Under the Dome

Dome: Congress spares tuition-assistance program

March 21, 2013 

Congress has spared a program that provides tuition assistance to active-duty members of the military.

Wednesday the Senate passed a spending bill that included a measure co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to restore the program. Thursday, the House of Representatives passed its version of the bill, and it includes the provision to restore the military financial aid for the rest of the fiscal year. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.

The military earlier this month suspended the tuition aid for the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps as a way to save money in the face of across-the-board spending cuts. The program helps pay for courses that members of the military take part time while they serve.

The Triangle’s delegation voted for the measure.

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, said in a statement:

“I am very pleased appropriators in the majority listened to voices of reason such as Senator Hagan and agreed to include funding to restore military tuition assistance in the Continuing Resolution. I also applaud local institutions, such as Methodist University in the 4th District, that announced they would offer service members free tuition as long as funding was unavailable.

“The military’s difficult decision to suspend tuition assistance explains in a nutshell the mindless approach Congress took in sequestration: It’s possible to save money by denying our service members educational opportunities, but that’s the very definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

The Army Tuition Assistance program last year spent $373 million for 201,000 soldiers to take courses.

Internet gaming hopes

A group representing the Internet sweepstakes industry is still hoping to persuade the General Assembly to legalize and regulate the games, despite last week’s arrest of a major machine supplier in a Florida gambling investigation.

The Electronic Sweepstakes Coalition is trying to persuade legislators to file a bill that would regulate and tax the games. A news release it issued Thursday says the bill should include criminal background checks, licensing procedures and strict regulations on the machine software and locations.

“Thousands of people rely on jobs provided by this industry and they should not be penalized for the actions of a few that happened in another state,” the release says.

It would provide jobs and taxes for the state’s economy, the coalition says.

Chase Burns, the owner of International Internet Technologies and a major political donor in North Carolina, was charged with racketeering in an investigation that has led to multiple arrests and the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor.

Only 2 percent of the hundreds of millions of dollars Burns’ machines reportedly made went to the charity Allied Veterans, according to investigators.

The North Carolina coalition says the machines in the Allied Veterans case only accounted for about 5 percent of the approximately 1,000 electronic sweepstakes cafes in Florida.

The industry is willing to trade strict regulation in exchange for a clear signal that it is legal in North Carolina, following a series of court rulings leading to the state Supreme Court upholding a ban in December.

Burns has made $235,000 in campaign contributions to key politicians in North Carolina, including Gov. Pat McCrory, according to an analysis by Democracy North Carolina. The governor and other politicians say they have since purged their campaign accounts of Burns’ contributions.

Concealed-carry bill lives

The main sponsor of this year’s attempt to allow concealed handguns in restaurants that serve alcohol says the idea is still alive.

A House committee on Wednesday stripped out that portion of the bill, leaving only a section that would make confidential records of concealed weapon permit-holders in North Carolina. But Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, says the restaurant provision will be considered by the General Assembly this session. Stripping it out of the bill Wednesday was “just to keep the conversation going,” Burr said.

A recently filed bill in the Senate, in fact, would do the same thing: allow people who have concealed-carry permits to bring their handguns into restaurants that serve alcohol. Restaurant owners would still be able to ban guns from the premises.

The House last session approved an identical restaurant gun bill, but it stalled in the Senate. The restaurant industry had some initial objections to the bill, and some Republican legislators also had reservations.

The current version of the bill is HB17.

Staff writers Craig Jarvis and Renee Schoof of McClatchy Newspapers

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