Hopefully all Policy Watch readers are taking a bit of their lunch break outside – as we break into the 70s and finally get to enjoy more daylight.

If you’re still getting caught up on news from the weekend, Governor Pat McCrory has been busy responding to criticism over his administration’s protection of the environment.

The governor brushed off questions raised by the New York Times, and told WSOC that his “administration has taken the most aggressive action in North Carolina history”  in pushing for clean air and water.

However it appears they are making that push with far fewer people.  The News and Observer reports that just last week, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources eliminated another 13 percent of the staff in the Division of Water Resources.

Rep. Pricey Harrison also weighed in on the downsizing of DENR on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views over the weekend. Click below for a short excerpt of that interview or here for the full radio segment.
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The legislature’s Environmental Review Commission meets this Wednesday to continue their discussion of coal ash storage.

Also be sure to mark your calendar for Thursday evening when the Headwaters Group of the NC Sierra Club will hold a panel discussion in Durham on “Is the State Doing Enough to protect Your Water?”

UNC-Wilmington professors Scott Imig and Robert Smith are back in the news with their  latest survey that finds an amazing number of parents deeply unhappy with recent changes to public education.  As education reporter Lindsay Wagner reports,  survey respondents “overwhelmingly trusted teachers and administrators — not lawmakers — to make educational decisions for the state’s public schools.pew

Our chart of the day comes from Pew Research, with a look at the Millennial generation – and how this racially diverse, independent group will shape our future elections:

Pew Research Center surveys show that half of Millennials (50%) now describe themselves as political independents and about three-in-ten (29%) say they are not affiliated with any religion. These are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

Finally, it’s unlikely many millennials know who Pat Boone is, but the 1950′s clean-cut,  pop singer has just endorsed David Rouzer for Congress.  We thought we’d close out today’s lunch links with this release from Boone’s 1997 album In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy: (Apologies in advance to any Pulse readers who are Deep Purple fans.)

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Former Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt is being remembered by colleagues on both sides of the aisle as a dedicated public servant and a courageous voice for North Carolinians. The Buncombe County lawmaker passed away Thursday evening at age 67, ten days after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Even when the votes weren’t there to win the day, Sen. Nesbitt was a champion for public education, health care, and programs that benefited rural and low-income North Carolinians.

In a July 2013 radio interview with NC Policy Watch, the Senate Minority Leader told Chris Fitzsimon it was a major mistake for the current leadership to reject federal dollars for Medicaid expansion and an extension of unemployment benefits. In that same interview, Nesbitt reflected on how governing the state had changed since he first joined the legislature in 1979. (Click below to hear a portion of that interview.)

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Nesbitt is being remembered this week by Republicans and Democrats alike for the legacy he leaves behind. Here are just a few of those remembrances:

“Sen. Nesbitt was a dedicated public servant to the State of North Carolina. He was a true professional in everything that he did. We join his family in mourning his loss.” – Governor Pat McCrory

“North Carolina lost a great leader, and I mourn a valued friend. Martin always believed in the people of our great state and strove to make North Carolina a better place. I have known and served with Martin for over thirty years and I will greatly miss his friendship, counsel, and candor.  My prayers are with Martin, his family, and the families across North Carolina for whom he worked for so long.” – Senate Democratic Leader  Dan Blue, Jr.

“Sen. Martin Nesbitt cared deeply about people and spent a lifetime fighting for what he believed would make NC a better place. Sen. Nesbitt’s passing leaves a deep void in our Senate family. I ask everyone to keep his loved ones in their prayers”- Senator President Phil Berger

“He just cared profoundly about people, particularly people who need a little help.  He cared a great deal about his mountain constituents.  He was a man of the mountain and that was just who he was and what he cared about.” – Senator Josh Stein

“For thirty years, Martin Nesbitt has served the people of Buncombe County in the General Assembly with extraordinary dedication, and North Carolina has lost a great leader. Martin was a fierce defender of his values, a champion for mental health, and a strong advocate for North Carolina’s children and public education system. I am honored to call Martin a colleague and friend, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.” – U.S. Senator Kay Hagan

“He was a courageous leader, integrity unmatched. A friend to all of North Carolina.” – Rep. Alma Adams

Nesbitt was first appointed to the NC House in 1979 to finish the remainder of the term for his mother, Mary Nesbitt. He served as appropriations chairman and top budget writer in the 1990s and began serving in the Senate in 2004. He was elected Senate Majority Leader in 2009, and after the Republican takeover in 2010, was elected Minority Leader.

Governor Pat McCrory has ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff to honor the Senator. Funeral arrangements are pending.

FF-coalAshA new poll commissioned by the NC League of Conservation Voters finds the vast majority of North Carolinians want state lawmakers to take swift and forceful action requiring Duke Energy to clean up all of its toxic coal ash lagoons around North Carolina.

Among the other key findings:

- 9 out of 10 North Carolinians have heard about the February 2nd Dan River coal ash spill

- 93% of voters want state lawmakers to force Duke Energy to clean up the Dan River;

- 83% want lawmakers to make Duke clean up all their other coal ash sites and move the material to safe and secure containment facilities;

- 81% say lawmakers should “act now” compared to 15% who favored studying the issue more before taking any action; and

- 77% say they are more likely to vote for a state lawmaker that “gets tough with corporate polluters like Duke Energy.”

“The people have spoken and they demand swift and forceful action from our state lawmakers to require Duke Energy to clean up its mess,” said Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for NCLCV. “While another disaster is just waiting to happen, Gov. McCrory and state legislators should not wait any longer to take the necessary steps to ensure these coal ash sites are cleaned up immediately.”

Click here to see the complete list of questions and crosstabs.

The Wake County Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that ‘respectfully requests’ the NC General Assembly repeal legislation that would eliminate teacher tenure.

Under the model approved last summer, local school districts would award the top 25 percent of their teachers 4-year contracts along with a $500 bonus, as long as they agree to give up their tenure. Lawmakers who support the legislation say it’s intended to reward teachers based on merit.

Leaders of the Wake County school board told reporters they believe the pay plan would create a negative environment that would discourage experienced educators from sharing their best practices.

Board chair Christine Kushner said she’s also troubled the 25% legislation would exclude some very qualified teachers from receiving bonuses.

Vice Chair Tom Benton noted that the controversial law was diverting attention away from the real issue legislators need to address – better compensation for all teachers.

“The sad thing is that with all the focus on the 25%, the career status, the increase for beginning teachers, the taking away of Master’s pay, we are have lost sight of a key and perhaps the most important factor in salaries. And that is that teacher salaries across this state are too low,” explained Benton.

Wake County estimates 62% of its full-time teachers would be eligible to receive four-year contracts and bonuses under the 25% legislation.

To hear an excerpt of their press conference, click below.  Click here to read their 3-page resolution. You can watch Tuesday’s school board meeting on WRAL.com.

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The latest Elon University Poll finds North Carolinians unhappy with many of the incumbents representing them in Washington and in Raleigh.

The February poll found Congress’ approval rating remaining in the single digits (8%). President Barack Obama fared better with an approval rating of 39%, while the majority (over  51%) said they disapprove of the job he is doing.

As for North Carolina’s two U.S. Senators, both Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr have a 33% approval rating. However it’s worth noting that Hagan, who faces a tough re-election campaign this year, has seen some  support erode among women since November, when this poll was last conducted.

Thom Tillis, thought to be a front-runner among a long list of Republican candidates hoping to unseat  Hagan, has his own problems. More than 58% percent did not recognize his name, and his approval rating was just 18%, with nearly 34% of respondents saying they disapprove.

Governor Pat McCrory’s approval rating has seen a slight uptick (now at 36%) since November 2013, but that has not been the case with the NC General Assembly. Less than a third of voters approve of the job of the legislature (28%) with more than 45% saying they disapprove of the direction the General Assembly has taken the state.

The  Elon University  Poll surveyed 925 registered voters between February 23rd – 26th. For a complete look at the questions and the poll findings, click here.
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