Today @NCCapitol (March 29): Proposed voting changes draw protests

Posted March 29, 2013 6:04 a.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2013 6:29 a.m. EDT

Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Friday, March 29. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.

VOTING: Republican-drawn measures that would curtail early voting have drawn quick condemnation from Democrats as the state's chapter of the NAACP.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate filed bills this week changing when and how North Carolina residents can cast a ballot before Election Day.

Senate Bill 428, filed by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one and would eliminate same-day voter registration.

House Bill 451, filed by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, goes even further. In addition to cutting early voting and same-day registration, it would also outlaw early voting on Sunday and straight-ticket voting.

"I think Sundays just should be – some things you just shouldn't do on Sundays, so I am just opposed to voting on Sunday," Starnes said.

Both parties have benefited from early voting in North Carolina, which has become increasingly popular. More than 2 million voters, or about 40 percent of those who voted statewide, used one-stop sites in the 2012 general election.

The measure drew condemnation from Democrats, who said the measures would make it harder to vote. 

The North Carolina NAACP is holding a news conference today to condemn the measures, calling them "voter suppression laws."

WRAL.com will carry the news conference live at 10 a.m. from Pullen Memorial Baptist Church on Hillsborough Street. Check the Video Central box on our home page.

HAPPY EASTER: There are no legislative committees scheduled for today or Monday. The House and Senate will meet in skeleton sessions Monday, meaning no floor votes will be taken. Gov. Pat McCrory has no public events scheduled for today or over the weekend. 

WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker talk about the voting proposals and other legislative business from Thursday in The Wrap @NCCapitol.

@NCCAPITOL: Get @NCCapitol in your email every morning. Click the "subscribe" link at the top of any WRAL.com page to subscribe.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Thousands of North Carolina residents quit looking for work in February, a development that cut the state's unemployment rate slightly to 9.4 percent from 9.5 percent in January, the state Commerce Department said Thursday.

CHIEFS: Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday named the commanders of three North Carolina law enforcement agencies under his control. McCrory named Col. William Grey to lead the State Highway Patrol, FBI agent Gregory Baker to head the Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement and Clayton Police Chief Glen Allen as chief of the State Capitol Police.

"EMBRACE THE CHANGE:"  The task of recruiting jobs to North Carolina, including dolling out publicly funded incentives, could be put in the hands of public-private partnerships, Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said Thursday. Decker told WRAL News that she plans to have a restructuring plan for her department ready by middle to late May, adding that she hopes lawmakers would take up the plan before leaving town this summer.

"We really can't afford not to (restructure)," Decker said. "We have to be able to move faster, primarily in terms of job recruiting."

LATINO OUTREACH: "North Carolina’s Latino advocates are voicing alarm following the governor’s decision to eliminate the state’s office for Latino affairs. The closing of the Office of Hispanic/Latino affairs was sudden and caught many by surprise," reports the Charlotte Observer.

WATER: A long-expected and already heavily-debate bill would hand Asheville's water and sewer systems over to a regional agency. The measure has drawn protests from city officials, who call the measure "unnecessary" and say it will hurt the city, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times.

BLUE: The state House overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would prevent Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina from using contractual provisions to drive up competitors' rates.

SCHOOLS: One hundred days after 20 students and six faculty members were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a bipartisan group of North Carolina House lawmakers is backing an ambitious bill to improve school safety in this state. House Bill 452 would spend $34 million over the next two years to improve emergency planning, crisis response and prevention in schools around the state.

SCHOLARS: Educators from colleges and universities across the state gathered in Durham Thursday evening to speak out against Republican-backed policy changes and decisions made by the General Assembly that they say could hurt North Carolina. In a standing room only meeting on Duke University's campus, the Scholars for a Progressive North Carolina touched on dozens of topics, including Medicaid expansion and the state's education system. "As scholars, what especially concerns us is that the new legislature seems bent on enacting policies that are most wholly unsupported by any serious research," said Dr. Lisa Levenstein, a professor at UNC Greensboro.

TEXT BOOKS: "Over the next four years, students in North Carolina public schools will trade in their traditional textbooks for digital devices as the state shifts how it funds educational materials," reports the Fayetteville Observer.

DIVORCE: "A state senator wants to require a two-year waiting period and mandatory counseling for couples who want a divorce," reports the Greensboro News & Record.

ELECTED: The House and Senate voted separately Thursday to elect Edward Raye of Marshville and Will Collins or Raleigh to the State Board of Community Colleges. Each term is for six years, reports the Associated Press.

SWEEPSTAKES: Gov. Pat McCrory's campaign is giving another $8,000 to charity, the third time his campaign has unloaded contributions from people facing criminal charges related to sweepstakes cafes.