Friday News: Choose wisely...


ONE OF THESE THREE REDISTRICTING BILLS IS A DOG: HB 140 would require a constitutional amendment that would be on the 2020 primary ballot for voters. North Carolina’s primary is March 3. However, HB 69 and HB 648 would be a statute, which means a future General Assembly could change it. If it’s in the state constitution, only the voters can change it. HB 69 would have an 11-person nonpartisan redistricting commission; HB 140 would have a five-person temporary redistricting advisory commission; and HB 648 would have a 16-person independent redistricting commission of 11 voting members and five alternates who do not vote. For drawing the redistricting plans, HB 69 calls for the commission to draw them, while HB 140 would have the legislative service office draw them and HB 648 would be drawn by a special group selected by its commission. Plans would have to be approved by the commissions created under HB 69 and HB 648, but not HB 140, since that one is a constitutional amendment.

NC FARMERS CAN SELL SMOKABLE HEMP UNTIL NEXT SUMMER, WHEN BAN GOES INTO EFFECT: Hemp is a burgeoning economic crop for the state and used in a number of products. But the smokable stuff, used as a delivery mechanism for CBD and its potential medicinal effects, quickly became a profit center for hemp farmers. The problem: It looks and smells like marijuana. Law enforcement around the state complained that, by keeping it legal, the legislature was all but legalizing marijuana, too. If officers can't tell the difference between the two, they lose probable cause not just on drug arrests but others that started with the smell of marijuana smoke, police, sheriffs and district attorneys complained. The compromise will let hemp farmers sell smokable hemp in North Carolina until June 1 of next year, splitting the difference to some extent between the House, which wanted an earlier cutoff, and the Senate, which wanted a later one. The full bill runs 32 pages. It's slated for votes in the House and the Senate on Monday that would send the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature.

PATRICK MCHENRY DEFENDS ZUCKERBERG'S CRYPTOCURRENCY PLAN: Trust was a central theme of the hearing. Given Facebook’s history, “why should Congress, regulators and the public trust you to create what amounts to the world’s largest bank, what really amounts to a shadow sovereign government?” asked Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. Responded Zuckerberg: “Well, congresswoman, we are not creating a bank. We are helping an organization create a payment system.” Zuckerberg held up China as a strong reason for encouraging innovation as embodied in the Libra project. Zuckerberg’s China statements found a ready echo from some Republicans on the committee, such as Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who stepped up to defend the Libra project and urge lawmakers not to put “innovation on trial.” But Democrats, in a rare tilt, allied themselves with President Donald Trump and his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who have publicly criticized the Libra plan. Mnuchin and other regulators, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, have warned that the digital currency could be used for illicit activity such as money laundering or drug trafficking.

BARR IS NOW CONDUCTING A CRIMINAL PROBE OF THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges. The opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. Mr. Trump fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director under whose watch agents opened the Russia inquiry, and has long assailed other top former law enforcement and intelligence officials as partisans who sought to block his election. Mr. Trump has made clear that he sees the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies. That view factors into the impeachment investigation against him, as does his long obsession with the origins of the Russia inquiry. House Democrats are examining in part whether his pressure on Ukraine to open investigations into theories about the 2016 election constituted an abuse of power.

NOW TRUMP WANTS TO SEND MORE TROOPS (AND TANKS) TO EASTERN SYRIA TO PROTECT OILFIELDS: President Trump on Thursday vowed that the United States would prevent the Islamic State from regaining control of oil fields in eastern Syria, emphasizing his interest in the energy assets there despite his steps to curtail the U.S. military mission in the country. “We will NEVER let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields!” Trump said on Twitter, using an acronym for a group that the U.S. military and Syrian Kurdish forces have largely defeated. “Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!” Earlier this month, Trump announced that he would withdraw most U.S. troops from Syria ahead of a Turkish offensive against the Pentagon’s partner force there, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Trump said the region was safer than before and declared a “victory,” even as chaos ensued and Russian and Syrian government troops took over territory once held by the United States and the SDF. Now, as Pentagon officials express concern that the situation could allow Islamic State militants to regain strength, administration leaders are discussing options, including using tanks and associated U.S. troops to protect oil fields in eastern Syria that are now under SDF control.