NC Teachers Group Plans New Steps Against Changes

RALEIGH — An advocacy group representing North Carolina teachers is promising more action to resist a new state law that eliminates job protections and shifts toward performance pay.

The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina JusticeCenter say they’ll describe their latest efforts on Wednesday. The groups say school legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year will undermine public schools.

Republicans who this year took control of most of state government after Gov. Pat McCrory’s election say their changes attempt to hold teachers and schools more accountable for student learning.

State Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County says the Obama administration has pushed states to develop teacher evaluation systems with teeth and merit pay for teachers.

Republicans Disapprove Of State Legislature

RALEIGH – In its latest poll of North Carolinians, Public Policy Polling found that a majority of Republicans in the state disapprove of the job the GOP-controlled state legislature is doing. 40 percent of Republicans said they disapprove, as opposed to 36 percent who say they approve.

Overall, 56 percent of North Carolina voters disapprove of the job the General Assembly is doing. Tom Jensen, director of PPP, attributes this to the extreme legislation being pushed by the General Assembly.

“I think that Republican voters think that a lot of the proposals that Republican legislators have been passing in the General Assembly really are just too extreme,” Jensen said. “Too far to the right, even by Republican standards.”

Among the “extreme legislation” Jensen cited is a bill to allow guns on all educational properties, a bill to raise interest rates on consumer loans and a ban on purchasing cars over the phone or Internet, which would make it difficult to buy electric cars in North Carolina.

In addition, both the House and Senate’s proposed budgets had disapproval rates of 49 percent and 50 percent respectively, including a 33 percent disapproval of the House budget and 35 percent disapproval of the Senate budget by Republicans.

“Average voters probably don’t know a whole lot about what’s in the House budget or the Senate budget, but they know that they don’t trust the General Assembly, so they are inherently opposed to a lot of what they’re trying to do,” Jensen said.

While a majority of voters disapprove of the Republican-controlled legislature, the disapproval ratings for both parties in the General Assembly are almost equal, with Democrats and Republicans unfavorable at 47 and 49 percent respectively.

“A lot of times, voters don’t actually know who’s in charge of the General Assembly,” Jensen said. “Some people may not be aware that it’s Republicans that are totally in charge and pushing this kind of stuff. Especially because that is a change from the standard we’ve had in North Carolina, where Democrats have generally been in charge over the years.”

In addition to the General Assembly’s bad numbers, Governor Pat McCrory has reached his lowest approval ratings yet, with 45 percent of voters approving the job he’s been doing. While the governor has been able to fare better than the roundly disliked legislature, Jensen said McCrory’s lack of resistance to the General Assembly is seen as implied support.

“I think a lot of the Democrats and more moderate-leaning Independents who voted for him last year who generally vote Democratic maybe are feeling that he has not been quite as a difference as a Republican as they thought he would be,” Jensen said.

In April, PPP found that 31 percent of Democratic voters in the state approved of McCrory’s work, but now polling is finding his support among Democrats at 24 percent. 71 percent of Republicans approve of the work McCrory is doing.

NC Medicaid Shortfall Now $330 Million-Plus

RALEIGH – The North Carolina office that oversees Medicaid says the funding shortfall for the government health insurance program is more than $330 million.

Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said Tuesday the shortfall has grown $85 million above the $248 million projected by Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration earlier this month.

Wos’ office again blamed the expanded shortfall on then-Gov. Beverly Perdue’s administration – this time saying it overestimated Medicaid receipts. McCrory’s agencies attributed an earlier shortfall uptick to a forecasting model error last year.

A bill in the General Assembly would give McCrory access to $400 million in unspent funds, cost savings and surplus tax collections to cover the shortfall. But that money is also supposed to cover $118 million for an outstanding drug rebate to the federal government.

NC House Bill Keeps Free Lanes When Tolls Arrive

RALEIGH – The North Carolina House has passed a bill paving the way for tolls, but only if the state maintains free lanes.

The House approved a bill Tuesday that allows the state to add tolls only if it keeps the same number of non-toll lanes.

If highways were expanded, the state Department of Transportation could toll lanes to pay for the construction. The department could also offer limited access and higher speed limits to encourage motorists to take the toll lanes.

The measure targets potential tolling on Interstate 95 but would apply to all current interstates.

An amendment to restore a provision giving the legislature final say on tolls failed. Amendment sponsor Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern argued the elected officials should have that authority, not the transportation department.

NC Budget Deletes Education Earmarks For Lottery

RALEIGH – The North Carolina budget sought by Senate Republicans would eliminate the law that lays out how the state lottery’s net proceeds should be distributed for education.

The spending plan set for a floor vote Wednesday deletes what the General Assembly intended for profits when the North Carolina lottery law passed in 2005. Half is supposed to go toward class-size reduction and pre-kindergarten, with 40 percent for school construction and the rest for college scholarships for needy students.

Budget-writer Sen. Pete Brunstetter said Tuesday legislators have altered the distribution annually to meet their needs, so it makes sense to eliminate language no one follows.

The proposed budget would still distribute lottery profits to those programs. Brunstetter says he doesn’t believe Republican colleagues are inclined to spend the money on non-education needs.

NC House, Senate Plans Differ On Sales Tax

RALEIGH – A tax code overhaul plan unveiled by House Republicans puts them at odds with Senate counterparts on how many transactions should be subject to North Carolina’s sales tax.

The House plan released Thursday would expand the combined sales tax to cover a few more items such as car and lawn mower repairs and product warranties. The Senate would subject nearly every service to the sales tax and eliminate exemptions on groceries and prescription drugs. The House plan keeps both exemptions.

House plan author Rep. David Lewis says he’s optimistic a compromise with the Senate can be worked out. Senate leader Phil Berger says failing to broaden widely the sales tax base prevents lower tax rates that spur economic growth.

Gov. Pat McCrory says he’s “encouraged” by the House plan details.

NC House Passes Social Media Privacy Bill

RALEIGH – A bill forbidding employers and universities from accessing private email or social media accounts of workers and students has passed the North Carolina House.

The bill that passed Thursday prohibits employers and universities from demanding access to the private accounts of applicants, employees and students. The bill provides a number of exceptions, including cases of employer-held devices or accounts and criminal investigations.

The bill’s sponsors said a number of other states have enacted similar bills that help define privacy in the digital age.

Rep. Paul Stam of Apex said he’s worried about the implications for employers who may have good reasons for asking for access to personal accounts.

The bill passed the House 76-36 and will now head to the Senate.

Raleigh Wants Video Records Of Closed-Door Meetings

RALEIGH – The state House wants North Carolina governmental bodies to record many meetings they hold behind closed doors.

The chamber voted 87-29 Thursday for a bill directing all public bodies to record by audio or audio and video what went on in private, with some exceptions. The public and media could receive the recording once the reason for having a private meeting is no longer applicable.

Public bodies now must keep a “general account” of the closed session that can be released later.

Governmental bodies can meet privately for several reasons, such as to discuss economic development negotiations and reports of criminal investigations.

The bill now heading to the Senate would prevent recordings about board discussions of personnel matters, potential terrorist activity, and privileged information with its attorney.

NAACP Protest At NC Legislature Ends In Arrests

RALEIGH – A protest of Republican policies at the North Carolina General Assembly has ended with the arrests of 17 people.

General Assembly police arrested members of the state chapter of the NAACP and other activists Monday outside the Senate chambers. The demonstrators called attention through prayer and song to what they called a regressive agenda.

Police Chief Jeff Weaver said the protestors will be charged.

The protest was directed at Republican action on health care, unemployment benefits, education and voting rights. The House passed a bill last week requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People views as a poll tax.

Chapter president the Rev. William Barber said more protests at the General Assembly are likely.