Political reporter Mark Binker dies at 43

Veteran statehouse reporter Mark Binker died unexpectedly on Saturday at the age of 43. He covered state government for 12 years, first for the Greensboro News & Record, then for WRAL, and most recently for the Raleigh News & Observer’s The Insider newsletter.

A YouCaring fundraising page has been set up for funeral expenses and to support the needs of Binker’s family. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. May 12 at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, WRAL reports. Binker was a highly regarded journalist, and since his death, he has received condolences from several state leaders.

Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger expressed his condolences to Binker’s wife and three sons and said in a statement that the highest compliment he can give is Binker as a reporter is that “through almost 15 years of regular interaction with him, I have no idea what his personal politics were. In a statement on Facebook, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper called Binker “an outstanding journalist who uniquely understood complex issues” who “never ducked asking tough questions, or stopped digging for more.”

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HB2 repeal going to vote Thursday as NCAA deadline approaches

North Carolina lawmakers struck a deal late Wednesday night with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that could repeal House Bill 2. Earlier this week, the NCAA reported a Thursday deadline for the state to make changes to the controversial law or lose its ability to host sports championships through 2022, according to Business Insider. HB2 is a law passed by the state legislature in March 2016 that, among many things, requires people to use the restrooms of the gender on their birth certificates.

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore issued a joint statement Wednesday night, saying House Bill 142 would repeal HB2, leave the issue of bathroom regulation to the state and enact a moratorium on local ordinances similar to Charlotte’s until Dec. 1, 2020. Berger and Moore said in their statement: “We are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy.” Cooper said in a statement that he supports the compromise. “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeal House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” he said in the statement.

The bill is expected to go to a vote in the Senate at about 9:15 a.m. and then go to the House shortly thereafter. The question going forward is whether there are enough legislators in both houses who will support the compromise. Since its passage, HB2 has cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue. The Associated Press published a report on Monday, which found that HB2 will cost North Carolina more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a decade.

Senate leader Phil Berger changes news headlines on Facbeook

North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger Facebook page has come under scrutiny since he and his staff got caught adjusting actual news headlines. In one example, he changed the News & Observer’s headline, “In HB2 repeal effort, Gov. Cooper is silent on proposed nondiscrimination law” to his own headline, “Has Roy Cooper flip-flopped on HB 2?”

After further review, Facebook found this practice in violation of its site’s policies. Berger took to Facebook shortly after some posts and comments were taken down from his page and accused Facebook and the N&O of censorship.

Other local reporters, including Alex Rose of WGHP Fox 8, shared the N&O’s story, and said modifying headlines “is misleading and erodes an independent free press.”

Gov. Roy Cooper introduces state budget

Gov. Roy Cooper released his 2017-19 budget proposal on Wednesday. The budget would increase state government spending by $1.1 billion next year, according to ABC 11. The Raleigh News & Observer reports the budget includes a heavy investment in education with 10 percent raises for public school teachers over two years. Cooper’s budget would also expand Medicaid coverage by more than 600,000 people and allow law enforcement officers to retire five years earlier. WRAL outlined some of the other budget highlights.

The lengthy process for approving the budget is underway, and the Republican-controlled legislature will review and pass appropriations bills.

Republican leaders have signaled Cooper will face an uphill battle. A WRAL article quotes Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger calling the budget a “reckless $1 billion spending spree” that would return the state “to the days of high taxes and multi-billion dollar deficits.” WRAL also notes North Carolina is expected to finish the 2016-17 fiscal year with a $522 million surplus, but Cooper’s budget increases state spending by more than twice that amount. In a statement, Cooper said he is prepared to work with lawmakers and that his goals are “universal and bipartisan.”