKERS PUSH SWEEPSTAKES BILL: From AP -- A bill to legalize and tax sweepstakes cafes in North Carolina was filed Wednesday by two legislators whose campaigns accepted cash from a sweepstakes operator now facing racketeering charges in Florida. Full story.

RENEWABLE BILL BARELY ESCAPES FIRST COMMITTEE: A House committee on Wednesday narrowly approved a bill repealing the state’s requirement that power companies use subsidized renewable energy. Following a nearly two-hour meeting, in which the committee heard from speakers on both sides of the issue, the vote was 11 to 10, with two key Republicans voting against it. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte who is the Republican conference leader, said the bill went too far. She said she favored studying the 2007 law that established the state’s renewable energy portfolio to update provisions that might need changing. Full story.

McCRORY TEAM LOOKS TO KEEP STATES MILITARY JOBS: From the New Bern newspaper -- "In an effort to persuade state leaders to fund efforts to preserve Cherry Point air station and the civilian jobs there, two local lobbyists traveled to Raleigh this week to meet with officials from Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration and other N.C. leaders. Jamie Norment and Hugh Overholt of Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow, ACT, met with new Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker and McCrory’s Military Advisor John Nicholson. Full story.

GOOD SAMARITAN BILL APPROVED: Good Samaritans who summon medical help for drug overdose victims will be given protection from certain criminal charges under legislation approved unanimously Wednesday by the N.C. Senate. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 102-11. “This bill will help cut down on the pandemic of deaths in this state that are linked to prescription drug overdoses,” said Senate sponsor Austin Allran, a Republican from Hickory. Full story.

MAYORS GROUP FOCUSES ON GUNS IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national campaign for tighter gun regulations, is highlighting the connection between guns and domestic violence with a new television advertisement and a series of events in about a dozen communities across the country Wednesday, including Cary. Full story.

FORMER GOV. HUNT GETS A NEW CHAIR: In choosing furniture for the signature reading room of the new James B. Hunt Jr. Library, N.C. State University staff wanted to bridge the gap between tradition and technology. The result is the Hunt chair, a fresh design by an established furniture maker that has roots as deep as the Bank of England and a spirit that evokes the new library’s playfully contemporary form. Full story.


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