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state Sen. Tom Apodaca

Longtime lobbyist Paula Wolf rounded up how many pies state Sen. Tom Apodaca has his fingers in over on her blog, Paulatics.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican who has been in the Senate for 12 years, is known for his off-the-cuff comments as well as influence in the state legislature.

Wolf, who until recently had worked as a lobbyist representing non-profit groups in the legislature, tallied up Apodaca’s current list of responsibilities.

From her blog:

Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville) serves on 12 of the 23 Senate Standing Committees.

  •  He is the sole Chair of 2: Rules and Ways & Means.
  •  He is a Co-Chair of 3: Appropriations on Education/Higher Education, Insurance & Pensions and Retirement.
  •  He is a regular Member of 7: Appropriations on Base Budget, Appropriations on Justice & Public Safety, Commerce, Education/Higher Education, Finance, Judiciary I and Redistricting.

The daily calendar is under his purview as is the general flow of bills. As Rules Chair, Sen. Apodaca decides in which committee bills will be heard, and if they will be heard. It is also up to him whether a bill is debated on the Floor and what day.

His Committee assignments and his leadership responsibilities cover most of the issues expected to be hot this Session.

When you see Sen. Apodaca’s name in the media the word “powerful” will likely be used as a modifier to “Rules Chair” every time. Indeed, he is.

 

News

Stephen LaRoque, the former state representative accused of stealing $300,000 from federally-funded non-profits he ran, entered into a plea deal Monday.

LaRoque-PC

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque in 2011.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, plead guilty to one count of theft of $150,000 from a program receiving federal funds. The remaining 11 counts he faced will be dismissed, according to the court docket.

LaRoque also agreed to pay back $300,000 in restitution to the non-profit he once led, the East Carolina Development Corporation, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The plea was offered Monday at the federal courthouse in Greenville. No prior announcement of the hearing was made on the docket for LaRoque’s case.

LaRoque, a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, resigned from the legislature in July of 2012, shortly after he was indicted on the federal charges.

His sentencing will be on May 12, at the federal courthouse in Greenville before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard.

The charge LaRoque plead guilty to holds a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison. He could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

LaRoque had been scheduled to go to trial next week, after convictions a jury handed down in a 2013 trial were set aside because of juror misconduct.

The federal investigation into LaRoque began shortly after a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation that found improprieties in his management of two economic development non-profits that received millions through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural lending program. The non-profit’s board of directors, which approved generous pay packages for LaRoque, consisted of himself, his wife and brother for several years.

His indictment on federal charges accused him of taking more than $300,000 from the non-profit to buy, amongst other things, a Greenville ice skating rink, replica Faberge eggs, jewelry and cars for his personal use.

Up until Monday, LaRoque had maintained he was innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money he was accused of stealing was owed to him.

Shortly after his indictment, he said he wanted to seek revenge and “make heads roll” at USDA if he managed to get a political appointment heading the state office of the agency he was accused of stealing from.

This post has been changed from the original to correct the maximum fine LaRoque could face, up to $250,000. The post may be updated as further information about Monday’s plea deal is made available.

News

All 16 campuses in the North Carolina’s university system want to raise tuition and fees over the next two years.

The combined increases for tuition and fees, if approved, would range from 2 to 7 percent increases for in-state students, and up to 6 percent for out-of-state students for the school year beginning this fall. Additional increases are also being proposed for 2016-17.

At the top end of the scale, the UNC School of the Arts wants to charge students $8,499 and  N.C. State University would like to charge in-state students $8,407 in 2015-16. On the lower end, Elizabeth City State University asked for increases that would bring tuition and fees to $4,657.

A finance and budget committee of the UNC Board of Governors members heard about the requested increases on Thursday. The full 32-member board, all of whom were appointed by Republican state leaders, will meet once more to discuss the tuition increases before a Feb. 27 vote on the increases.

The figures looked at Thursday did not include room and board estimates.

North Carolina’s university tuition rates continue to be lower than what in-state tuition costs at many of its peers, according to information presented at the meeting by university system staff.

But the state also is obligated through the state Constitutions to have higher education costs “as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”

With significant cuts to the UNC system during the Recession (including $414 million for the 2011-13 biennium), students and their parents are paying a higher share of their education costs while levels of state support has dropped, according to a 2013 report by non-partisan legislative staff.

The report found that students paid $699 more for their education in 2013 than they did in 2007, while state support has dropped by $2,516 during that same time period.

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Commentary

Valentine’s Day 2015, February 14, will be especially memorable this year. This is from the good fols at the NAACP and HKonJ coalition:

On this Valentine’s Day, bring your sweetheart to Raleigh and JOIN THE LARGEST LOVE AND JUSTICE MOVEMENT SINCE SELMA!

We will show our LOVE for JUSTICE! We LOVE justice in Education; We LOVE Economic Sustainability, We LOVE Workers and Workers’ Rights and Livable Wages; We LOVE Health Care For All, Medicaid Expansion: We LOVE our Environment; We LOVE Equal Protection Under the Law, without regard to creed, race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation; We LOVE Voting Rights For All; We LOVE criminal justice.

We LOVE the most vulnerable within our State and Nation; We LOVE the power and beauty of diversity within our State and Nation; We LOVE our neighbors; WE ARE IN THIS LOVE TOGETHER! And We are determined to go “FORWARD TOGETHER, NOT ONE STEP BACK!”

On February 14, 2015, we will gather at 9:00 a.m. in downtown Raleigh. The march will begin at 10:00 a.m. after which we will begin the mass people’s assembly on the doorstep of the State Capitol. Read More

News

Steven LaRoque, the former Kinston state lawmaker facing federal charges of stealing from two federally-funded non-profits he ran, will find out this week if a judge agrees the dozen criminal charges in the case should be thrown out.

LaRoque-PC

Steven LaRoque, at a 2011 press conference.

A pre-trial motions hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow at the federal courthouse in Greenville, will be a sealed hearing and closed to the public, according to an order filed by Senior U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard.

LaRoque’s trial – his second, after the first ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct — is scheduled to begin on Feb. 2.

The Kinston Republican is accused of taking $300,000 for his personal use from an economic development group he ran that was funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural business lending program. LaRoque is also facing accusations that, instead of funding struggling businesses to spur economic growth, he used federal money to offer loans to personal associates and political allies, and then took money to fund his campaign and buy jewelry, replica Faberge eggs and a Greenville ice skating rink.

The federal investigation began shortly after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s management of the federally-funded non-profits.

LaRoque, a former member of House Republican leadership team, has maintained he is innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money in question was owed to him.

Howard wrote in his Jan. 6 order (scroll down or click here to read) that he is sealing the hearing and closing it to the public in order to hear confidential information that may come up in response to a motion LaRoque filed seeking information about the grand jury that indicted him.

Grand jury proceedings are, by design, secret and details about the inner workings of the groups are very rarely released to the public.

“This hearing will be sealed due to the potential for disclosure of grand jury documents or other materials,” Howard wrote.

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