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NC Legislature Returns To Work, Met By Protesters

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(Photo by Brian Gomsak/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brian Gomsak/Getty Images)

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — As the North Carolina Legislature opened its budget-adjusting short session Wednesday, the Senate immediately began tackling this year’s Medicaid shortfall and considering changes to annexation and gambling laws.

While the House was tasked with offering the first proposed changes to the second year of the two-year state budget, the Senate started work on several other matters within hours of the chamber leader gaveling in the midday floor sessions.

“We’re hitting the ground running,” Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said. “We’re here for a purpose and we want to be out of here in six weeks.”

Over in the House, budget writers continued to focus on the $19.9 billion plan set to take effect July 1 and Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposed changes. But a bipartisan group led by Speaker Thom Tillis also filed separately what was labeled consensus legislation to compensate $50,000 to each living victim of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program from the last century. Tillis said the bill had support from Perdue and the Senate.

“The North Carolina House took a historic step toward a long-awaited resolution to a sad chapter in our state’s past,” Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement. A committee meeting on the bill was expected next week.

The Senate moved ahead with other legislation as a committee voted to change laws needed for the Cherokee Indians to offer live dealer games at its casino. Another panel was expected Wednesday afternoon to consider a $206 million plan to eliminate a gap between spending and revenue. Some of the bills were expected to come to the Senate floor Wednesday evening.

Legislators arriving for the session were greeted by more than 100 protesters representing liberal and union groups who banged on pots and pans to express anger with Republican policies over the past year. They also suggested that members of the GOP majority that pushed the conservative agenda after taking control of the Legislature following the 2010 elections would be targeted during this fall’s campaign.

“We’re out here saying it’s time to listen to the people,” said MaryBe McMillan with the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, and “we’re going to continue to build this movement so that we can make our voices heard and our votes count in November.”

Many protesters carried signs expressing their unhappiness with the Legislature allowing a referendum on gay marriage that was passed last week with 61 percent of the vote.

“I’m mad at this Legislature,” said Marianne Carter-Maschal, an organic farmer from Siler City. “I don’t care what they’re talking about today. I’m mad at this Legislature (for) the things that have been going in our state the past year.”

The state chapter of the conservative-leaning Americans for Prosperity handed out earplugs to passers-by and suggested legislators should use them to tune out a vocal minority. State director Dallas Woodhouse said many of the protesters want to raise taxes.

“What I hope is the group that the legislators will listen to is the voters,” Woodhouse said. “We don’t believe these people are representative of their folks back home.”

The Senate Rules Committee voted to change state gambling and other laws needed for an updated gambling compact reached in November between Perdue and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to be carried out.

The tribe would be permitted to offer live dealer gambling at its western North Carolina casino.

The state’s school districts would get a share of revenue from the new games, which Perdue said could also create hundreds of new jobs. A coalition of social conservatives and liberal Democrats opposed to gambling could refuse to pass the gambling law changes.

Senators also pushed through a committee changes to involuntary annexation laws to respond to a Superior Court’s judge decision in March that rejected a new method the Legislature approved in 2011. That method allows landowners to petition to block a municipality’s efforts to expand its borders.

The legislation would replace the petition process with an up-or-down referendum by voters in the area where the proposed annexation would occur. Another bill would cancel nine pending and contentious annexations on the outer edges of towns and cities from Wilmington to Asheville that also were subject to the 2011 petition method that’s now been blocked in court.

The House Rules Committee also met briefly Wednesday to take up a handful of bills, including one that would prevent death-row inmates from watching television. The bill is in response to a letter written by convicted killer Danny Robbie Hembree Jr. predicting how he’d get to watch color TV as a gentleman of leisure while he awaits an execution that’s likely decades away. The rules committee’s action means the bill can be introduced this year.

Dozens of House members spent Wednesday afternoon holding a mock floor session to get acclimated to an electronic system in which members will follow bills and amendments during floor debate on laptops or other devices, not paper.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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