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After teachers leave, N Carolina session likely to be quick

May 14, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A rally by thousands of teachers demonstrating for school funding could bring most other activities at the Legislative Building to a halt when the North Carolina General Assembly session begins Wednesday, but activity should pick up after protesters leave town.

A slight revenue surplus again helps ease difficult fiscal choices while lawmakers make adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget — their chief job in a session unlikely to last past July 4.

Democrats are optimistic about gaining power after the November elections, but the GOP’s current veto-proof majorities still keep Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and his allies in weak positions now.

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BUSTING ON THE BUDGET

Preliminary signs point to another showdown between Cooper and Republican legislative leaders, who last year overrode Cooper’s veto of the General Assembly’s two-year spending plan.

Releasing his proposed budget adjustments last week, Cooper again accused lawmakers of giving the best tax cuts to corporations and the highest wage-earners while failing to spend adequately on public schools.

The cuts take effect in 2019. Cooper wants to block the corporate cut and require individuals with six-figure incomes to pay taxes on eligible income at the current rate — with the resulting revenue going toward raises for teachers beyond what the current budget calls for.

Republicans will have no part of that deal, saying Cooper would increase taxes. GOP leaders may even consider another tax break.

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SCHOOL SAFETY

Cooper and GOP lawmakers may find agreement on public school safety and security improvements in response to the February school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead.

It appears that legislators and the governor want more school counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers to be hired, as well as campus-based police officers, although they differ on spending amounts. And improvements to school buildings or safety evaluations are possible.

But efforts by some Republicans to arm willing teachers don’t have much support, and GOP leaders are ignoring calls by Cooper and other Democrats to ban assault-style weapons or expand background checks.

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PRISON AND WATER SECURITY

Prison security and safety improvements have been implemented and considered since the deaths of four correctional officers and staff in Pasquotank County last October. Cooper’s budget includes $28 million toward better cameras, technology, training and officer recruitment.

Cooper also wants more money to address water discharge permit backlogs within the Department of Environmental Quality and to hire more testers of emerging contaminants like GenX in drinking water supplies. Republican legislators weren’t able three months ago to work out a spending agreement.

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JUDICIAL SHAKEUP?

Proposals to redraw election districts for trial court judgeships should resurface.

Although it’s possible House and Senate Republicans could hammer out statewide judicial remapping changes, a piecemeal approach is more likely, perhaps by addressing population inequalities in districts within urban counties.

Complicating matters is that GOP Rep. Justin Burr, the chief advocate for judicial redistricting, lost his primary last week, so he won’t return in January.

Republicans still sound divided on whether doing away with the head-to-head judicial elections the state has used for 150 years is a good idea. Part of the problem is what exactly would replace those elections. Expect Cooper and Democrats to remain opposed to redistricting and the “merit selection” of judges, both of which they say are GOP judicial power grabs.

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CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Voters could see questions to amend the North Carolina Constitution on the ballot this fall. Senate Republicans like amendments lowering the current 10 percent cap on individual income tax rates and protecting the ability to hunt and fish. House counterparts have wanted to limit state and local governments from taking private property through eminent domain.

Legislators also have weighed privately whether to seek an amendment to inscribe a voter identification requirement into the constitution.

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