State Politics

Political news from around NC (and beyond).

 Lawmakers in the state House have approved a bill that would allow companies offering small loans to increase their interest rates. Jessica Jones reports the companies often target military customers. 

Earlier today, lawmakers in the state Senate tentatively approved a 19-point-7 billion dollar spending plan for the next two years. The framework of the plan was a reworked budget proposal released earlier this week after negotiations between Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate.

Republican budget writer Richard Stevens was the first lawmaker to speak about the plan- otherwise known as House Bill 200- on the Senate floor earlier today. He told his colleagues that he and other Republicans have produced the kind of plan they promised they would.

 Republican leaders in the legislature have come up with a new budget they hope members of both parties will pass. 

Two bonds being considered by the Raleigh City Council may end up on the ballot this fall. If passed, they would total $52 million for transportation and housing projects.

The transportation bond would be the largest, at $37 million. It would include the usual road paving projects, but for the first time, a transportation bond would also include money for greenways and bike lanes. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker explained the need when he gave his state of the city address in March.

Democratic leaders at the legislature say they're unhappy with the Republican-authored Senate budget proposal that would cut Smart Start. It's a nationally recognized early childhood program for low-income families across the state. The Senate plan would strip funding for the program by 20 percent, as does the House budget proposal passed a few weeks ago. But the Senate proposal would also dissolve the parent organization that oversees Smart Start and shift its administration to the Division of Child Development. Democrat Joe Hackney is the Minority Leader in the House.

Republican leaders in the state Senate have released a $19.4 billion dollar budget that would still make deep cuts to education. The Senate plan would give more money to public schools and universities than a House plan passed a few weeks ago, but community colleges would receive less funding. The proposed Senate budget would also lower personal income taxes, exempt small businesses from paying some taxes and establish merit pay for teachers. Phil Berger is the President Pro Tem of the Senate.

A bill that opponents of abortion rights have pushed for years is moving through the state legislature. House Bill 854, known as the "Woman's Right to Know Act," would mandate counseling, a waiting period, and an ultrasound before a woman could receive an abortion. Supporters of the bill say the measure would give women more information to make an informed choice. But opponents say the measure is designed to intimidate women.

 The governor and Republican legislative leaders have reached an agreement on how to fund the State Health Plan.

 Governor Perdue vetoed a health plan bill last month because she wasn't happy with the idea of teachers paying premiums. Under that plan, all state employees would've had to pay premiums for the first time. But now the governor and Republican leaders have agreed not to charge healthy workers any premiums at all.

Durham health officials want to ban smoking in a number of public places, including all county and city grounds, athletic fields, playgrounds, and bus stops. Gayle Harris is director of the Durham County Health Department.

State senators have passed a bill that would promote a controversial method of extracting natural gas popularly known as fracking. Senate Bill 709 would also open the coast to offshore natural gas drilling in conjunction with other states. Republican Senator Bob Rucho is the bill's main sponsor.

 State lawmakers have passed a measure that would make it harder for cities and towns to build their own Internet broadband systems. 

 The controversial bill passed the Senate earlier this week and returned yesterday to the House for concurrence. Supporters say it's not fair that municipalities don't have to follow the same regulations that commercial providers do. But a few Democratic lawmakers still fired whatever shots they could at the measure. Democrat Bill Faison represents Caswell and Orange counties. 

Lawmakers in the state House have tentatively approved a 19 billion dollar budget that makes deep cuts to education and health care. 

 Legislators debated the Republican penned budget for nearly ten hours yesterday. Republican representative Mitch Gillespie of Marion told colleagues it's the most responsible budget that could be put together in a slow economy. 

State senators have tentatively passed a bill that would make it more difficult for municipalities in North Carolina to build their own Internet broadband systems. 

 Right now a handful of municipalities across the state provide their own internet broadband services to residents at subsidized rates. But cable companies are wary of the do-it-yourselfers. They say it's not fair that municipalities don't have to follow the same regulations to set up broadband services.

Surry County communications operators are testing a developing 911 call system to improve emergency response networks. A grant program is funding a test system called Next Generation 911 from Greensboro-based Synergem Emergency Services. Surry County communications director Roger Shore says the system allows 911 operators to field calls more efficiently.

State senators have passed a new bill that attempts to close a 500 million dollar shortfall in the state health plan. Governor Bev Perdue vetoed an earlier health plan bill two weeks ago, saying teachers weren't consulted about the premiums workers would have to pay, along with other costs. The new bill would also require workers to pay premiums, but with some changes. Republican Senator Tom Apodaca is the bill's main sponsor. 

Charles Meeker
charlesmeeker.com

  Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker will not seek another term in office this fall. He made the announcement earlier today. 

Charles Meeker is known for staying very calm under pressure and not letting his emotions get the best of him. This morning, though, he cracked a little when talking about the success of his pet project - the opening of Fayetteville Street.

Transportation officials are slowly opening new lanes this week on Interstate 40 in west Raleigh. It's part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation's long-term plan to expand freeways in the Triangle. DOT spokesman Steve Abbot says the section of I-40 between Harrison Avenue and Highway 1 will widen from four lanes to six.

Steve Abbot: "That is one of the biggest bottlenecks of traffic in the Triangle and we widen that just to alleviate traffic, make things safer and help traffic flow better. We are on target to be finished about the end of June of this year."

Republican lawmakers have completed many spending recommendations that are part of crafting next year's budget.

Brookridge ribbon cutting
DHIC, Inc.

  Low-income people in Wake County got access some more housing options this week when officials dedicated a supportive housing development. Brookridge is a neighborhood of 40 studio apartments in south Raleigh.

Residents make 50 percent or less of the area's median income. Program manager Annemarie Maiorano says the development supports a population that is susceptible to becoming homeless or falling back into homelessness.

Home and business owners who file insurance claims in the wake of last weekend's storm and have a dispute with their insurer could be eligible for a state mediation program. 

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin activated the program earlier this week in anticipation of problems as many people put in claims for storm damage. 

Spokeswoman Kerry Hall from the state Department of Insurance says her office is starting to get calls from people with questions:

State house lawmakers have tentatively passed a controversial tort reform bill.

Senate Bill 33's Republican sponsors say capping non-economic damages for patients who're suing their doctors for malpractice would help create a friendlier climate for doctors to come to the Tar Heel state. They say the measure would rein in skyrocketing insurance costs for doctors. But Democratic representative Bill Faison- who's a well-known plaintiff's attorney- disputes that. 

Governor Bev Perdue says she's thankful the White House moved quickly to send federal assistance to North Carolina. 

Right now residents of ten counties qualify for low-interest federal loans or FEMA grants to repair their homes and businesses. Governor Perdue says she could have asked that more counties qualify, but it would have taken longer for federal assistance to come to the state. 

 State representatives have tentatively passed a reworked version of a bill that would move oversight of the state health plan from the legislature to the treasurer's office. 

State lawmakers have not come to an agreement over restoring unemployment benefits for 37 thousand people across the state.

Republican leaders in Raleigh say they plan to try to override the governor's veto of a bill that would have extended federal unemployment benefits. The governor vetoed the measure Saturday because it was tied to a provision that would've required her to cut next year's budget by 13 percent. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger says he thinks the governor made a bad decision. 

State lawmakers have voted to extend unemployment benefits for North Carolinians for up to four additional months. But the measure would also force the governor to accept a spending cut.

 Both the House and the Senate have now passed House Bill 383. It would extend unemployment benefits for about 37 thousand workers who otherwise would stop receiving their checks as of Saturday. Republican Paul Stam is the House Majority Leader.

The Department of Public Instruction will put cameras on school buses to identify drivers who don't stop when children are getting on or off the bus. State law requires drivers to stop when a school bus has its "stop arm" out. The pilot program will help identify the license plates and drivers of vehicles that fail to stop. DPI Transportation Services chief Derek Graham says the cameras will help law enforcement catch "stop arm" violators.

Lawmakers at the General Assembly have begun rolling out suggested budget cuts. It's part of the process of putting together the state's spending plan for the next two years. But with an estimated shortfall of about two billion dollars, cobbling together a budget this year is more painful than usual. That's especially true in the area of education, which takes up 60 percent of the state's budget.

This morning Democratic Representative Marian McLawhorn of Grifton was sitting in her office, reading through two official-looking packets that are already a little dog eared.

A state trust fund that provides money for water pollution cleanup could shrink significantly under the budget proposed by the state House. That's according to Richard Rogers, the Chief Executive of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. He says the House budget appropriates 10 million dollars to the trust fund, 80 percent less than the 50 million proposed by Governor Bev Perdue in her budget.

The North Carolina House has proposed budget cuts that include more than $170 million from public safety agencies. Part of that spending plan would eliminate nearly 400 jobs from the court system. Officials say services like drug courts and family courts would have to make significant cutbacks. John Smith is the director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

John Smith: "We were prepared to reduce our positions by as many as 200 positions and felt that we could continue to provide the services. This will be double that."

State senators have pardoned a Reconstruction-era governor who was impeached and driven from office nearly a century and a half ago.

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