Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Monday, Feb. 18. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.
THE BIG STORY: Gov. Pat McCrory should have center stage in North Carolina politics today. This morning at 10 a.m., he will travel to Asheboro to sign the first bill of his administration. The measure would create endorsements for high school diplomas that mark graduates as ready for careers, college or both. The location is a nod to Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who authored the measure and pushed it through the House and Senate.
Then at 7 p.m., McCrory will deliver the State of the State address before a joint session of the state House and Senate. Political watchers are hoping to hear more specifics from McCrory, who as of yet has not had to flesh out the big themes of his campaign. WRAL will carry the speech and Democratic responses to it live both on TV and WRAL.com.
"I think he'd make a mistake if he did not mention the problems he has run into ... You can't move on to where you want to go until you fix your big problems first," said Jack Hawke, a long-time GOP political consultant who worked for the McCrory campaign.
PUSH BACK: The speech could also give McCrory an opportunity to push-back against the narrative being advanced by Democrats and liberal groups of a GOP "assault on the poor."
The other bill currently pending on McCrory's desk changes the state's unemployment insurance benefits to make them less generous for workers. And the Republican governor has openly backed a a bill to keep the state from expanding Medicaid benefits.
"Rep. Thom Tillis, Speaker of the House, said in an unguarded moment 15 months ago, we need to divide and conquer the poor. And that's really what's happening here," Adam Searing with the N.C. Justice Center told WRAL's Bruce Mildwurf.
Republicans say that's not true.
"People who perceive that are ill informed," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, the House Speaker Pro Tempore.
From the Associated Press: Republican majorities have moved quickly in the first 2½ weeks of the 2013 General Assembly on legislation they say is tough medicine for tough economic times, but critics say the plans plainly hurt poor people.
Tonight will give McCrory a chance to help rewrite the narrative for both himself and his Republican allies.
CALENDARS: No committee meetings are on the House and Senate calendars today. The House has no business on its floor calendar and than typical ministerial things like reading in of bills.
The Senate, however, has the bill that would prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid and prevent North Carolina agencies from participating in health exchanges created by the federal Affordable Care Act on its calendar. Two senior Senate staffer reached Friday and Saturday said they were unsure if or how lawmakers might deal with the bill. There are three choices: push off consideration until a later date, reject the changes made by the House and send the measure to a conference committee or attempt to pass the measure Monday night, sending it to the governor.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the Senate Rules Chairman and the bill's sponsor, did not return a phone call Friday seeking clarity on what the Senate might do.
ON THE RECORD: Reps. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and Tom Murry, R-Wake, fought out that battle of ideas on this weekend's episode of "On the Record."
Harrison: "There seems to be a plethora of legislation that isn't for the benefit of middle class North Carolinians."
Murry: "I consider myself part of the middle class...The best thing we can do for the middle class is to focus on job creation, and get our economy turned around. That's my focus and I think that's the broad-based focus of the General Assembly and the governor's office.
SPIN: Democrats are attacking the GOP on another front, saying that Republicans are killing the state Earned Income Tax Credit. The bill in question is an annual tax adjustment, meant to align the state's tax code with changes to the federal tax code.
However, the bill does not touch the sunset one way or the other. That was set during the 2011-12 session. If the law is left unchanged, 2013 will be the last year North Carolina residents can claim the credit. But it's inaccurate to say that the bill under consideration now ends the credit – that was done some time ago. The debate really is over whether the sunset should be extended, something that might be part of the larger tax reform discussion.
TURF WAR: State lawmakers are considering pulling the State Bureau of Investigation from the North Carolina Department of Justice and moving it to the Department of Public Safety. The SBI has been part of the Justice Department for 75 years, and such a move would boost the power of DPS Secretary Kieran Shanahan, a Republican appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory, at the expense of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose office now oversees the SBI, reports WRAL's Cullen Browder.
PAYDAY: @NCCapitol first reported Thursday on to bring payday lending back to the state. WRAL's Laura Leslie got more reaction from those opposed the practice on Friday.
ALZHEIMER'S: A newly formed group called the N.C. Alliance for Alzheimer's Care is holding a news conference today at 2 p.m. at an assisted living facility in Knightdale. The group is pushing for the state to better fund care for "4,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease live in Special Care Units, within assisted living communities across the North Carolina." These people are caught in a separate glitch from those in mental health group homes, but are in a similar spot in that they are dealing with both a short-term funding problem and in need of a long-term funding fix.
Although the group is new, the bipartisan set of names doing some of the heavy lifting will be familiar to those in the political realm. Brad Crone, a long-time Democratic strategist, and Chris Sinclair, whose Conerstone Solutions has worked for the likes of Republican Rep. Tom Murry and the N.C. Association of Realtors are on the news release announcing the event.
SWEEPS: Another new group is pushing the legislature to fully legalize electronic sweepstakes, a form of gambling that the legislature has been working to outlaw. The Coalition for Electronic Sweepstakes sent around keepitlegalnc.com on Friday.
INFORMING THE DISCUSSION: Other news items from this weekend that weigh on the current public policy debates include:
HEALTH: N.C. Health News speaks with State Health Director Laura Gerald. "We know that tobacco is still the number one preventable killer of North Carolinians, Gerald told the website, making the case for tobacco prevention funding.
GUNS: "Though authorities agree it’s easy to find and illegally buy guns on the street — the process might only take a few hours — local undercover operations focused on removing illicit firearms from circulation aren’t routine. Instead, local undercover work often focuses on drugs," reports the Burlington Times-News.
FRACKING: "Lee County officials this month released detailed property data revealing who owns the mineral rights to extract natural gas or other buried resources. The data shows that the owners of 365 parcels, on about 12 square miles, do not own the rights to drill or mine under their land. Many of them are concentrated in the northwestern gas-rich section of the county," writes the News & Observer. Related: The Fayetteville Observer reports: "The head of a commission writing rules for natural gas fracking in North Carolina said Friday he doesn't think local governments should be allowed to pass stringent regulations that would effectively ban the practice."
ANNEXATIONS: "House Bill 79 would allow voters in a referendum to decide whether to add a section in the constitution stating the General Assembly 'may not authorize any annexation initiated by a city, town, or other government subdivision unless the eligible voters living within the proposed area of annexation, and they alone, are allowed to vote, and the proposed annexation is approved by two-‑thirds of those voting,' " reports the Fayetteville Observer.
REDISTRICTING: "Some of the nation’s biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights," reports Pro Publica. "Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year’s elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now....(T)he State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state’s congressional delegation to Republicans."
CATCH UP: For those who need to catch up on the Medicaid fracas, the News & Record's Travis Fain provides a quick overview.