Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Friday, June 27.
BUDGET IMPASSE: The week ended much as it has begun, with the House and Senate at odds over North Carolina's $21.1 billion budget for the coming year.
“We need to move quickly so that schools can plan their budgets and educators will know that their jobs are safe when school starts in a few short weeks," House Speaker Thom Tillis said Thursday.
Technically, there is a two-year budget in place, and lawmakers could just let that ride through the coming year. But that two-year plan does not raise teacher salaries – a key legislative agenda item for both chambers – or make dozens of other adjustments in response to new policies and changing revenue.
On Thursday, House lawmakers sent what amounts to a mini-budget over to the Senate. The plan would raise teacher and state worker salaries but leave Medicaid, which represents the biggest-dollar difference between the two chambers, unresolved.
"The Senate stands ready to negotiate a fair compromise, but we want to give teachers more than a 5 percent raise and cannot accept unrealistic Medicaid estimates that create an unbalanced, unsustainable budget," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said.
Although this is something of a wrasslin' match between the House and Senate, Gov. Pat McCrory has jumped into the ring and is swinging folding chairs on behalf of the House. Earlier this week, he endorsed the House mini-budget plan, and his administration is defending Medicaid figures much more closely aligned with House estimates.
Budget Director Art Pope appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday to defend those figures, saying that the Senate and House might not be that far apart and that perceived differences could be put down to matters of interpretation.
However, after more than two-and-a-half hours and a 49-slide presentation, senators remained unconvinced, worried that optimistic projections regarding the health insurance program for the poor and disabled could leave the state in a budget hole next year.
CALENDAR: After flirting with the idea of sticking around this weekend to finish the legislative year, the House and Senate both adjourned until Monday. There are no legislative meetings on Friday's scheduled, and McCrory has nothing on his public schedule.
SBI AND THE CRIME LAB: As lawmakers wrapped up work for the week, the House once again passed a measure that would move the State Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice, where it is overseen by Attorney General Roy Cooper, to the Department of Public Safety, where it would be overseen by McCrory. The move is part of a larger bill that would allow crime lab analysts to testify by video link and make other changes to the justice system.
Versions of the SBI move have been included in both the House and Senate budgets, but given the budget impasse, it seems the House wants to make doubly sure the move happens.
Delayed Justice: Underfunded State Crime Lab could mean crisis for NC court system Meanwhile, backlogs at the State Crime Lab continue to plague the justice system. A WRAL News special Thursday night explored the case of Brandon Townsend, who walked out of the Durham County Detention Center nearly three years after he was charged in a drive-by shooting that killed 13-year-old Shakanah China at a Durham apartment complex. The delay in getting DNA test results prompted prosecutors to drop a murder charge against Townsend. Now, he is back in jail, charged in the May 30 shooting death of Lewhahn Hood in Chapel Hill.
Part of the issue is what Cooper calls a "deluge" of evidence that is overwhelming.
"You have 20,000 law enforcement officers across North Carolina sending tens of thousands of cases to the lab – many of them with multiple pieces of evidence – and you have about 124 scientist positions who are trying to handle all of this," he said. "The problem is that the cases keep coming, and the scientists, who are working as hard as they can, can't keep up."
NOTED: Lawmakers ended the week by sending a bill to McCrory that would allow four universities to research an experimental childhood seizure treatment that involves extract from the marijuana plant. McCrory says he will sign the bill. Only one member of the House or Senate, Rep. Carl Ford, R-Rowan, voted against the measure when the bill came up for a vote Thursday.
House lawmakers also added language to a charter school bill that says the publicly financed but privately run schools may not discriminate against any class of people protected by the U.S. Constitution or federal law. That amendment comes after a controversy over adding protections for gay and lesbian students caused an uproar earlier in the week.
PROGRAM NOTE: This week's "On the Record" will explore legislation that has affected cities over the past two years. Lawmakers have restricted local governments' ability to annex, shifted ownership and control of city-run utilities and taken away an important business levy. We'll look at the reasons and consequences with scheduled guests Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Scott Mooneyham of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.