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Today @NCCapitol (May 21): Senators make budget changes; House committee considers vouchers

Posted May 21, 2013

— Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Tuesday, May 21. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government today.

VOUCHERS: The state House Education Committee is scheduled to hear the Opportunity Scholarship Act today at 11 a.m. The bill would give parents up to $4,200 in vouchers to send their children to private schools.

As described Monday by its lead sponsor, Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, the measure calls for spending $10 million in its first year, giving $4,200 grants to students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. In the second year, the program would set aside $40 million. In that second year, students who come from families who made between 100 percent up to 133 percent of the free and reduced-price lunch threshold would also be able to get grants, but for only 90 percent of the full $4,200.

WRAL.com will carry the House Education Committee live at 11 a.m. Check the Video Central box on our home page. 

SENATE BUDGET: The Senate will spend its day reviewing and amending the $20.6 billion budget it rolled out Sunday night. 

The Appropriations Committee will meet beginning at 8:30 a.m. and is due to take amendments on spending items from members. The Finance Committee is scheduled to review the spending portion of the budget at 1 p.m. WRAL.com will carry the Finance Committee meeting live at 1 p.m. Check the video Central box on our home page.

Among the biggest changes in the state budget plan revolve around Medicaid. Despite spending more than prior year's budgets, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled would end up  providing fewer services to those it covers.

"That’s the message coming out of this budget," Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, told the Senate Budget Health subcommittee at Monday's meeting on Senate Bill 402. “Medicaid is driving everything in this state budget. These funds coming out are controlling what we do in education, what we do in transportation and highways."

The budget bill itself is a sprawling document that includes many of the controversial policies the Senate has pushed this year. The plan gets rid of Special Superior Court Judges, ends career status for teachers, and requires drug testing for Work First beneficiaries

The Wrap @NCCapitol (May 20) The Wrap @NCCapitol (May 20) More broadly, the measure continues a Republican remaking of state government. For example, the NC Rural Center would cease to receive state funding, as would a half-dozen targeted regional programs, to be replaced by a new Rural Economic Development Division within the state Commerce Department.

Attorney General Roy Cooper and other law enforcement officials criticized a part of the plan that calls for moving most of the SBI from the Department of Justice and placing it under the control of the Department of Public Safety, which is under the control of Gov. Pat McCrory. "This is bad for law enforcement, public safety and the fight against public corruption," Cooper said.

Click here for more highlights of the budget.

THE WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker review the Senate budget and preview today's action in Monday's edition of The Wrap @NCCapitol

ARRESTS:  The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP's fourth straight week of protests at the state legislature resulted in 57 arrests Monday evening. Arrests have grown every week of what the group calls "Moral Mondays," totaling 153. The NAACP and other activists have directed their anger at policies on social programs, voting rights, education and tax reform. They argue decisions to refuse Medicaid expansion, cut unemployment benefits, require photo identification at the polls, and other actions show a disregard for the state's most vulnerable residents.

HAHN: The man accused of fatally stabbing an up-and-coming political strategist and injuring her husband at their Raleigh home nearly a month ago was indicted Monday in the case – the same day a search warrant made public shows that he admitted to police his involvement in the crime. Jonathan Wayne Broyhill, 31, is charged with first-degree murder in the April 22 attack on Jamie Kirk Hahn, 29, and attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury in the stabbing of her husband, Nation Hahn, 27.

LAROQUE: As a powerful member of the Republican leadership in the N.C. House, Rep. Stephen A. LaRoque railed for years against big government and those who take taxpayer handouts. The former Kinston lawmaker was set to go on trial Monday on a dozen felony charges stemming from a pair of government-funded non-profit corporations federal prosecutors allege he used as personal piggy banks. Twelve jurors and three alternates were seated shortly after noon.

HOUSE SESSION: The state House will convene at 2 p.m. Lawmakers are due to take up a bill that would allow transportation officials to add toll lanes to existing highways, but only if the state keeps the current number of lanes free to traffic. So section of I-95, for example, that is three lanes wide now would have to have at least three non-tolled lanes even if it is widened to become partly a toll road in the future. Toll lanes could be set aside for high occupancy vehicles or those who simply pay an extra fee and could offer amenities like a higher speed limit. 

COMMITTEES: For a full list of committee hearings, please see the main @NCCapitol page. In addition to the Senate budget and finance committees, and the House Education committee, highlights on today's calendar include: 

House Finance (8:30 a.m. | 544 LOB): The committee takes up a measure that would provide North Carolina driver's licenses to people in the U.S. illegally while also authorizing detainment measures similar to those used in Arizona.

House Transportation (Noon | 643 LOB): Lawmakers will look at a bill that considers alternatives to charging tolls for ferries.

NOTED: Stories today from other outlets include: 

North Carolina Health News: The budget rolled out by the state Senate has no long-term for for group homes, which could face closure after a series of short term fixes last year and earlier this year. 

Charlotte Observer: The N.C. ABC Commission has decided that, although it couldn’t find any rules or regulations that expressly prohibit the use of the 321-degrees-below-zero substance in alcoholic beverages, it does have “broad powers to protect public health and safety,” said public affairs director Agnes Stevens.

News & Record: After two years away, one of the N.C. Zoo's two polar bears is back in his upgraded habitat.

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