Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol, WRAL's morning roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government today.
MONDAY NIGHT: The General Assembly will return to work Monday night with 7 p.m. sessions in the state House and Senate. Both chambers have bills on their calendars likely to provoke debate.
UNEMPLOYMENT: House lawmakers are scheduled to take up a bill that would remake North Carolina's Unemployment Insurance program, curbing both who is eligible for benefits and the maximum amount those benefits are worth. The state bill would also trigger a provision in federal law that shuts off extended benefits to those who have been unemployed for longer than 26 weeks. Watch the debate live at 7 p.m. through Video Central on the WRAL.com home page.
If the bill passes the House, it would need approval from the Senate and then go to the governor. Gov. Pat McCrory said at the end of last week that he would sign the bill when it comes to his desk.
At 1 p.m., the NC Justice Center, AFL-CIO NC, and MomsRising will hold a news conference calling the changes "cruel" and "counterproductive."
HEALTH CARE: As House lawmakers debate unemployment benefits, the Senate is scheduled to take up a bill prohibiting state agencies from taking part in the federal Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the measure would prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid or participating in the health care exchanges created by the federal health care law pushed by President Barack Obama.
If the bill passes the Senate, it would then go to the House where key lawmakers say they support the idea. McCrory has said he is still studying whether Medicaid expansion or participating in the exchanges is best for the state.
ISSUE TRACKER: The 2013 N.C. General Assembly Issue Tracker has been updated with the latest info on the unemployment and health care bills, as well as information on legislation in 10 other topic areas.
THE GOVERNOR: McCrory penned a letter to the editor this weekend, indirectly addressing remarks in which he said that funding for state universities should be based on job outcomes rather than the number of students attending an institution. In the letter, McCrory says, "The UNC system, as well as our community colleges and other schools in our state, will find no better advocate and supporter than I. I graduated with a teaching degree and have had a passion for education throughout my career. Education will be one of the key tools to reviving and growing our economy, and together we can accomplish great things for North Carolina’s future."
BERGER ON THE RECORD: Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, spent the full half hour of this Saturday's "On the Record" with anchor David Crabtree and Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie.
Berger, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, talked about tax reform, mental health, higher education, and unemployment benefits.
Crabtree asked Berger if Democrats who have said they were "scared" are justified being worried about GOP reform efforts.
"If what they're concerned about is improving the quality of education in North Carolina, if what they're concerned about is good outcomes for our kids, then no, they shouldn't be afraid all," Berger said. "If what they're concerned about is protecting turf, if what they're concerned about is protecting set-asides that currently exist in law, then yeah, they should be scared."
TWEETED: From the State Employees Association of NC official Twitter account on Friday: "State Treasurer pushing to raise premium costs for state health plan members with little time to voice concerns. Transparency? #ncpol #ncga" A meeting on that topic is scheduled for TODAY at 3:30 p.m.
WALKER: Chris Walker, McCrory's communications director, told @NCCapitol over the weekend that he would return home to Tennessee. Walker joined McCrory's transition team in December and has headed his press operation since the Republican took office in early January.
Walker's wife is expecting the couple's second child this Spring and Walker said they haven't been able to work out the move from Nashville to Raleigh.
Walker said expected to be around Raleigh for another two or three weeks, long enough to help find another communications director. He'll then return home to his consulting practice.
"I still plan to help (McCrory) in any way I can," Walker said Saturday.
DEMOCRATS: Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller is the new chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, barely turning back a last-minute push on behalf of former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge. The state executive committee chose Voller by a vote of 309-298.
CAPITOL POLICE: Two top leaders of the State Capitol Police are suspended and under investigation, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Antonio Asion, acting chief of the force, and Sgt. Benjamin Franklin are on paid leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
"I have serious concerns about certain practices involving secondary employment," DPS Sec. Kieran Shanahan said in a news release Sunday. "We will conduct a thorough investigation and take action as deemed appropriate. So as not to compromise this ongoing investigation, nor publicly reveal personnel matters, the department will not provide additional details at this time."
Worth noting: The budget for the State Capitol Police was cut two years ago as lawmakers expanded funding for a separate police agency that guards the legislative complex.
ZOO: Officials with the North Carolina Zoo tell the News & Record of Greensboro that they are hampered by state regulations. "This year, it will renew its quest to convert operations to a public/private partnership that will enable greater flexibility, better fundraising and quicker action to build new exhibits and update older ones," reports the paper.
SHOCKING: According to local news site News at Norman, Rep. Jason Saine may file a bill to "allow trained teachers and administrators to use taser guns to shock and stun classroom attackers until law enforcement officers arrive." If filed, the bill would not be the first this session regarding arming teachers in some way.
DEBT: State Treasurer Janet Cowell released North Carolina's annual debt affordability study on Friday. The report shows how much the state can afford to borrow and still remain within self-imposed borrowing guidelines. North Carolina could afford to borrow $470.8 million this year and still keep total debt payments under the 4 percent of general fund revenues that state leaders consider a conservative target.
That debt limit will be key as McCrory takes on the job of updating and repairing state buildings and other infrastructure.
GAS: The gas tax has not been a big part of North Carolina's tax reform discussion so far. But according to Stateline, governors around the country are talking about doing away with the per gallon charge on fuel. "(T)he most-watched proposal so far is McDonnell’s proposal to eliminate Virginia’s gas tax. If it passes, Virginia would be the only state without one," the online news site reported last week.