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State lawmakers still want to see $10 million in cuts by shutting down four regional offices of a state health program that aids developmentally delayed babies and toddlers.

DHHSThe N.C. Infant-Toddler Program, an early intervention program managed under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, faced $18 million in cuts in the two-year budget passed last year — $8 million in the first year and $10 million for the fiscal year beginning in July 2014.

A DHHS attempt this spring to meet mandated cuts by shutting down three Eastern North Carolina children’s developmental services agencies fell apart in April.   East Carolina University’s medicine school turned down a proposal to absorb the work in an existing contract it had to manage another CDSA office. (Click here for background.)

Now, both the Senate and the House budget have tightened the language around the cuts and want to require DHHS to shut down four of the state’s 16 child-developmental services agencies by January.

DHHS “shall close four State-operated CDSA’s, effective January 1, 2015,” both the House and Senate budget say.

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The state’s decision to put its 1998 Sikorsky helicopter up for sale  this year didn’t attract any bidders — an online sale on EBay ended this afternoon without any takers.

Maybe the $1.5 million price tag was too much for the seven-seat helicopter.

Gov. Pat McCrory said in early May he was planning to put the helicopter up for sale, pointing out that he had used that aircraft far less than his predecessors.

The sale was in line with previously-announced plans by transportation officials, who told the News & Observer in March 2013 that the state’s fleet of planes and helicopter were too costly to justify keeping. The helicopter costs $5,200 an hour to operate and requires two pilots.

The helicopter will get another shot, and go through another round of  bidding on Ebay, said Mike Charbonneau, a transportation spokesman If no takers on the second go-around, the second agency will reevaluate how best to sell the helicopter.

DOT has had luck in the past on Ebay selling its old aircraft, Charbonneau said.

NC-Helicopter_No-Sale

State Sen. Jerry Tillman

State Sen. Jerry Tillman

See below for note about correction in earlier version of post.

A legislative proposal backed away from requiring the state’s charter schools are under state public record and open meetings laws.

The Charlotte Observer reported today that a Senate education committee moved Thursday to reject earlier endorsements of open government provisions in the charter school law, rules that the publicly-funded schools currently have to follow but are not codified. Charter schools are public schools that are run outside of traditional school districts by private, nonprofit boards but given authorization by the appointed members of the State Board of Education.

State law (N.C. GS 115-288.29A addresses charter schools) does not currently state that charter schools are subject to open meeting and public record laws, but the State Board of Education, which drafts rules for charter schools, has made it a requirement as part of their authorization process.

The proposed Senate legislation offered by state Sen. Jerry Tillman does not appear to immediately change that arrangement, but could potentially open the door for revisions by the state board or legislature in the future.

From today’s Charlotte Observer article:

A bill introduced last month, which focuses mainly on an appeals process for applicants rejected by a screening panel, specified that charter schools face the same disclosure requirements and privacy protections as traditional public schools. It was sponsored by Sens. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

However, a substitute version was introduced Wednesday in the Senate education committee, which Tillman chairs. The substitute would “remove the provision that the charter school and its board of directors are subject to the public records and open meetings laws,” according to a document distributed at the meeting.

 

Tillman, a retired school administrator, did not return calls to the Charlotte Observer about his proposal. Click here to read the entire article by Observer education reporter Ann Doss Helms.

The N.C. Press Association is monitoring the bill, the Observer reported.

North Carolina taxpayers sent $304.7 million in state money to the schools this year, with additional funds drawn down from federal education funds and local school boards.

State law does not currently specify that the publicly-funded schools are subject to both the state’s public records and open meeting laws, but the State Board, in agreements with charter schools, have made it a requirement. That means parents, reporters or others with interest in the charter school currently have the right to examine financial and operational details about the schools and attend board meetings.

Public records frequently offer insight into the operation of schools that aren’t readily disclosed. An investigation last year from Raleigh television station WRAL investigation into perks included in contracts held by the 115 state school superintendents prompted the Granville County school board to reexamine how top school employees received large pay raises without the school board’s knowledge.

N.C. Policy Watch used public records laws last year to obtain documents about Quality Education Academy, a Winston-Salem charter school that recruits basketball players from around the world to play and attend a school paid for by North Carolina taxpayers.

 Note: An initial version of this post misstated the current law regarding public records and charter schools. The law does not specifically address the requirement, but the State Board of Education has made it a requirement in the agreements schools have with the state board.

Looks like North Carolina lawmakers from both the left and right want to see a reconvening of a Constitutional Convention of the States – but for very different reasons, as you’d imagine.

For those in need of a U.S. history refresher, the Convention of the States last met in 1787 and the Constitution has language to reconvene the group to amend the Constitution if enough states are on board.

Several Democratic ( and one Republican) state lawmakers filed a resolution today that would seek a reconvening of the long-dormant constitutional convention  to  plug the floodgates of campaign money from corporations that have flowed into elections since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Hat tip to @CarolinaMercury for first reporting on the resolution. )

You may recall we reported in late May about a similar resolution by a group of Republican House members also interested in resurrecting this group, but in order to limit the federal government’s spending.

The anti-Citizens United resolution introduced today was sponsored by state Rep. Marcus Brandon, Nathan Baskerville and Marvin Lucas, all Democrats, as well as state Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican who made waves earlier this session when he left the Republican caucus over a split with leadership.

“The removal of those [campaign finance] restriction has resulted in the unjust influence of powerful economic forces, which have supplanted the will of the people by undermining our ability to choose our political leadership, write our own laws, and determine the fate of our state,” the resolution states.

It remains unseen if either resolution will go anywhere during this year’s short (and fast-moving) legislative session.

Below is a copy of the resolution, and then scroll down even further watch video of N.C Policy Watch director Chris Fitzsimon’s recent appearance on MSNBC about the federal spending resolution.

Resolution Citizens by NC Policy Watch


Fitzsimon on Al Sharpton’s PoliticsNation:

Update: Both the Senate and House passed versions of the bill Thursday on second readings, with the House tacking on language placing the economic development partnership back under state ethic rules. The proposals will be back next week for final passage in each chamber.

Parallel bills to privatize pieces of the state’s economic development work is on the path to approval at the state legislature, with changes emerging Tuesday that lower the private fundraising requirements and restrict some of the transparency measures.

The Senate is supposed to consider the bill on the floor today.

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

The most reason versions of the 19-page House Bill 1031 and Senate bill 743 would also reduce the required amount the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina must raise from private funders, leaving the group to raise $6 million from private funders over the next five years.

(To read the entire bill, click here.)

Taxpayers are expected to contribute $90 million over that same period. That’s if Gov. Pat McCrory’s request to transfer 67 positions and an estimated $18 million next year to the new group from the Commerce Department is endorsed by lawmakers in budget negotiations.

Draft legislation had initially put the group on the hook to raise $10 million from private sources immediately, but the language endorsed by House and Senate committees will lower that to $6 million over five years, a move that Republican sponsors is more realistic for a startup group.

The privatization proposal would set North Carolina on a path of its economic development that a dozen other states have embarked on, with mixed results. The public-private partnerships, sometimes referred to as PPPs, have come under fierce criticism in other states with accusations that the private setups have wasted taxpayer money, exaggerated job claims and been used to reward political campaign donors and supporters.

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. (Click here for a background story). Read More