Morning Memo: State lawmakers push bills to limit transparency

Posted by John Frank on June 27, 2014 

An unexpected underlying theme emerged from legislative action this week: transparency.

State lawmakers are advancing four bills in the final days of session that would limit the public’s right to know.

A bill to block disclosure of charter school employees’ names tied to salaries received the most attention Thursday.

The sponsors for the provision suggest that releasing the information would create “a hostile work environment” because those teachers earn merit-pay, a reward-for-performance system that is by its nature competitive. It would carve out an exemption for charter school employees that traditional school teachers don’t enjoy.

The most glaring part of the story is the flip-flop from Republican Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville. Three months ago he said charter schools needed to disclose salary information. “You can’t pick and choose when it’s convenient,” he said. “If they want to play in that arena, they need to play by public law.”

Now he says: “I actually think we should (redact names tied to salaries) for traditional schools, too.” ( Read more here.)

Here are the three other ways public records would be shielded:

PENSION INVESTMENTS: A bill backed by SEANC would make a wealth of investment information available as public records – including all fees related to investments made by the $87 billion pension fund.

But a bill support by NC Treasurer Janet Cowell would keep confidential “trade secret” information about investments made by money managers under wraps until five years after an investment contract has concluded. Read more here.

FARM COMPLAINTS: Allegations of pollution at North Carolina farms would be kept confidential unless state regulators find a violation, under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday and sent to the House.

Currently, records of those complaints and investigations are public records. ... The bill would make the records public once the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources determines there has been a violation. Read more here.

LAW ENFORCEMENT RECORDS: Republicans are raising concerns about a bill to make some information about law enforcement officers and prosecutors private. Read more here.

*** Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Look below for a must-read paragraph on the U.S. Senate race, a roundup of legislative stories and more from another whirlwind day at the General Assembly. ***

TODAY IN POLTICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not issue a public schedule for Friday.

House and Senate lawmakers went home for the weekend, even after toying with the idea of a Saturday session to possibly end the term.

THE STORY EVERYONE IS READING: For the first time since 1992, Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State each produced a first-round pick. Read more here.

ANOTHER: To satisfy your political geek. Read more here.

#NCSEN --- The headlines from the U.S. Senate campaign trail.

THE BIG STORY: A major Politico Magazine piece about GOP strategist Karl Rove’s campaign money machine includes a choice paragraph about an unreported-to-date call that featured U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis and Rove:

“And Rove has been quick to take credit where he can. Not long ago, he held a secret donor conference call on which the celebrity guest was Thom Tillis, whose decisive win in the North Carolina GOP primary in May earned him the right to take on a vulnerable Democrat, Sen. Kay Hagan, in a key state in November. Tillis, a once-obscure state House speaker, is now one of Rove’s prize horses in the national money derby; Crossroads spent more than $1.6 million on advertising boosting Tillis’ primary campaign and later unveiled a $3.6 million ad campaign attacking Hagan. “Our advertising was terrific,” Rove declared on the call, and Tillis gave credit to Crossroads for his victory, saying in his smooth drawl that the group’s “contribution can’t be overstated.” Read the big story here.

WHERE IS THOM TILLIS? One voice was missing from most of the extended House sessions Wednesday and Friday in Raleigh: House Speaker Thom Tillis.

It appears that Tillis skipped out early the past two days in Raleigh, missing the entire legislative session Wednesday and much of the debate Thursday, including on the charter school bill, which made national headlines this week after Rep. Paul Stam took issue with an amendment offering protections to LGBT students.

Tillis did step down from the dais Thursday to speak in favor of the House’s mini-education budget, a rare move. He did not oversee the entire day’s debate and it’s not clear whether he stayed for the entire session.

Where did he go? Two days of messages left with Tillis’ campaign manager and legislative spokeswoman produced no answers.

SUPER SATURDAY: The Tillis campaign and Republican Party are trying to energize activists to knock on doors and make phone calls in a concerted grassroots effort they are calling “Super Saturday.”

“November will be here before you know it, which is why we are working every day to take back the U.S. Senate and elect Thom Tillis and the entire Republican team,” wrote Claude Pope, the party chairman in a letter the Tillis campaign sent to its supporters.

“This Saturday marks another historic effort in our campaign to defeat Kay Hagan in November,” Tillis added in the solicitation for volunteers. “We are now just 131 days away from electing a conservative majority in the United States Senate to put a stop to President Obama's liberal agenda.”

#NCGA --- A roundup of news from the N.C. General Assembly.

ALMOST OVERLOOKED -- Embarrassed by national storm of attention on Stam’s remarks comparing pedophilia and homosexuality, House Republicans include anti-discrimination amendment in charter school bill

The House version of the charter bill also broadly bans discrimination against charter school applicants based on their sexual orientation or other federally and constitutionally protected classes.

The amendment ultimately included in the bill prohibits schools from discriminating against applicants under any category that’s already protected by federal law or the U.S. Constitution. That includes sexual orientation. Read more here.

BUDGET DEAL STILL NOT IN SIGHT: A four-hour span of political theater Thursday illustrated the lingering divide among Republican legislative leaders on how to rework the state’s $21 billion budget.

Senators started the morning grilling State Budget Director Art Pope about Medicaid spending in the House and governor’s budget plans. An hour later, House lawmakers side-stepped the issue with their unanimous approval of a new education-focused spending plan the Senate opposes.

Despite hoping to finish the session this week, lawmakers left Raleigh at the end of the day with much unresolved. House and Senate budget negotiators don’t anticipate significant progress before Monday, the final day of the fiscal year. Read more here.

MORE -- AP: North Carolina senators were not persuaded Thursday to accept Medicaid spending numbers for the coming year from Gov. Pat McCrory's administration after hearing a two-hour presentation led by State Budget Director Art Pope.

Pope was summoned by the Senate Appropriations Committee to explain why McCrory’s spending projection earmarks are much less than the Senate's to pay for unpaid claims from the year ending June 30 and additional enrollment and services for next year. Read more here.

LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: SBI shift put in another bill and more. Read here.

McCRORY TO SIGN BILL LEGALIZING A FORM OF MEDICIAL MARIJUANA – From WFMY: Some families in North Carolina are applauding state lawmakers after passing a groundbreaking bill Thursday. Governor Pat McCrory says he plans to sign into law a bill that allows for medical use of cannabidiol oil for the treatment of seizures disorders, particularly those that seem to afflict children. Cannabidiol oil is derived from a compound that is found in the marijuana plant. Read more here.

ACLU SAYS IT SHOULD GO FURTHER: “It’s very encouraging to see North Carolina take this first step toward more compassionate medical marijuana laws, but this bill overlooks countless North Carolinians suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDs, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions who could benefit from safe and legal access to medical marijuana,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director.

#NCPOL --- More political news from North Carolina.

JUDGE OLA LEWIS APOLOGIZES AFTER PLAGIARISM COMPLAINT – From N.C. Policy Watch: A campaign website for a judge running for the state’s highest judicial seat posted an N.C. Policy Watch reporter’s article without attribution, leaving the false impression the article had been written by the judge.

Judge Ola Lewis, a Brunswick County Superior Court judge running to be the next chief justice at the N.C. Supreme Court, said a member of her campaign staff made a mistake in posting the article without proper attribution. Read more here.

THE TALKER – Carolina Journal’s John Hood writes that “Art Pope is a master of manipulation.” But it comes with a big asterisk at the end aimed at the liberals who want to believe this is true. Read more here.

ROY COOPER TEES OFF ON GOP: From the Richmond County Journal: Attorney General Roy Cooper ... said that the people should choose leaders with integrity and common sense, saying politicians “don’t have to stoop to socially divisive issues.” ... criticized the N.C. General Assembly’s current leadership, contending “Raleigh is busy trying to take power from local governments,” while lawmakers simultaneously complain about federal overreach ... (on SBI he said) “It’s bad public policy, no matter who’s governor or attorney general.” ... that provision (in the “ag-gag” bill) “goes too far.” Read much more here.

ENDORSEMENTS: In the 6th District Congressional race, former U.S. Senate candidates Mark Harris and Heather Grant are endorsing Mark Walker and former Greensboro mayor Robbie Perkins is backing Phil Berger Jr. Read more here.

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