With a state budget nearly a month overdue, several Republican lawmakers headed to California this week to attend a conference with close ties to some of the nation’s largest corporations.

alecAt least three of the lawmakers will have their $700 registration costs for the American Legislative Exchange Council and a $104 per diem paid for by taxpayers, according to staff in the N.C. General Assembly’s legislative services division.

N.C House Speaker Tim Moore, state Sen. David Curtis, of Lincoln County, and state Rep. Hugh Blackwell, of Burke County, all requested reimbursement from the legislature.

The lawmakers will not receive the $104 per diem they generally get for being in session, and instead will get the travel per diem, which is the same amount.

It’s not all that unusual for the state legislature to pitch in for conferences like ALEC, which promotes free markets and limited government, or another annual conference by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

ALEC, however, has come under criticism in recent years, for its close ties to some of the nation’s largest corporations, with questions raised about the level of corporate influence making its way into Congress and state capitals through pieces of model legislation pushed by the group. Several high-profile companies have left ALEC, including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Google and Microsoft.

There are other lawmakers from North Carolina attending the event in addition to the trio who will be reimbursed by the state, though they may be paying for the conference themselves or through campaign funds.

WRAL reported that state Sen. Bob Rucho, of Mecklenburg County, and the following House GOP members are headed to San Diego for the ALEC conference: state Reps. Mark Brody of Union County; John Fraley, of Iredell County Craig Horn of Union County; George Robinson of Caldwell County Stephen Ross of Alamance County; Jason Saine of Lincoln County; Sarah Stevens of Surry County.

The ALEC schedule lists Saine as a panelist for a discussion Friday about technology creating efficiencies in government.

“What I’ve found is that the meetings are very much just informative. You learn a lot of things,” Moore told WRAL.  “I know some of the groups coming out and criticizing ALEC, a lot of them are the same groups that criticize us because we want to lower taxes. But I frankly believe that’s what most North Carolinians want.”

Note: This post has been updated from the original to include a response from Gov. McCrory’s office.

The N.C. Justice Center, along with a number of media and non-profit coalition partners, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory today, accusing his office and administration of not fully complying with the state’s public records law.

The lawsuit was filed in Wake County Superior Court.

The N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit, filed the lawsuit because of issues N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the Justice Center, faced in obtaining public records from McCrory’s office and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL; the News & Observer; the Alamance News; the Southern Environmental Law Center; the Durham-based alternative weekly Indy Week; and Media General Operations, which owns WNCN-TV in Raleigh and WNCT-TV in Greenville.

The lawsuit is seeking release of the various requested records, as well as policies that would prevent excessive fees to access public records and require prompt responses to future public records requests.

McCrory’s office issued a statement Tuesday night about the lawsuit, saying that the governor’s administration has been “a champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathering.”

But some media members and advocacy groups have abused the spirit of the public records law by filing overly broad and time-consuming requests, McCrory’s office wrote in a statement.

“Like the requests themselves, this lawsuit is an attempt to tie up state personnel and resources that should be spent serving the people of North Carolina,” the statement read.

(Click here to read the entirety of McCrory’s press statement.)

lawsuitmccrorypublicrecords.pdf by NC Policy Watch

Graffiti on Confederate Women's Monument in downtown Raleigh (photo by Sarah Ovaska-Few).

Graffiti on Confederate Women’s Monument in downtown Raleigh (photo by Sarah Ovaska-Few).

The words “Black Lives Matter” were spray-painted on a Confederate monument on the State Capitol grounds overnight,

The Confederate Women’s Monument is downtown Raleigh is one of two Confederate monuments on the capitol grounds in downtown Raleigh, where Gov. Pat McCrory has his office.

Workers had begun trying to remove the “Black Lives Matter” graffiti off of the monument Tuesday morning.

Tuesday’s actions comes as the state House of Representatives will finish debating a bill today that would make it more difficult for local communities to remove Confederate monuments from public property. Any removals would have to be approved by the state legislature.

McCrory has also said he wants the legislature to pass a law preventing the distribution of “Sons of Confederate Veterans” state license plates adorned with the Confederate battle flag. Republican state Sen. Phil Berger has said McCrory has the power to stop issuing the plates on his own, and does not need the legislature’s permission.

Meanwhile, demand last month for the Confederate flag license plates depleted the state’s existing stock, and the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, which is under McCrory’s purview, is in the process of having more produced.

Workers try to remove "Black Lives Matter" graffiti on Confederate monument.

Workers try to remove “Black Lives Matter” graffiti on Confederate monument.


Several top staff and board members of Community Care of North Carolina, the provider-led network that coordinates care for many Medicaid patients in the state, have left the organization.

It’s unclear how many other members of the leadership team may have left the organization, with CCNC only issuing a vague statement about the recent departures citing an overall need to reduce costs wherever possible.

“Staff has been reduced by about 9 percent, including both leadership and staff levels,” wrote CCNC spokesman Paul Mahoney in a statement. “No significant staff changes are planned for the remainder of the 2015-2016 fiscal year.”

Dr. L. Allen Dobson Jr., the president of CCNC, remains at the helm of the organization, Mahoney said.

Others confirmed that there had been significant recent departures at CCNC.

“There were several staff people that left for various reasons,” said Richard Stevens, a former Republican state senator who currently works as a contract lobbyist for CCNC.

A listed staff lobbyist for CCNC, Amy Hobbs, resigned from her position on July 1, records with the N.C. Secretary of State’s office show.

Three board members have also left the non-profit leadership boards that govern CCNC.

Brian Toomey, a former board member for N.C. Community Care Networks, said he recently left the board managing CCNC’s network of community care centers, but not as part of any planned or unplanned exodus.

Rather, he said he left for his own reasons – namely to spend more time at his job managing the Carrboro-based Piedmont Health Services as state leaders debate what the future of the state’s Medicaid system is.

“The world is about to change,” Toomey said. “The problem is, we don’t know how.”

CCNC manages the health care for approximately 1.4 million North Carolinians enrolled in the state’s Medicaid system, a federally mandated program that provides health coverage to some of the most vulnerable North Carolinians – low-income children, seniors and disabled persons.

It’s also gained national attention for its approach to health care, which has been found in studies to keep costs down while improving care. A 2011 study by a California consulting firm found CCNC saved the state nearly $1 billion between 2007 and 2010.

But the group’s future has been uncertain in recent years, with Republican leaders in the state legislature disagreeing about whether or not CCNC should have a place in the state’s potentially revamped $14 billion Medicaid program, the largest line-item in the state budget and one that frequently experiences cost overruns.

Several leading House Republicans have been supportive of CCNC and its approach to use locally-based medical providers to manage the care of patients, while Senate leaders have been less enthusiastic.

The Senate version of the budget, released in mid-June, proposed severing CCNC’s $65 million contract with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services after Jan. 1, in favor of pursuing a more privatized Medicaid system of contracting with managed care companies.

The House and the Senate are currently in the midst of budget negotiations.


HogsThere’s an interesting (and lengthy) piece on Quartz, an online-based magazine, that dives into the lives of Duplin County residents who say they suffer from being surrounded by lagoons of noxious hog waste.

The article takes a deep look at the large hog industry in North Carolina, and what it sees as the price residents in a highly impoverished county end up paying for providing cheap bacon to American and international markets.

From the article:

The first thing Violet Branch does when she wakes up is to inhale through her nose to see whether the smell of hog excrement from across the street has seeped into her home again.

“Sometimes when I wake up the odor is in the house. Sometimes before I go to bed, the odor is in the house,” says Branch, 71, who lives next door to a swine farmer who keeps two lakes filled with a swampy mixture of feces and urine that he periodically spreads on his crops as fertilizer. An acrid odor of rotting eggs fills her yard at least twice a week and occasionally her home, giving her nausea and on some occasions causing her to vomit. All she can do is wait until it passes or ask her son who lives next door to drive her to the nearby Walmart where she paces the aisles until her breathing returns to normal.

Branch, wearing tiger-striped reading glasses and a mustard-colored sweatshirt, sits in the kitchen of her small one-story home crowded with pictures of her grandchildren and her parents who ran a farm here in Warsaw, 50 years ago while raising Branch and her 10 siblings. When asked about the lawsuit she has filed against hog production giant, Murphy Brown, which buys from the hog grower across the street, she says, “You ever hear that saying, ‘What comes around goes around’?”

Branch is one of over 500 residents in eastern North Carolina who are suing Murphy Brown, the pork production arm of Virginia-based meat conglomerate Smithfield Foods. They’re seeking damages over the cesspools, or lagoons as the industry calls them—uncovered earthen storage pools of waste. The complainants say the lagoons disrupt their lives and devalue their properties.

You can read the entire piece here.