One of the longest legislative sessions in more than a decade (possibly the longest since 2002) came to a close during the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Here’s a quick update on some last minute controversial proposals affecting public education that ultimately didn’t become law.

Charter school funding 

Sen. Jerry Tillman breathed new life back into a proposal heard earlier this session that would have diverted funds typically reserved for traditional public schools over to charter schools.

Using the ‘gut and amend’ process, Tillman shoved the complicated language into a House bill that was previously about school playgrounds a week and a half before the close of session. Loads of push back ensued from the school boards association, school administrators and other education advocates.

The bill would have allowed charter schools to receive more federal and local tax dollars—as well as private grants— than to which they are currently entitled. And some of that money could have been reimbursements for services that charter schools may not be providing to students, like school lunches. (State law doesn’t require charter schools to provide school lunches, although many do participate in the federal school lunch program.)

Senate lawmakers approved the measure Monday evening and sent it back to the House for concurrence—but the bill was left to die last night. It could come back next year.

School vouchers

Republican House lawmakers successfully banded together Tuesday morning in an effort to block a proposal put forward by school voucher champion Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam that would have set up the state’s new school voucher program for expansion.

Stam gutted and amended S456 to require the state to award more Opportunity Scholarships (also known as school vouchers) to kindergartners and first graders, a move seen by some as a set up for the program’s expansion down the road.

But there appeared to be growing discontent among some Republican lawmakers over the school voucher program, as Rep. Bryan Holloway led efforts to block Stam’s proposal by telling his colleagues they “might find it interesting” to look at what kinds of schools voucher students are picking and choosing.

Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Smithfield) told colleagues that a private school in his district accepting school vouchers didn’t seem fit to take tax dollars.

“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”

Stam’s proposal was narrowly defeated in the House appropriations committee, 24-26, after a careful count of the ayes and noes.

Achievement school district

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) pushed hard for months behind closed doors to pitch a proposal to his colleagues that would have created an ‘achievement school district’ in which some of North Carolina’s lowest performing schools would be placed, teachers and staff at those schools could be fired, and the schools would be subject to the management of for-profit (or not-for-profit, too) charter school operators tasked with bringing them up into the ranks of the state’s top performers.

The idea is controversial thanks to the mixed results its seen in places like Tennessee and Louisiana, coupled with the notion that for-profit charter operators subject to fewer checks and balances and not accountable to an elected school board would be tasked with the care of a vulnerable student population.

As the end of session neared, it began to look as if Bryan’s proposal would be heard publicly only at the very last minute—but ultimately the bill, which was another ‘gut and amend’ of a Senate proposal that had already passed that chamber, never made it into committee. Rumors of the idea being placed into a ‘study committee’ never materialized, but the pitch could come back next year.

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

A few of the worst last-minute proposals advanced during last night’s kangaroo sessions of the North Carolina House and Senate failed, mercifully, to win final approval prior to the 4:00 a.m. final adjournment. That said, lawmakers still shipped a bevy of dreadful and destructive bills down the street to the Governor’s Mansion.

One of the most troubling was/is the aptly nicknamed “Polluter Protection Act.” Though some of the bill’s rougher edges were smoothed slightly in the session’s final hours, the proposal still goes to Governor McCrory with its horrific centerpiece intact — a provision that would allow permit-holders who violate environmental limits to be excused from civil penalties for their offenses, if they “self-report” the violations.

Environmental advocates are demanding that the Governor veto this monstrosity. The good people at the Environmental Defense Fund put it this way in a statement this morning:

“The N.C. General Assembly has given final approval to House Bill 765, known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015. If the legislation becomes law, it will allow more air and water pollution, degrade land, harm wildlife and put public health at risk.

This legislation is a hodgepodge of short-sighted provisions that allow a more polluted environment, plain and simple. It encourages irresponsible business practices. It insulates polluters from their responsibility to fully clean up contamination they cause. It removes protections for nearly 50,000 miles of streams that supply our drinking water, provide important fish habitat, and help keep our waterways clean and healthy.

H765 eliminates sensible safeguards for our air, water, wildlife, and puts the health of our children and families on the hook when polluters should be.”

Meanwhile, Dan Crawford of the League of Conservation Voters was even more succinct when he said the bill could be “the worst environmental bill of Gov. McCrory’s tenure.”

For a summary of the lowlights and the action that environmental advocates are taking to secure a veto click here.

For a thorough list of the bill’s grisly details click here.

Commentary, News

A strong push by city and county governments, the LGBT community, and consumer rights advocates successfully prevented the General Assembly from adopting sweeping language Tuesday to limit local control.

Provisions inserted in Senate Bill 279 would have prevented local government leaders from enforcing fair housing requirements, employment protections for LGBT individuals, or even increasing the local minimum wage.

Rep. John Blust asked fellow Republican Rep. Paul Stam why the local pre-emption bill was being rushed through the House in the session’s final hours without a committee hearing or public in-put.

Rep. Stam’s response:

“The Senate insisted on this procedure for this bill.”

Guilford County Rep. Pricey Harrison said the legislation was “flat wrong” in its approach to preventing local governments from enacting progressive policies:

“I’m particularly concerned about the impact on some of Greensboro’s forward-thinking policies regarding employment non-discrimination and housing non-discrimination.”

After hours of intense debate in both chambers and on social media the local government restrictions were removed from the bill.

YouTube Preview Image How did other items fare in the session’s final hours?

Approved – House Bill 318 – places work requirements on childless, able-bodied adults who are receiving food stamps

ApprovedA $2 billion bond proposal for statewide infrastructure improvements now heads to Governor McCrory’s desk. 

Rejected – Voucher expansion – legislation that would have found $2.8 million to expand “Opportunity Scholarships” to kindergarten and first-grade students fell by the wayside on a 24-26 vote.

Withdrawn but likely to return – Charter School Funding (House Bill 539) – A move that would have required traditional public schools to give more money to charter schools was withdrawn from consideration. Look for this bill to re-emerge in 2016.

Legislators are set to return to Raleigh on April 25th.  That’s 208 days from today, but who’s counting?


wb-9292015As reported in yesterday’s Weekly Briefing, Republicans have been attempting in the final days of the 2015 session to address an intramural battle over the control of campaign finance funds by allowing legislative leaders to create slush funds of their own that could act very much like political parties — i.e. not subject to many campaign finance limitations.

When this action provoked a firestorm of opposition from Tea Party Republicans (and even the possibility of a gubernatorial veto), however, the lawmakers solved the conflict by taking the amazing step of inserting a provision in the “technical corrections” bill last night that will give members of the Council of State, including Gov. Pat McCrory, the authority to set up their own “affiliated campaign committees” separate from party funds. WRAL has more here.

In other words, now there will be lots more political slush funds under the control of the state’s statewide elected officials! What could possibly go wrong?

We’ll have more details and analysis from campaign watchdogs on this provision later this morning. Stay tuned.


Larry PittmanRep. Larry Pittman is obviously not a powerful lawmaker or someone who will ever be taken very seriously — even in the strange, far right environment of the 2015 North Carolina House of Representatives.  That said, the Cabarrus County lawmaker needs to be called out loudly and repeatedly for his outrageous statement on the House floor last night that, as reported by,

“the nonprofit would ‘give out contraceptives that don’t work’ in order to increase the number of abortions done.”

Although Mr. Pittman describes himself on his campaign website as a “minister of the gospel,” he is someone best known for promoting the spread of guns and an especially virulent version of the far right social agenda. And while he is entitled to his opinions — however twisted they may be — he should not be entitled to tell malicious lies about good people who have dedicated themselves (often at great personal sacrifice) to saving the lives and health of millions of women. The representative needs to apologize for the one he told last night.

Those interested in reminding Rep. Pittman of his duty not to tell such monstrous untruths will find his official contact information by clicking here.