We’re halfway home. Let’s go.
1) Durham commissioners approve the light rail plan.
In what board chairwomman Wendy Jacobs called “the most important vote that I will make as a county commissioner,” the Durham County commissioners approved an updated transit plan that includes light rail, commuter rail, and improvements to bus service.
From the INDY‘s Sarah Willets:
The commissioners’ approval was one of the final stops for light rail plans before being submitted to the Federal Transit Administration as part of a grant application. GoTriangle, the agency heading up the project, must submit the plans to the FTA by the end of the month in order to move from the planning phase of the grant process to the engineering phase.
The board also agreed to a new cost-share agreement:
Under the new agreement, Durham would pay 81.5 percent of the local cost of the project, and Orange would pay 16.5 percent. A Funding and Community Collaborative made up of private citizens and public sector leaders is trying to cover the remaining 2 percent. Orange County commissioners still need to vote on the cost-share agreement and their own transit plan, which they will do Thursday.
The federal New Starts Grant would pay for 50 percent of the light rail project, and planners are banking on a 10 percent contributions from the state, leaving local governments to come up with the remaining 40 percent, which comes out to about $1.9 billion. The 17.7-mile route will have eighteen stations, four of which are located in Orange County.
2) The hog-farm protection bill clears the N.C. Senate Committee.
A controversial piece of legislation that would shield hog and chicken farmers from costly nuisance lawsuits is one step closer to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk. From the INDY‘s Erica Hellerstein:
As the INDY has previously reported, HB 467 would restrict the amount of money property owners could collect in nuisance lawsuits filed against agricultural operations, including hog farms. If passed, it would essentially cap the damages property owners could collect in nuisance lawsuits at the fair market value of their property, which critics say is often made lower by the presence of commercial farms.
A particularly contentious (and legally dubious) part of the bill would have restricted such damages even for current nuisance lawsuits—essentially nullifying twenty-six federal lawsuits pending against Murphy-Brown, the hog division of the powerful Smithfield Foods corporation. That provision was slashed in an amendment introduced in the House’s third reading of the bill in early April.
This afternoon, the Senate Agriculture Committee green-lighted an amendment brought forward by Senator Brent Jackson, a sponsor of the bill’s Senate version, that clarified that pending legal actions wouldn’t apply to HB 467.
Jackson, one of the bill’s champions, received more than $130,000 from Big Pork.
Jackson argued that there was a need for the bill, citing “frivolous lawsuits” filed against farmers by lawyers from out of state. “The industry cannot sustain this,” he said.
Jackson—an industry-friendly farmer who represents Duplin, Johnston, and Sampson counties—may be concerned about the livelihoods of some of his constituents. But, like many of his colleagues in the House, he’s also gotten money from the very industry that would benefit from the legislation—more than $130,000, in fact, from the Murphy family (Murphy-Brown), Maxwell family (Goldsboro Milling, one of the biggest hog producers in the nation), Prestage family (another hog operation), Smithfield Foods, and the N.C. Pork Council.
3) Protesters are safe in North Carolina, for now.
A bill that would have labeled some protesters “economic terrorists” and seen them facing felonies fis dead, having been defeated Tuesday in committee 6–5.
Here’s what HB 249 would have done:
A bill introduced in the state House … could label some disruptive protesters as “economic terrorists” and criminalizes blocking streets while participating “in a riot or other unlawful assembly.” […]
The bill seems to fall in line with others filed recently by Republican legislators nationwide in an attempt to curb protesting. While much of the bill refers to activities that are already criminalized in North Carolina, one provision would add a new penalty for blocking streets during an unlawful protest. The measure would add to the state’s definition of violent terrorism a separate category of “economic terrorism,” which would be considered a Class H felony—which doesn’t sound Orwellian at all.
4) Mexico wins a trade battle with U.S.
Mexico and the US have fought for years over tuna. The US insists that any Mexican tuna sold in the US must be “dolphin safe,” meaning dolphins weren’t killed by tuna fisherman, which was once common. Mexico says its fisherman play by the rules. The US government disagrees.
On Tuesday, the World Trade Organization ruled in Mexico’s favor, allowing it to impose trade sanctions worth $163 million a year against the US. The WTO says that’s how much money Mexico has lost from the US unfairly penalizing Mexican tuna.
The timing, however coincidental, is sensitive. President Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA, the free trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada.
Trump’s administration took its first steps to crack down on trade with Canada on Monday night when the Commerce Department announced a 20% tariff against Canadian softwood lumber. A war of words between Canadian and American leaders has followed.
Trump’s decision to go after Canada first with tariffs was particularly surprising given his harsh criticism of Mexico on the campaign trail. Now Trump has upset Canada and suffered a trade defeat from Mexico.
5) Star Wars IX release date is set.
This is news. You know you want to know. From CNN (and, we assume, a galaxy far, far away):
Star Wars: Episode IX, the sequel to the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi and ninth installment of the space franchise, has been set for a Memorial Day 2019 release, Disney announced on Tuesday.
The film, which continues the saga started by 1977’s Star Wars, will open on May 24, 2019.
Get those lightsabers ready.
6) Documents show Michael Flynn might have broken the law.
From The New York Times:
Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia when seeking a security clearance to work in the White House, top House oversight lawmakers from both parties asserted on Tuesday.
The revelation came after Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and chairman of the House oversight committee, and other lawmakers on the panel examined classified documents related to Mr. Flynn, including a form he filled out in January 2016 to receive his security clearance. The form is known as an SF-86 and is required by anyone in the government who handles classified information.
As part of the review, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s senior Democrat, said Mr. Flynn did not disclose in those documents payments totaling more than $45,000 that he received from the Russian government for giving a speech in Moscow in 2015, among others.
The development is the latest trouble for Mr. Flynn, who also did not disclose payments from Russian-linked entities on a financial disclosure form that the Trump administration released in late March. Earlier in March, Mr. Flynn filed papers acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government, causing another uproar and more unfavorable headlines for the Trump administration.
7) Trump takes to Twitter to blast another judge.
This is how the president handles being told he is barred from punishing sanctuary cities.
8) Somebody other than Trump thinks Trump doing an amazing job.
And he was elected by North Carolinians.
Take it away, Mark Meadows (who may or may not have Trump posters on his bedroom wall).
The entire Breitbart story is worth a read, if only because it offers a window into an alternate universe.
Meadows told Breitbart News that President Trump has a work ethic beyond any measure: “I think for a president that came from a non-political background, he quickly learned how Congress works. I think there’s been a learning curve for the president. Here’s a personal story: I don’t know if I have ever been as impressed with a CEO, or a president, who is getting as involved in negotiating the finer details of national security, health care, the economy, or tax reform, to the extent that he’s been willing to get on the phone at midnight and then the next morning at 6:30 a.m. If the American people understood how engaged this president is, and how engaged he is at making his campaign promises fulfilled, the American people would be nothing short of amazed. He works me to death, and I’m a member of Congress. I cannot imagine how hard he works his staff at the White House.”
That’s all for today, folks.