Today @NCCapitol (July 9): Abortion bill holds center stage as lawmakers begin to wind down work for the year

Abortion will be the focus of a high profile committee hearing and protest at the legislature today. Speaker Thom Tillis says most House committees will wind down their work this week. Gov. McCrory outlined his remaining goals for the legislative session Monday afternoon.

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@NCCapitol Staff
RALEIGH, N.C. — Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Tuesday, July 9. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government today.
TODAY'S BIG STORY: The sweeping bill heavily regulating abortion clinics that passed the state Senate last week will be the subject of a 9 a.m. protest this morning outside the legislative complex. Inside a committee room, House lawmakers will discuss that bill at 10 a.m.

House Bill 695 has not officially crossed back from the the Senate to the House yet, so House leaders say it is unlikely there will be a formal vote on the measure today. Because the bill has technically already passed the House – although it contained none of the abortion language when it left that chamber – House leaders can pass the measure with a simple concurrence vote on the floor. 

However, House Speaker Thom Tillis has asked the House Health and Human Services Committee to hold a public hearing on the bill today at 10 a.m. in Rom 643 of the Legislative Office Building.

"Given the focus on the bill, we thought it was appropriate to give it a couple of hours of hearing," Tillis said Monday. 

WRAL.com will carry the hearing live. Check the Video Central box on our home page. That hearing comes after the Senate was criticized by Gov. Pat McCrory and others for pushing the bill through quickly in a surprise series of maneuvers last week. 

Committee Co-Chairman Mark Hollo, R-Alexander, told WRAL last night that those representing groups on either side of the abortion debate would be given a chance to speak after the bill was explained and committee members had a chance to ask question. Members of the general public would be allowed to weigh in if time allowed, he said. 

During a wide-ranging news conference Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory suggested that Health and Human Services Sec. Aldona Wos might testify before the committee, but Hollo said he did not have her on the schedule. 
Inspectors wrote that the clinic failed to ensure a positive and negative red blood cell control material was tested at least once daily when Rh(D) testing was performed and failed to follow manufacturer's instructions for performing Rh(D) testing. RH factors, when not properly assessed, can cause big problems for the fetus — stillbirth and blindness among them. But for the patients, RH conflicts pose only the attendant health risks of a miscarriage, although there is potential for sensitivity in later pregnancies.

It's unclear how critical the test is in a setting where a fetus is being terminated.  

WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker preview today's discussion and talk about Monday's action in state government, including Gov. Pat McCrory's afternoon news conference, in The Wrap @NCCapitol
NO DEAL: Lawmakers and McCrory said Monday there had not yet been a deal struck on a pending tax reform measure or the state budget. 
COMMITTEES: House Speaker Thom Tillis told the chamber that this would be the last week for most House committees to meet for the year. Aside from the Appropriations, Finance and Judiciary Committees he said, this would be the last week for legislative committee work. Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca made a similar announcement in his chamber last week. 

Closing down committees is an annual sign that legislative leaders are working to close down the General Assembly for the year. Without committees in session, the flow of bills to the House and Senate floor ebbs. However, that means most legislation that is not heard in committee this week will likely have to wait until the May short session for its chance to pass. 

MCCRORY TODAY: Gov. Pat McCrory will make what is listed as "an economic development announcement" outside the historic state Capitol building at 11:30 a.m. Later in the day, McCrory and top advisers will visit key operations center for the state's new Medicaid billing system. The new system, which is responsible for paying doctors and other health care providers who treat Medicaid patients, began operations last week and the governor has praised the start up as having avoided any major problems. 
HOUSE TODAY: The state House today will meet at 1 p.m. The chamber's calendar will be dominated by concurrence votes on bills that have already passed the House once and are returning from the Senate. Among the measures slated for final approval are a bill to increase the penalties for those who passed stopped school buses and a measure to allow restaurants to use sidewalks along state roads as serving areas in certain downtown business districts. 
SENATE TODAY: The Senate did not meet Monday night after working through Wednesday before the July 4 holiday. They return to a busy floor calendar today that includes changes to local landfill laws and a bill that would require those seeking public benefits to undergo background checks. It is also possible that that the chamber could receive a vote on a controversial measure that would force the City of Durham to provide water to the 751 South development, although that bill is not formally on the calendar yet. WRAL.com will carry the 2 p.m. Senate session live. Please seek the Video Central box on our home page. 
COMMITTEES: The abortion discussion will dominate today's light committee schedule. For a full listing of committees, please see the main @NCCapitol page. 
ARRESTS CONTINUE: Another 64 protesters, Janet Colm, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, were arrested Monday night during the 10th week of protests dubbed Moral Mondays and lead by the NAACP. Over the past two months, more than 700 people have been arrested in the weekly protests against the actions of the Republican-led General Assembly. The state chapter of the NAACP is leading the charge against legislation rejecting the expansion of Medicaid to the working poor, slashing benefits to the unemployed, eliminating jobs in public education and placing restrictions on voting.
Observers say some of those handcuffed and charged with the misdemeanors in recent weeks were exercising their First Amendment rights, behaving no differently than protesters from past years who were not arrested. That has raised concerns about whether Republican leaders who took control of North Carolina's General Assembly in 2010 are directing more aggressive enforcement against citizens who disagree with their conservative agenda.

General Assembly police Chief Jeff Weaver said he was offended by suggestions that his officers' actions are influenced by partisanship.

"We have never had the disruptions at this facility that we have had this year, and the amount of people in these disruptions," said Weaver, who has policed the legislature the past dozen years. "The building rules clearly indicate about disturbances. When you're blocking ingress and egress, clapping and singing, that's disruptive."

MCCRORY SPEAKS: Gov. Pat McCrory outlined his remaining priorities for the legislative session and fielded questions from reporters during a wide-ranging hour-long news conference Monday. 

Among the most pressing items left on his agenda, McCrory said, was a bill that rewrites the state's antiquated tax code. However, he told reporters that the tax debate between the House and Senate cannot be allowed to derail budget negotiations. And, he said, and new bill must give the state enough money to operate the basic functions of government.

Both the House and Senate have drawn tax reform proposals that would trigger changes in the tax code in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The Senate plan, for example, would phase out the state corporate income tax rate in 2017.

"I do think its unreasonable to project after the year 2015, especially with some of the growth analysis that have been presented in several of the plans," McCrory said. "Anything beyond 2015 I think is very speculative."

During the same news conference, McCrory trod carefully between a campaign promise he made not to sign legislation that further restricts abortion and legislation now under consideration at the General Assembly.

"There is a fine line between safety measures and restrictions. Those two lines should not be confused," McCrory said. "I'm very concerned about our responsibility to ensure the health of women is protected."

"I think parts of the bill, personally, clearly deal with safety and help protect these women," McCrory said. "But I also see there are parts of the bill that could clearly cross that line where they are adding further restrictions to access, and I think that's where we need further discussion and further debate."

Also Monday:
  • The governor said controversial administration figure Art Pope was merely part of a team helping his office to negotiate budget and tax deals. "He takes my direction," McCrory said of Pope, best known as a major funder of conservative candidates and causes.
  • Aside from tax reform, McCrory pointed to four key legislative priorities he wanted to see accomplished before the end of session. While changes to the state Medicaid system are part of budget negotiations, bills changing the state's approach to energy policy, rewriting the state personnel law and turning the Commerce Department's job recruiting functions into a public private partnership are snarled in various states of legislative limbo. 
  • MORE STORIES: Other stories we were following Monday included:
    REDISTRICTING: A three-judge panel on Monday upheld legislative and congressional districts drawn by the Republican-dominated General Assembly in 2011, ruling unanimously that the maps were constitutional. Democrats, the state NAACP and good-government groups had sued to invalidate the maps, saying they were improperly drawn based on racial considerations. The opponents also argued lawmakers too finely split the state, dividing so many local voting precincts that it would create confusion. But the three Superior Court judges found that those challenging the maps had not showed "a violation of any cognizable equal protection rights of any North Carolina citizens, or groups thereof, will result."
    DURHAM: A bill that would force the city of Durham to annex and provide services to the 751 South development near Jordan Lake could be on the governor's desk by Wednesday. The House gave its final approval to the measure Monday night, 76-33. It goes back to the Senate for one final vote on the House's changes. House Rules Chairman Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, says he's been told the Senate is likely to approve the bill. "I would expect a pretty quick passage," he said.


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