RALEIGH, N.C. — The week in Raleigh opened with ceremonial pomp as Gov. Roy Cooper visited the General Assembly to lay out his vision for the state, but closed grounded in the nitty-gritty of competing Republican tax plans and Cooper’s first veto.
Cooper on Thursday vetoed a measure that would re-establish partisan elections for local judges. “Judges make tough decisions on child abuse, divorce, property disputes, drunk driving, domestic violence and other issues that should be free from politics,” Cooper, a Democrat, wrote. It’s uncertain whether Republicans have the House votes needed to override the veto since several Republicans also want to maintain nonpartisan elections for trial judges.
A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham reaffirmed the Republican position that party labels would help voters by providing information on candidates they might otherwise know nothing about. “If the governor believes ‘partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench,’ he should stop suing the legislature when he loses political battles,” said Amy Auth, in a statement.
On Monday night Cooper had struck a conciliatory tone in his first State of the State address. The governor said there is common ground to be found between Republicans and Democrats on education, health care, drug abuse, creating jobs, raising the age for juvenile court proceedings, and disaster recovery. But he urged legislators to repeal House Bill 2 — the law rolling back LGBT discrimination protections — immediately.
“Citizens from Cherokee to Chocowinity are sick of it and they are wondering when we’re going to cut away this heavy anchor weighing us down,” Cooper said.
In the Republican response to Cooper’s speech, Berger treated the governor almost as an afterthought, focusing instead on the improvements to the state’s economy that have occurred since his party took control of the legislature six years ago. In the last election, he said, GOP legislators across the state received hundreds of thousands more votes than Democrats while Cooper “squeaked into office by a mere ten thousand votes.”
Republicans in both the House and Senate rolled out tax cut ideas this week. The plan proposed by Senate finance committee chairs on Thursday offered more income tax rate reductions and other breaks they estimate would save taxpayers about $1 billion over two years. “The people have sent us additional money and now is the time not to be timid,” Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, said at a news conference Thursday. “We need to give that money back to those taxpayers to go directly into the economy.”
House leaders estimate their plan would save personal income taxpayers a total of $64.5 million in the 2018-19 financial year and $124 million. Businesses would save a total of $135.8 million per year. The proposed tax cuts drew fire from the N.C. Democratic Party, which issued a news release saying Berger “seems intent on reheating the same tired trickle-down economics that gave us years of sluggish growth…”
IN OTHER BUSINESS:
Slow Drivers: A bill filed Thursday would issue a $200 fine to drivers caught driving below the speed limit or “impeding the flow of traffic” in the left lane of highways. If the bill passes, the state would join at least five other states that have adopted similar measures. Proponents of the laws say the issue goes beyond making life easier for faster drivers. Slow drivers in the left lane can lead to road rage incidents, tailgating and drivers using other lanes to pass.
Keno Gaming: North Carolina’s state-run lottery is expanding its gambling options with a new game starting this fall that could attract younger players and satisfy the thirst of legislators seeking more money for education initiatives. Keno is billed as an amusement for people who like to socialize in bars, restaurants, truck stops and other settings. Lottery official acknowledged the game represents a new direction for the lottery, which began selling tickets 11 years ago this month. An outside audit estimates keno could generate as much as $66 million by the fifth year, and $220 million in cumulative revenues over five years.
Piercing Bill: Public health departments would regulate body piercing and other “body art” businesses under a bill working its way through the House. State law currently requires inspections and permits for tattoo parlors, but the regulations don’t apply to piercings — aside from age requirements that prevent kids and teens from getting pierced without a parent’s permission. The measure was proposed by county public health directors who want to ensure the people offering piercings are running clean and safe operations. “I think most people think it’s regulated now,” said Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Macon, the bill’s sponsor.
Bee Bill: Legislators in the House are looking to protect bees and other pollinators while curbing pesticide use in the state. The bipartisan bill mirrors legislation other states by limiting the availability of neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of pesticides. Those pesticides have been found to contribute to the decline of pollinators — like bees. Preston Peck, policy advocate for Toxic Free NC, said last year across the U.S. beekeepers lost 44.1 percent of their colonies — a number he described as “staggering and unsustainable.”
Fake News: North Carolinians think fake news is a problem, report that they see it frequently and think they’re good at spotting it, a poll finds. Meredith College polled 876 registered voters and found that more than 88 percent say they think fake news confuses Americans about politics and government. Nearly 82 percent of people who participated in the Meredith poll said they feel confident in their ability to spot fake news. Republicans and Democrats felt equally confident, as did all North Carolinians of all age groups polled.
OBX Tourism: Cape Hatteras National Seashore and its 67 miles of beaches saw 2.4 million visitors in 2016, the most in 13 years. The seashore is part of the Outer Banks Group national parks, which include the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, where members of the Lost Colony landed. The Wright Brothers memorial had 458,776 visitors last year, more than 20,000 above 2015, according to a release from the National Park Service. The Fort Raleigh site had 292,367, nearly 2,500 more than the previous year. The three sites welcomed a total of 3.2 million visitors in 2016, the release said.
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Compiled by the Insider State Government News Service for the member papers of the Capitol Press Association. Learn more at NCInsider.com or @NCInsider.