Welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Friday, May 16. Here's what's going on in state government today.
THE LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: The General Assembly is out of town after lawmakers spent two days getting themselves organized for his year's "short" legislative session. They are scheduled to return to work Monday afternoon.
IN COURT: Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood is expected to decide on a lawsuit by the North Carolina Association of Educators challenging last year's teacher contracts law. The measure in controversy requires school districts to offer 25 percent of their teachers contracts that would provide a series of raises that would pay $5,000 more over four years but force those teachers to give up their career status, what many call tenure.
A judge in another cases has already ruled that the law is likely unconstitutional and said that Guilford and Durham counties do not have to obey. Hobgood's ruling could apply more broadly.
THE GOVERNOR: Gov. Pat McCrory is scheduled to give the commencement address at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s 50th graduation ceremony at 4 p.m.
PROGRAM NOTE: This week's episode of On the Record is scheduled to feature state Reps. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, and Duane Hall, D-Wake, talking about this year's legislative session and the governor's budget. Showtime is 7 p.m. Saturday on WRAL-TV.
RECORDS: A federal trial judge has declined to side with North Carolina lawmakers who believe they are entitled to ignore subpoenas seeking documents about election changes that are being challenged in court. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder upheld Thursday the earlier decision of a magistrate judge who told legislators they didn't have broad immunity from the document demands by those suing over the 2013 elections law.
VOTE: During the primary, we reported that the Rev. Mark Harris' father was able to cast an absentee ballot for his son before passing away. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that vote won't count after being challenged. Harris placed third in the GOP U.S. Senate primary.
CITIES: City governments are not having a very good start to the legislative session.
On Thursday, the House Finance Committee advanced a tax bill that would cap local privilege license taxes at $100 for most businesses. Proponents say the move is designed to make taxes more fair and consistent across the state, but detractors say it will force local governments to raise property taxes.
On Monday, the state Senate is scheduled to take up a bill that the House passed last year that would limit when cities could set standards for the architecture, appearance or other design of single- or double-family homes. Although there are exemptions for historic areas, by and large, cities' efforts to set appearance standards for houses built in existing neighborhoods or newly developed areas would be curtailed.
"We're very concerned about it," said Erin Wynia, a lobbyist with the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
If the bill passes, cities would lose the ability to ensure that new homes added to existing neighborhoods fit in, or that new neighborhoods are not filled with houses of just a single design.
POLITICAL HIRES: A small item in Gov. Pat McCrory's budget would give his appointees, not independent judges, the power to decide whether a state employee has been unfairly fired or disciplined. Critics say the proposal would expose state employees to the political whims of the governor and increase patronage inside agencies responsible for transportation, health policy and environmental protection. But the McCrory administration contends in the proposal that it's an effort to streamline the appeals process for workers subject to the state's personnel laws.
NEW RULES: A hastily called committee voted Thursday to pass new rules for citizens' use of the Legislative Building – just in time for planned protests next week.
Republicans leaders say the update was needed because of recent court rulings in "Moral Monday" arrest cases from last year. Some of the changes address old rules that judges have ruled unconstitutional, such as a prohibition on hand-held signs in the building. A judge ruled the ban was a content-based restriction on speech, which violates the First Amendment. Another discarded rule bans the public from the second floor of the Legislative Building.
Other changes, backers say, are simply a reflection of current practices, such as the codification of the reservation procedure for groups wishing to protest at the front of the building.
But critics say the rules are aimed at keeping the Moral Monday protesters at bay and could make it harder for citizens to bring grievances to their legislature.
MENINGITIS: State health officials have approved another mandatory vaccine for rising seventh-graders, this time for meningitis and other meningococcal diseases, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.
MAPS: North Carolina is among the most gerrymandered states in the U.S., according to an analysis of congressional districts by The Washington Post.
SPAT: Finally, this morning, here's a tale from the "They Probably Couldn't Agree on the Menu Anyway" department. On Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory hosted a group of clergy at the Executive Mansion to talk about issues of the day. At some point, an enterprising reporter asked if Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday movement, had been invited. Yes, said the governor's spokesperson, but Barber had a conflict.
This did not sit well with Barber, who issued a public missive Thursday afternoon:
"Several weeks ago, the NC NAACP requested a meeting with Gov. McCrory, Speaker Tillis and others before the Short Session opened. We proposed bringing representatives from most of the denominations and faiths across the state who have joined the Moral Monday Movement to discuss our positions on the policies passed last year that are injuring hundreds of thousands of our neighbors. Last week someone from the Governor's office called to ask me whether I could attend a possible luncheon he was planning. I said it might be possible if I could bring other clergy leaders from the Forward Together Movement with me. I was told the governor decided his own list. I was also told the luncheon may or may not occur. I have not heard anything from his office since.
"I now learn a luncheon apparently took place and that the Governor's office has apparently said I declined his invitation. The NC NAACP and our allies in the Forward Together Moral Movement are serious about wanting to meet with the Governor. Setting up a serious meeting to discuss policy is not a game. A representative cross-section of faith leaders are more than willing to engage in serious policy discussion with the Governor."
So we asked Josh Ellis, a spokesman for McCrory, whether this was a scheduling or political conflict. His response:
"On May 8th, the governor’s chief of staff Thomas Stith, spoke directly with Rev. Barber and invited him to attend today’s lunch meeting with clergy. The governor arranged this meeting to continue reaching out to various individual groups including members of the business, clergy and education community. Rev. Barber said that he couldn’t come because of a conflict in his schedule. We’re unclear why he’s trying to mischaracterize his absence."
A guest list provided by Ellis showed that 11 of 20 invited ministers did attend.