1. Moral Monday – The school year is winding down and the State Legislature is working on the 2014-15 budget at a frenetic pace. Teachers, students and parents will be speaking out at this afternoon’s Moral Monday demonstration to show support for public education. Look for a sea of red this afternoon when the protest begins at 5:00 p.m. on Halifax Mall (behind the legislative building) in Raleigh.

2. House Budget – Governor Pat McCrory and the NC Senate have presented their $21 billion budget proposals, and this week the state House will roll out its competing version of the state spending plan on Tuesday. (Though we have heard we could see a few details emerge throughout the day….stay tuned to the Pulse for updates!)

Rep. Rick Glazier is hopeful the cuts to education are not as deep in the House budget. Glazier, who appeared on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon over the weekend, likened the Governor’s and the Senate’s budget plans to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic, just to different places.”

Click below to hear Rep. Glazier discuss proposed cuts to the university system, and listen here to the full radio interview.
YouTube Preview Image

3. “I feel the need…the need for speed!  – It’s rare we get to quote Top Gun here on the Progressive Pulse, but that classic movie line could well describe the House budget this week. House Speaker Thom Tillis has said that Appropriations and Finance committees will take up the House plan Tuesday and Wednesday, and it could reach the House floor as early as Thursday.

House Republicans have just announced a 9:00 a.m. budget preview for Tuesday morning in the press conference room at the General Assembly.

4. Privatizing economic development – The NC Senate convenes at 7:00 p.m.  this evening and up for third and final reading is Senate Bill 743, which would privatize portions of the state’s economic development work. The privatization proposal would set North Carolina on a path that a dozen other states have embarked on, with mixed results.

But that’s not the only worrisome part of this plan. As Sarah Ovaska reported last week, both the latest Senate bill and the House version would allow the new economic development partnership to bypass the state ethics law:

The current form of the bills also remove provisions putting members of the nonprofit’s board and top employees under state ethics rules, which require an annual public disclosure of financial interests as well as put in varied prohibitions on accepting gifts and performing favors. The ethics law also attaches criminal penalties for accepting money or gifts from those looking to s curry favor from public servants.

Boards that fall under the ethics rules range from the powerful State Board of Education and UNC Board of Governors to lesser known boards like the Agricultural Hall of Fame and Board of Refrigeration Examiners. The Golden Leaf Foundation, an economic development group funded  with North Carolina’s portion of tobacco settlement money, also is not a covered board under state ethics rules.

The nonprofit economic development group will have to develop conflict of interest policies that prevent board members from participating in discussion of projects that would have personal financial benefits, or benefits to family members and associates.

State Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican and sponsor of the Senate bill, said that ethics provision was removed at the request of the state Commerce department because it feared the financial disclosures would prevent people from joining the economic development board.

The NC Budget & Tax Center’s Allan Freyer will be on Capital Tonight  (Time Warner Cable News) at 7:00 p.m. this evening discussing this legislation.

5. Child and Family Day – Parents, children, youth, law enforcement, child care providers, and concerned citizens will come together at the state legislature on Tuesday to remind policymakers that our future prosperity depends on the well-being of today’s children and youth.

Two local arts organizations, Arts Together and Artspace, will be a part of Child and Family Day offering participants fun, engaging visual art activities! Arts Together will work with children to create a “Faces of North Carolina’s Children” self-portrait collage and Artspace will begin a large loom weaving, and ask children and parents (and anyone) to help with the weaving. Prior to the art projects, a series of speakers will address Child and Family Day attendees about the importance of investing in children.

Interested in attending? Tuesday’s event begins at 10:00 a.m. on Halifax Mall, the same location as the Moral Monday demonstration.

MCcRORY SIGNS FRACKING BILLGovernor Pat McCrory, backed by Republican legislators and his Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, signed the controversial Energy Modernization Act Wednesday morning. The legislation speeds up the start of natural gas drilling in North Carolina.

The governor said the bill, which zipped through both chambers last week with limited debate, will bring good jobs to rural North Carolina.

“We have watched and waited as other states moved forward with energy exploration, and it is finally our turn. This legislation will spur economic development at all levels of our economy, not just the energy sector,” said McCrory.

The governor also pledged that the new law has the necessary protections for the environment.

“The expansion of our energy sector will not come at a cost to our precious environment. This legislation has the safeguards to protect the high quality of life we cherish,” continued the governor.

Environmentalists have warned that the bill doesn’t address some of the most controversial elements of the fracking process, including forced pooling and the disposal of toxic fracking fluid.

“This bill sets a course for fracking to begin in 2015 by default, even though state regulators have not yet proposed draft rules for public comment.  This approach — buying a pig in a poke — will not protect North Carolina from the devastating impacts this industry has visited on communities in other states,” said Grady McCallie, policy director for NC Conservation Network.  “Lawmakers have broken the promise they made in 2012 and again in 2013 — to have the finished package of rules in front of them before deciding whether to allow fracking here — and by his signing, Gov. McCrory has signaled his willingness to put public health and communities at risk, too.”

Moral Monday demonstrators came to Raleigh this week to protest fracking and the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. That didn’t stop them however from weighing in on the Senate’s budget plan, which includes major cuts to health and human service programs and further reductions in education spending to fund teacher pay raises this year.  Click below to hear more from the Moral Monday protesters in their own words:

YouTube Preview Image

nc_elizabethcityMembers of the state Senate, who passed their $21.2 Billion budget over the weekend, apparently had second thoughts about a proposal that could have spelled the end for Elizabeth City State University.

The original State Senate Bill 744 included a two-line provision to “study the feasibility of dissolving any constituent institution whose fall full-time equivalent student enrollment declined by more than twenty percent (20%) between the 2010-2011 fiscal year and the 2013-2014 fiscal year and shall develop a plan for its dissolution. The Board of Governors shall report its findings and recommendations, including the plan for dissolution, to the 2015 General Assembly.”  The only institution that met that criteria was Elizabeth City State University.

Not only did the Legislative Black Caucus balk at the idea, loyal alums of ECSU and other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) mounted an online petition. As of Monday afternoon, more than 9,200 people had signed a petition urging lawmakers to support public education in North Carolina by “voting against any budget bill that includes a provision to study the dissolution of Elizabeth City State University.”

The News & Observer reports Republican Senator Bill Cook, who represents that district, introduced the amendment over the weekend that removed the budget provision that had threatened ECSU.

Here are just a few of the comments from the online petition (that was still going strong today) in support of ECSU and North Carolina’s HBCUs:

HBCU’s are still relevant and still serve the purpose for educating the less advantage. These institutions are the foundation for many of our great leaders today.
–Kimberly Braxton from North Chesterfield, VA

Elizabeth City State University serves a 21 county service area and is vital to the promotion of higher learning and the economy in the northeastern NC, it must not be closed!!
–Randon Pender from Winston-Salem, NC

If it had not been for ECSU, I would not have been able to get a college education. I’m grateful for ECSU and I support it financially . To God be the glory!
–John W. Jordan from Edenton, NC

Our son is a proud graduate of this fine institution. ECSU gave him an opportunity and not only did it instill confidence in him, but it gave him the opportunity to be a productive citizen of NC, and impact the lives of others.
–Brenda A. Harris from Charlotte, NC

We cannot afford to close ECSU as it has and continues to provides outstanding educational opportunities for students not only in Elizabeth City, but from around the world. The eastern seaboard will be at a loss and will the community and HBCU as a whole.
–Judy Jones from Rocky Mt, NC

This is my school. These are my roots. Improve instead of tearing down all that we have to show for us
–Tiara Sullivan from Rocky Mount, NC

This is an historic institution. We don’t do studies on how to eradicate history. We study ways to preserve it.
–Alice Sadler from Washington, NC

  • Moral Monday resumes – The North Carolina NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement return to Raleigh this afternoon standing up for environmental and health justice. The Moral Monday Rally and Action begins at 5:00 p.m. on Halifax Mall behind the General Assembly. Look for plenty of reaction tonight to the Senate’s budget proposal that the House will take up this week. Senate President Phil Berger calls it an education budget, but Senate Minority Whip Josh Stein points out that plenty of groups will be hurt by the Senate’s spending plan: YouTube Preview Image
  • School Safety and student prayer – On Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. the House Education Committee will meet to discuss legislation (House Bill 1062) that will require each local school district to prepare schematic diagrams of their schools and provide keys to the main entrance of all school facilities to local law enforcement agencies. Members will also discuss: Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Activity (Senate Bill 370). The committee meets at 10:00 a.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.
  • Common Core - On Wednesday, legislators will consider Senator Dan Soucek and Jerry Tillman’s bill to replace the Common Core. Senate Bill 812 would reject the Common Core standards and establish a new study commission that will create standards that are specific to North Carolina. Members will also discuss Senate Bill 815 – Ensuring privacy of student records. The meeting gets underway at 10:00 a.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building.
  • Medicaid Expansion – Last year the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory decided to reject federal money to expand Medicaid in our state. This decision means that over 500,000 individuals and working families in our state will go without health care and will remain in a coverage gap. It also means that since January 1, 2014, North Carolina has rejected $4.9 million per day that would provide coverage to 500,058 uninsured individuals. This Wednesday those advocating for Medicaid expansion will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. at the legislature.
  • Fracking Friday – The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission meets for the first time since lawmakers lifted the moratorium on fracking in North Carolina. Their meeting gets underway at 8:00 a.m. in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, Raleigh.