The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. File photo by Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

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New WNC-based priorities outlined, and back to ‘singing, clapping, shouting’

RALEIGH – In the end, the state House version of the Appropriations Act of 2014 attracted a handful of votes from Democrats and passed Friday morning with a 77-36 vote.

The final version, derived after two days of debate and amendments, heads to the state Senate, which voted out a spending plan earlier this month that is vastly different in several places.

Senate appropriation committees take a look at the House plan this week.

There’s no telling how long negotiations between the two chambers will take, but a least one clue came out last week when the official adjournment bill was filed with a target date of Friday, June 27.

Notable among the changes passed by the House is a projected boost in the take from the lottery to pay for teacher pay raises averaging 5 percent. The additional lottery sales are driven by removal of a cap on lottery advertising, according to the plan. The projection — the high end of an estimate of income — drew criticism during the proposal’s debate and is likely to be one of the first hurdles when the House and Senate conference committee starts meeting.

The Senate plan to raise pay for teachers is also controversial, requiring teachers to give up their career status rights in order to qualify for 11 percent raises. The House plan does not include a requirement that teachers give up career status rights.

The two plans are similar in that they provide higher percentage raises to teachers with less than 15 years of experience and boost the starting pay for the profession, a priority in Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget. Unlike the Senate plan, the House plan does not cut funding for about 7,400 teaching assistants in the second and third grades.

The House does follow the governor’s lead in trying to squeeze more dollars out of the university system budget. The governor proposed a $44 million cut and the House proposed cutting $20 million while the Senate did anticipate further cuts.

The House and Senate budgets provide for many of the same upgrades to Western region projects, including state funds and bond offerings for a new Western Crime Lab along with major improvements at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center.

A new WNC addition in the House budget is $2 million in planning funds for a western campus for the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Also in the House budget is an additional $1.86 million for innovative high schools including Buncombe Discovery Academy.

The House did not agree with a Senate plan to close some state historic sites, including the Zebulon Baird Vance birthplace in Weaverville.

Coal ash still an issue

The governor’s Coal Ash Plan is back before the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The bill was reviewed by the committee earlier this month in a discussion-only meeting. It was introduced early in the session by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, as a starting point to coal ash legislation

On Monday at 3 p.m., the committee takes up the plan again.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who is developing the House version of the bill, said recently he expected Apodaca to introduce a new version of the legislation soon.

Local bills in play

A handful of local bills are also on the legislative calendar for this week.

Brevard meals tax legislation is up for a final vote in the Senate on Monday.

Last week, the House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, deannexing two tracts in Murphy, and the Senate gave final approval to West’s exemption for Clay County from state wildlife laws to allow for the annual New Year’s Eve Possum Drop at Clay’s Corner.

The Senate also passed a newly modified bill held over from last year that amends the extraterritorial jurisdiction authority of Weaverville and Asheville, allows Buncombe County to zone “donut holes,” repeals the Buncombe County Culture and Recreational Authority and allows Henderson County to revise its fire rates.

The bill, modified in the Senate Finance Committee and then passed by the full Senate last Wednesday, was sponsored last year by Buncombe County Reps. Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey, both Republicans.

Both denied that the quick change to the bill to repeal the parks authority was a response to a judge’s ruling lat last month in favor of Asheville in the long running legal battle over the city’s water system. Ramsey told the (Asheville) Citizen-Times last week there were concerns with the funding mechanism for the new authority.

Moral Monday court win

The North Carolina NAACP won a court challenge to new building rules last Friday, successfully arguing that they were arbitrary and vague.

The rules were modified in a closed-door session of the Legislative Services Commission ahead of the first Moral Monday protest last month. It was the first time the rules had been altered since 1987, and they forbid disturbances such as “singing, clapping, shouting” or any noise “that is loud enough to impair others’ ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice while in the general vicinity.”

NAACP attorneys argued that new rules were set up to have a “chilling effect” on the protests and were overly broad.

At the first Moral Monday protest of the session, held on May 18, three days after the rules were passed, hundreds of participants filed silently through the building with tape over their mouths to protest the rules changes.

Judge Carl Fox ruled in favor of the challenge and temporarily suspended the new rules for the next two weeks.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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