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The NC House passed legislation Thursday tripling the state’s mandatory waiting period for women seeking abortion care to 72 hours. Rep. Tricia Cotham shared her own story of a physician-assisted miscarriage, as she told the chamber that politicians have no place inserting themselves in a deeply personal decision between a woman and her doctor. Click below to hear Cotham’s full remarks:

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Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown
Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Thursday marks the 224th day that Governor Pat McCrory has refused to grant a pardon of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

McCollum and Brown need the pardon to receive the financial compensation available from the state for the years of their lives that were taken from them.

There’s still no explanation from McCrory about why he hasn’t granted the pardon. He received the application for it from McCollum and Brown last September 11—224 days ago.

Today instead of granting the pardon McCrory was near Charlotte for the dedication of a visitor center at Lake Norman State Park.

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Loretta LynchAfter waiting longer for a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate than any other cabinet nominee in recent history, Loretta Lynch has been confirmed as Attorney General by a vote of 56-43, becoming the first African-American woman and the first native North Carolinian to serve in that role.

The daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of North Carolina, Lynch made her way from Durham to Brooklyn, where she has twice led the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As chief there, Lynch earned the respect of law enforcement officials and prosecutors from both sides of the aisle, many of whom voiced support for her nomination at the time of her committee confirmation hearing in January.

Both of North Carolina’s senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, opposed her confirmation and voted no.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the only senator who did not cast a vote.

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UNC President Tom Ross and N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls were joined by two lawmakers, state Sens. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) and Josh Stein (D-Wake), at the RTP Headquarters in Durham.

Ross learned he would be out of a job in January, in a surprise move by the UNC Board of Governors to find a new president that many suspect had political motivations. (Ross was hired under a board that of Democratic appointees, the current UNC Board of Governors all received appointments from a Republican-led legislature.)

Ralls announced last week he was leaving his job of 7 years leading North Carolina’s 58-campus community college system for a job leading a Virginia community college.

On Wednesday night, Ross, the UNC president, commented that the loss of Ralls would be significant for North Carolina, and that under Ralls’ leadership, the community college system worked closely with the university system by pushing for articulation agreements for students to easily transfer credits from one system to the next.

“I couldn’t have a better partner than Scott Ralls,” Ross said.

Below is a run-down of some of the more interesting comments made by the four men last night:

—>One of the biggest threats to the university system? Faculty retention, according to UNC President Tom Ross. Faculty saw average salary increases of 1.5 percent over the last seven years, a time period in which inflation has gone up by 10 percent.

Ross said the state’s flagship school, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in particular, is seeing a spike in professors leaving campus. The school typically had 30 out of every 100 professors with job offers end up leaving the campus. That jumped up to 70 percent last year, he said.

“It’s more than just compensation, frankly,” Ross said. “Most faculty are not in it for the money. There are other factors are in the minds and hearts right now that are causing them to look elsewhere.”

—>State Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, reiterated Ross’ point about departing faculty. Stein said he recently spoke with a dean on N.C. State University’s campus that relayed that more staff in his area left last year than in the prior three years. More remarkably, Stein said, those leaving told the dean to not even bother seeking a counter offer.

Stein mentioned a bill he’s filed (but hasn’t been heard), that would restrict state lottery funds to paying for pre-K slots, and providing college scholarships to low-income students.“We have to be creative,” Stein said.

—>State Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Cornelius Republican, remarked when he visited chancellors on all 17 campuses after first taking office, he wanted to hear what metrics (SAT scores, class rank, etc.) they thought were the best predictors of whether students would be successful in college.

To his surprise, he heard that the length of time a student spent in pre-K or early education programs was what made the difference.

—>When asked for comment about President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community college free for all students who can maintain high grades, N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls said he wonders if other approaches could help more in North Carolina, where tuition is already low.

The community college student is predominantly made up of low-income students, and more needs to be done to support those students, Ralls said.

Among Ralls’ suggestions were expanding Pell Grants (which are provided to very low-income students) to cover summer sessions, and putting day-care facilities on community college campuses so that parents can work toward their degrees without barriers.

“The greatest challenges our students face is not getting in, but staying in,” Ralls said.

NC Budget and Tax Center

I recently noted the differing approaches of President Obama and Congress regarding tax changes, developing a budget and supporting the economy. In particular, I noted Congress’ push to eliminate the federal estate tax – which applies to very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs.

Over the years, the amount of inheritance that is exempt from the federal estate tax has increased exponentially while efforts to raise the minimum wage in line with the growing costs of meeting basic needs have stalled.

In 2001, the federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour and remained at that level until 2008 when it was increased to $5.85 an hour and then to $7.25 in 2010, where it remains today. On this issue, North Carolina has not differed from federal law, with a state minimum wage of $7.25 as well.

By contrast, in 2001, the amount of estate inheritance that could be exempt from the federal estate tax was $625,000. By 2008, this exemption amount increased to $2 million and for 2015 the exemption amount is $5.43 million. In 2013, North Carolina state lawmakers completely eliminated the state’s estate tax (only 23 North Carolina taxpayers paid an estate tax for the 2012 tax year). In the same year state lawmakers eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which helped more than 900,000 low- and moderate-income taxpayers who earn low wages keep more of what they earn to offset an already regressive state tax system. Read More