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Among the bills filed at the state legislature today was a resolution that would put North Carolina on a small list of states seeking to reconvene the Constitutional Convention of the States.

Yes, that Constitutional Convention. The last time they met was back in 1787.

The North Carolina resolution (click here to read) is part of a recent cause among far-right conservatives to seek financial limits on the federal government.

The North Carolina resolution makes no bones about the lawmakers’ disregard for Washington, finding that “the federal government has ceased to exist under a proper interpretation of the Constitutional of the United States.”

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The Carolina Public Press, an independent, non-profit news outlet that concentrates on the western part of the state, published an interesting series this week on poverty in North Carolina’s mountains in light of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.

The rural mountain areas  consistently see poverty rates that climb above the state averages. (The federal poverty line is generally described as a household of four living on less than $24,000 a year, or a single adult earning less than $11,000 annually.)

The fact that the North Carolina mountain counties are still contending with high rates of poverty isn’t a huge surprise to many in the state , but the report (click here to read) included some interesting charts showing just where and how deeply entrenched the poverty is.

All but two of the 18 western North Carolina counties had poverty rates that topped the national average of 15.9 percent.

Source: Carolina Public Press

Source: Carolina Public Press

 

 

Nearly all the private-sector employers in most mountain counties were small businesses.

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Lawmakers passed a substitute piece of legislation Tuesday that carves out a path to allow the controversial method of drilling for natural gas to begin as soon as July 2015.

The bill, in a surprise move, was then rushed to a Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

The proposed language for Senate Bill 786 got initial approval in the Senate Commerce Committee and will continue to move through the legislature.

A state Senator also temporarily restricting recordings of Tuesday’s meeting, resulting in the confiscation of one reporter’s recorder. Read more about that here.

Among the proposals discussed Tuesday afternoon were:

  • The mix of chemicals used in hydraulic fracking would remain a “trade secret” shielded from the public. First responders would find out what’s in those chemicals immediately after an emergency, and improper disclosure of the information would mean a low-level felony.
  • The newest version of the bill cuts back on the area oil and gas companies are liable if there’s water contamination nearing a drilling site. Tuesday’s bill cuts that to a half-mile radius of a wellhead, down from the nearly one-mile radius listed in 2011 legislation.
  • A whole host of studies are ordered up in the bill, from looking at whether a liquified natural gas (LNG) export facility is needed in North Carolina to how local community colleges can prepare future workers in the industry.
  • Local counties and cities won’t be able to ban, restrict or tax the drilling process.

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A reporter’s recorder was confiscated Tuesday at the state legislature, after a state senator announced that all recording devices had to be registered in order to be used at the public meeting.

N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn

Commerce committee chairman state Sen. Rick Gunn, a Burlington Republican, made an announcement  at the meeting that all recording equipment had to be registered with the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms staff.

The committee, held in a packed committee hearing room where audio is not automatically streamed for the public, was in the midst of hearing about “fracking,” the controversial process to extract natural gas from the earth.

One reporter, N.C. Health News Editor Rose Hoban, then had her audio recorder seized by the sergeant-at-arms after Gunn made his comments.

“’Did you have it registered?,’” Hoban said she was asked when she inquired where her recorder was.

Hoban, who has covered the legislature for several years, said she has never been asked previously to register audio equipment. The state open meetings law specifically allows recordings of public proceedings, finding that “any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.”

Gunn reversed himself halfway through the meeting, after word about his ban had been reported on Twitter.

“I rescind my comment about the recording equipment,” he said.

Gunn would not answer questions posed by N.C .Policy Watch after the meeting, and walked away from reporters questioning him about his comments.

The state legislative passed new rules last week about how the public can access the legislative building, a reaction to the weekly arrests at the Moral Monday protests last year by those upset over the agenda of conservative Republican leaders. Democrats have said the new rules are designed to discourage the protests, while Republican leaders say the rules offer clarification requested by judges in the wake of the arrests.

The new rules open up public access on the second floor of the building, where several legislative leaders have offices, and also define singing, clapping, shouting and using a bullhorn as potential “disturbances” that could mean ejection from the building.

Phillip King, the sergeant-at-arms for the state Senate, said Tuesday afternoon he would get clarification on what the rules regarding recordings are, but as of Wednesday morning he had not offered any further information.

He did say some at the legislature have been worried recorders are being left in rooms to record candid, and potentially embarrassing, conversations. King said his staff found multiple audio recorders last session and at committee meetings held in the interim that have never been claimed.

“Had we not picked it (a recorder) up and it had recorded some off-to-the cuff comments that were not meant for the public, at non-public meetings,” King said, “it could have been bad for whomever was in the room.”

Nothing snarky here, just a few pointers for those trying to figure out what goes on at the state legislature, and how to keep up with it from afar.

I’ll break it down in that ever-so-useful “Who, what, when, where and why” format drilled into my head so many years ago in journalism school.

N.C. General Assembly

WHO? Want to figure out who your lawmakers are? Type in your address here, and then use these lists (with legislative assistants’ names) to call or email them (House here and Senate here).

The Senate leader is state Sen. Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, and Thom Tillis, a Republican from Cornelius, is the Speaker of the House. (Tillis, of course, is in the midst of a high-profile race for the U.S. Senate challening Democrat Kay Hagan).

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