Monday, July 29, 2013

Bill Brawley gets choice post

In the crunch of legislation, and legislative wrangling, at the end of last week, one announcement was overlooked. Rep. Bill Brawley was named a co-chair of the influential House Finance Committee.

House Speaker Thom Tillis named the Matthews Republican to the vacant post on Friday.

It capped a busy session for Brawley. He was a House sponsor of bills to help the Carolina Panthers and to create an authority for Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a bill passed and then repealed late last week. He also shepherded Gov. Pat McCrory's transportation overhaul to passage through the House and Senate.

"(Brawley) has become a very effective legislator in just his second term," Tillis said in a statement. "He handles complex issues in truthful and honorable ways, and his ability to build consensus around legislation is continually impressive."

Said Brawley: "I'm honored. I think it's an expression of confidence in my ability to get good legislation done.”

Brawley replaces another Brawley. GOP Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville held the Finance Post until turning in his gavel in May after publicly criticizing Tillis.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sen. Bob Rucho: 'I'm back'

A few weeks after going into a sort of self-imposed exile, Sen. Bob Rucho returned to the gavel this week as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

"I think we've got the issue resolved," he said this morning.

Last month the Matthews Republican, frustrated when Senate leaders backed off his ambitious tax overhaul plan, offered his resignation as committee chair -- which wasn't accepted -- and fired off a letter criticizing Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis, both Mecklenburg County Republicans.

"It is a huge disappointment that the governor and the speaker ... did not provide the leadership or have the political backbone to fight the special interest groups," he wrote.

This week the governor, speaker and Senate president all agreed on a tax plan that cuts personal and corporate income tax rates. Rucho said he's come to terms with the plan, even though it doesn't go as far as he'd like. He wanted to eliminate the personal income in favor of a much broader sales, or as he calls it, consumption, tax.

"This was the first step toward accomplishing something," he said.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Surprises not surprising near session's end

Surprises keep on coming in the waning days of North Carolina's legislative session.

Last week it was the N.C. Senate which, in a hastily called committee meeting, inserted controversial new abortion proposals into a bill on Sharia law.

Wednesday it was the House. Committee members meeting to debate a bill on motorcycle safety found the bill had picked up a new sidecar: the abortion proposals. They were similar to the Senate's, but revised at the urging of Gov. Pat McCrory's administration.

They caught some lawmakers by surprise. But Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican handling the abortion provisions, told reporters, "We’re nearing the end of session. Things move quickly."

Then came more surprises.

They came in a regulatory reform bill, or as critics call it, the "Billboards Forever" bill.

Inserted into a bill involving various regulations were several seen publicly for the first time. Among them: provisions to allow more clearing of trees and other vegetation around billboards and to essentially prevent cities and towns from regulating existing billboards.

"The bottom line for us is that this legislation says, in effect, that billboards are forever," says Ben Hitchings, president of the N.C. Chapter of the American Planning Association. "The fact that this hasn't been vetted in any substantive way is a real concern."

The bill, SB 112, has other provisions that concern local officials.

It prohibits local governments from enacting environmental or other regulations more stringent than state or federal regulations. And it repeals zoning protest petitions, which give citizens more say in nearby development.

Paul Meyer of the N.C. League of Municipalities says the bill essentially puts city ordinances "in the hands of various state environmental agencies."

"Municipalities enact these environmental ordinances to respond to environmental threats, protect life and property, and streamline local development procedures," he said in a statement.

The bill is on Thursday's House calendar. If passed, and if the Senate concurs with its changes, the bill could present a dilemma for McCrory.

Last year, as a candidate for governor, he said he opposed GOP legislation that would curb local governments' ability to regulate billboards.

Read more here:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

12th District race is off and running

Nevermind that U.S. Rep. Mel Watt is still in the 12th District congressional seat he's had since 1993. The race to succeed him is on.

Watt, a Democrat, is President Obama's choice to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Though he has yet to be confirmed by the Senate -- and faced some harsh questions at his confirmation hearing last month -- candidates are already lining up for an expected special election.

Charlotte lawyer George Battle III on Wednesday becomes the first candidate to formally announce for Watt's seat. He has events planned in Greensboro and Charlotte.

Other expected candidates include state Sen. Malcolm Graham and Rep. Rodney Moore, both Charlotte Democrats. Several other legislators are also exploring the race.

On Tuesday, Public Policy Polling came out with a new poll on the prospective race. It showed Graham leading several challengers with 31 percent of the vote. Rep. Alma Adams from Greensboro had 22 percent.

Battle had 8 percent.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

One Republican goes rogue on abortion bills

The battle lines among spectators were pretty clear at today's House hearing on a Senate abortion bill. They were even colorful: Pink-clad abortion rights activists on one side of the hearing room and blue-shirted abortion opponents on the other.

The lines between legislators were pretty clear as well. Republicans for the bill. Democrats against.

With at least one exception.

Freshman GOP Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville said he's inclined to not support, or concur, with the Senate bill. Abortion supporters say would limit women's rights; abortion opponents say it would ensure abortion facilities are safe. Both sides say if the bill passes, and is signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, only one abortion clinic in the state would meet the requirements.

Jeter said he thinks the proposed new standards for abortion clinics -- to match those of ambulatory surgery centers -- should apply to all places that do surgery, including dental offices. As for cutting the number of abortion clinics from 16 to 1: "I don't know how that makes women's health safer," he says.

Last week Jeter was one of only two Republicans to vote against a bill to include in school curriculums the belief that abortions could contribute to pre-term births in pregnancies.

"I didn't come up here to vote on social issues," he says. I came up here to get jobs back."