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The federal Department of Labor announced today that it will move to include same-sex marriages under the Federal Medical Leave Act, a decision that will mean more legal protections for families in states like North Carolina that don’t currently recognize gay marriages.

The rule change being sought by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez would bring same-sex marriages under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the law that allows U.S. workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their ill spouses and immediate family members, or care for an adopted child or newborn baby.marriage amendment

“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” Perez said, according to a written statement. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.”

Same-sex couples that live in states that issue and recognize gay marriages already are covered by the law, and the rule change would extend those rights to the couples in the 31 states like North Carolina that don’t recognize gay marriages.

If adopted, the change would redefine “spouse” in regulations to include couples that get married in states with marriage equality, and not base that definition on the rules of the state where the couple is living.

The Family Medical Leave Act applies to all public employers, and to private employers that have more than 50 employees and aren’t seasonal businesses. Any employee that’s been on the job for more than a year and has worked at least 1,250 hours in the job is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a number of specified reasons, including tending to ill family members or caring for a newly adopted or newborn child.

The rule change could mean a significant shift here in North Carolina, as litigation seeking to overturn North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages continue to make its way through the courts.

Since Amendment One was passed in 2012 and further solidified the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, school districts and local and state governments did not extend FMLA coverage to same-sex couples married in other states.

The proposed rule change, if adopted, would change that and bring all public employees under the federal law and also make most large private employers do the same.

Labor officials are taking comments from the public about the proposed rule change for the next 45 days and then will issue a final decision, which will apply to employers in the entire nation, according to a DOL spokeswoman. Click here to review the rule change, and submit any comments to the labor department.

Defenders of the N.C. legislature’s conservative agenda have recently touted reports claiming that implementing the goals of the Moral Monday protest movement would cost anywhere from $7 to $10 billion, a sum of money that would mean a drastic rise in taxes.

Images from last year's Moral Monday protests.

Images from last year’s Moral Monday protests.

But that’s not the case, according to Alexandra Forter Sirota, the director of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.

Sirota analyzed the requests made by the Moral Monday protestors (much of which was to restore cuts made in recent years)  and found that a more realistic price tag would be $1 billion, all of which would be covered if the tax cuts to large businesses and wealthy residents allowed last year were reversed. (Scroll down to see more about her analysis.)

“[I]t is clear that there is a fiscally responsible path forward for meeting the priorities of North Carolinians to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable citizens can access health insurance, our children can be ready and prepared to learn at school with quality childhood experiences, our workforce can be trained for the jobs of the future, working families can be supported as they struggle to get by on low wages and the human rights an ability to access a fair justice system for all North Carolinians can be protected,” Sirota wrote in a post last week.

(Note: The Budget and Tax Center and N.C. Policy Watch are both part of the N.C. Justice Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for low-income state residents.)

Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf

Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf

Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
Earlier this week Senator Berger announced that he and his colleagues drafted an amendment that would meet the demands of Moral Monday protestors but couldn’t find any sponsors. That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf
That seems curious given that, barring two sections which have no basis in the Moral Monday agenda, the proposal is not only revenue neutral but provides for additional revenue to meet the state’s pressing needs that have been unaddressed since the start of the Great Recession. – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/12/a-fiscally-responsible-way-to-address-moral-monday-priorities-exists/#sthash.dttOcdNk.dpuf

The Moral Monday protests over the Republican-led state legislature’s conservative agenda have attracted considerable attention from national media outlets over the last year. Led by  N.C.  NAACP state president Rev. William Barber, protesters have asked for changes to the state’s election laws, cuts to public education and health services and last year’s tax reform package that gave significant tax relief to large businesses and wealthy individuals. (Click here to read the 14-point agenda sent by Barber to legislative leaders)

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State lawmakers haven’t decided if the N.C. Education Lottery will be able to double the number of ads it runs and then use proceeds from increased sales to pay for teacher raises.

The House and Senate sides of the Republican-led legislature have stark differences in this year’s budget, and one of the biggest areas of difference is how to pay teachers and with what money.Lottery

House lawmakers want to double the advertising budget for the state-run lottery, in hopes it would turn out $106 million extra dollars to use for teacher raises. The budget proposal also includes several restrictions on advertising– including disclosing the odds of winning a top prize and a ban on advertising during collegiate athletic events.

(In case you missed, N.C. Policy Watch published an analysis of 2013 lottery data yesterday that found that all 10 of the counties with highest per capita sales all had high rates of poverty. Click here to read the article.)

The Senate proposed a much different teacher salary plan that required teachers to give up tenure in exchange for raises paid for with cuts to other education programs and the state Medicaid program.

Senate members heard from the N.C. Education Lottery director Alice Garland, who said the proposed restrictions put in place by state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a longtime critic of the lottery, was an attempt to get rid of the lottery.

“The author of this language wants to see the lottery fail and wants to put the lottery out of business,” Garland said. “That is why those restrictions were put in the House budget.”

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State Senate leaders are unveiling their approach today to cleaning up the state’s hazardous coal-ash ponds, but a leading environmental group is already saying new legislation doesn’t go far enough.

The proposal will be discussed at a 3 p.m. committee hearing in Raleigh at the N.C. General Assembly.

The AP first reported last night that the Senate proposal (click here to read) would require Duke Energy to close its coal-ash dumps within 15 years, and WRAL had this wrap-up as well and a summary to the Senate proposal here.

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

But Frank Holleman, the attorney steering the Southern Environmental Law Center’s litigation over coal ash, said the Senate bill still defers many of the decisions to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. That, he said, could mean that Duke Energy could continue to get passes on cleaning up the toxic by-products found in 33 unlined pits at the electricity utility’s 14 coal-fired plants in the state.

All the pits have contaminated nearby groundwater, and environmental groups have criticized DENR’s reluctance before the February coal ash spill in the Dan River to demand cleanup.

“What North Carolina needs but is not done in this bill is a direct requirement that Duke clean up its coal ash,” Holleman said. “It leaves it to the failed state agency.”

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The Burlington Times News had an interesting article today about a  senior health center in Burlington that may close if scheduled cuts to funding through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services go through.

Nearly 140 seniors attend the Program for All-Inclusive Care (PACE) in Burlington, which acts similar to an adult day care home but also coordinates and provides on-site medical care for seniors that otherwise would have to move into nursing homes.

It appears that DHHS Medicaid staff capped enrollment in the PACE program in April, which created an issue for the Burlington facility because a  new PACE center had already gotten the go-ahead to open in Pittsboro.

Piedmont Health SeniorCare, a nonprofit that runs both PACE programs, said the caps DHHS recently announced for the program means there’s  not enough money to run both the existing Burlington facility and the new one, which was built to serve up to 200 seniors.

With DHHS only authorizing total funding for 160 patients, the group would have to close the Burlington facility because so much debt is still owed on the new center, Piedmont Health CEO Brian Toomey told the Burlington newspaper.

“And that’s with a broken heart,” he said. “We cannot successfully operate two separate programs with 80 people at one and 80 at the other. It doesn’t work financially.”

Lawmakers from Alamance County area are vowing the money to undo the DHHS cap, with one Republican House member vowing to not vote on the state’s $21.1 million budget unless there’s funding for the PACE program.

From the Burlington Times-New article:

Alamance County’s state lawmakers say they support the program and want to restore its funding.

Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, called this year’s cap on PACE enrollment “a mistake” that is unfair to Piedmont Health after the state green-lit the Pittsboro facility.

“We are working to get about $30 million of those dollars reinstated,” Gunn said last week. “I’m trying to get the cap removed because when (Piedmont Health) made the commitment to invest these dollars in Pittsboro, it wasn’t based on a cap. There’s no way there’s a return for the people that invested in that program. I don’t think that’s right.”

Proposed budgets from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office and the Senate haven’t lifted those caps. Problems could lie in restoring PACE’s budget amidst large, proposed cuts and reforms to the state’s Medicaid program.

Gunn thinks the governor’s office and others have been confused about how the PACE program works. Gunn believes the program saves the state money. He said he’s working to change perception in the Senate and House.

On Tuesday, the House released a draft of its proposed budget and included full funding for PACE.

Rep. Steve Ross, R-Alamance, believes state lawmakers are committed to funding PACE programs.

“I’m very confident that PACE funding will stay,” Ross said. “Some of us have decided we are going to dig in. I’ll sit here until September if I have to. I won’t vote on a budget that doesn’t include it.”

Click here to read the entire article.