Archive for State News

After the Storm, Watch Your Wallet

Scammers are known to follow in the wake of natural disasters. They may claim to be able to fix damage done by the storm, or seek contributions to fake charities to help storm victims.
After a disaster, guard against home repair scams:

Don’t pay for work up front. Inspect the work and make sure you’re satisfied before you pay. A small down payment may be required for some projects, but don’t pay anything without getting a written contract. Avoid paying with cash.
Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or comes to your home to solicit work. If an offer is only good now or never, find someone else to do the work. Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work done on their homes.
Get three written estimates, if possible, and compare bids. Check credentials and contact our office and the Better Business Bureau to learn about any complaints against the contractor. Get a written contract detailing all work to be performed, costs and a projected completion date, and get their certificate of insurance directly from their insurance company.

To help storm victims, make sure your donations will do the most good by avoiding charity scams:
Don’t respond to unsolicited emails and text messages asking you to give, and be wary of social networking pleas for donations. Fraudulent messages may look legitimate and use the name of real charities.
Watch out for pushy telemarketers, and say no to high-pressure appeals. If a caller refuses to answer your questions about the charity, offers to pick up a donation in person, or calls you and asks for a credit card, bank account or Social Security number, donate elsewhere.
Before you make a donation, do your homework first. To report a charity scam, call the Attorney General’s Office. To check up on a charity, call the Secretary of State’s office toll‑free at (888) 830‑4989.

For more tips and information, visit ncdoj.gov. If you spot a storm scam, call Attorney General Roy Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or file a complaint online.

N.C. Teams Provide Flood Aid to S.C through EM Assistance Compact

North Carolina is sending help to its southern neighbor in response to an aid request from South Carolina emergency management officials as rain continues to pummel the Palmetto state.

“With the traumatic flooding occurring in South Carolina, I’ve directed North Carolina’s Emergency Management officials to provide as much logistical support as they need from us,” Gov. Pat McCrory said. “Our state has sufficient personnel and supplies to keep North Carolinians safe if conditions warrant.”

Four North Carolina Helo Aquatic Rescue Teams (NC HART) will deploy Sunday evening to help rescue stranded residents and motorists who are trapped in the rising flood waters. Stationed in Salisbury, North Carolina, each team is comprised of three to five rescue technicians and National Guard pilots and crew who train monthly to maintain their certification.

“Given North Carolina’s experience with severe flooding, we’re keenly aware of the critical need for experienced search and rescue teams,” said Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “We will do all we can to help our southern neighbors as they face unprecedented flooding.”

The NC HART combines the expertise of local rescue technicians with the training, maintenance and capabilities of the N.C. National Guard and N.C. Highway Patrol Aviation Units. Nearly 60 highly trained technicians are positioned throughout the state working routinely as first responders or emergency medical technicians with local fire or EMS teams. When called upon, the technicians are paired with a helicopter crew from the National Guard or State Highway Patrol and together, they form one of the specialized NC HART teams.

The highly-specialized teams were used extensively following hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2004 to rescue an estimated 350 residents from fast moving water and areas isolated when landslides cut off roads and escape routes. Since then, the teams also have rescued numerous stranded or injured hikers from remote mountainous regions. The NCHART program became one of the first of its kind in the nation to implement a regimented training and response program that combines the best civilian rescuers with military aviation assets.

“NC HART has been in operation for 10 years. It’s a great example of the partnership among the N.C. National Guard, Emergency Management, law enforcement and Emergency Medical Services. NC HART has rescued more than 70 people in its 10 years,” said Col. Brian Pierce, NCNG state aviation officer. “We’re going to get down to South Carolina as quickly as possible to help our neighbors during this disaster.”

Earlier today, South Carolina asked for the advanced search and rescue teams, as well as an experienced public information officer to help in their Joint Information Center.

“The Emergency Management Assistance Compact provides a coordinated relief effort for disaster stricken states ensuring that they get the right type of resources as the right time,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “This helps to ensure the impacted state gets exactly what they need and not unnecessary resources that could complicate their response. This kind of coordination is a tremendous help to the emergency managers in the stricken states.”

The EMAC system was developed by state governors following Hurricane Andrew in Florida when critical resources were needed by the state of Florida, Sprayberry said. North Carolina has sent teams to help with numerous disaster response efforts including Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina and Alaska following flooding in 2007.

Helpful Tips for the Severe Weather Situation

N.C. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency in all 100 counties in preparation for severe weather that is predicated to cause severe flooding throughout the state.

At a news conference at the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center, the governor said that weather systems, independent of Hurricane Joaquin, are likely to dump flooding rains on the state.

Hurricane Joaquin will increase rainfall totals should it make landfall in North Carolina. Presently, the hurricane is predicted to brush the Outer Banks.

The American Red Cross recommends the following steps as storms approach:

Downloading the free Red Cross Flood App to your mobile device. The Red Cross flood app sends location-based flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The app also includes tips on how assemble an emergency kit for your family in the event of a power outage or evacuation, an “I’m Safe” button to let loved ones know you are okay, and a real-time map to help you find the location of Red Cross shelters should you need to leave your home. The app has a Spanish language toggle switch and can be downloaded by visiting redcross.org/apps.

Creating and practicing a Disaster Plan: Talk to everyone in your household about what to do if a flood occurs. Decide where you would meet and who you would contact in case of flooding. Assemble and maintain an emergency preparedness kit. Be prepared to evacuate your family and pets at a moment’s notice. To locate the nearest Red Cross emergency shelter, check your flood app or visit redcross.org/shelter. Listen to area radio and television stations for possible flood warnings and reports of flooding in progress.

Assembling an Emergency Preparedness Kit: Kits should contain a first aid kit and a seven-day supply of essential medications, foods that don’t require cooking or refrigeration and manual can opener, bottled water, flashlights and a battery-powered radio with extra batteries, copies of important documents like your insurance policies, cell phone chargers, family and emergency contact information, maps of the area and other emergency items for the whole family.
Heeding Flood Warnings: Listen to your local radio and TV stations for updated flood information. A flood WATCH means flooding or flash flooding is possible in your area. A food WARNING means flooding or flash flooding is already occurring or will occur soon in your area. When a flood or flash flood warning is issued for your area, head for higher ground and stay there.

Relocating During Flood Warnings: Stay away from flood waters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankle, stop, turn around and go another way. If you come upon a flooded road while driving, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.

Keep children and pets out of the water, as they are curious and can be harmed by flowing or contaminated water.

Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood danger.

For more information on what to do before, during and after a flood, please visit redcross.org/prepare/ disaster/flood.

Attorney General Roy Cooper has notified businesses and consumers that price-gouging laws are in effect.

“A hurricane shouldn’t be an excuse to rip off customers,” Cooper said. “Our strong law against price gouging in times of crisis helps protect consumers as well as legitimate businesses that play by the rules.”

Under a state of emergency declared today, the price gouging law is in effect statewide.

Price gouging—or charging too much in times of crisis—is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared or proclaimed by the Governor. The law also applies to all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.

Cooper has enforced North Carolina’s price gouging law (NC General Statute 75-38) in the past to win thousands of dollars in refunds for consumers and penalties from violators.

“Most North Carolina businesses help their communities in times of trouble, but if you spot someone using this storm to try to justify price gouging, let my office know about it,” Cooper said.

Consumers can report potential price gouging to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or by filling out a complaint form at www.ncdoj.gov.

NC DHHS Reports First Flu Death of the Season

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting the state’s first death from flu for the 2015-2016 influenza season. An adult in the western region of the state died last week of complications from an influenza infection. (To protect the family’s privacy, the person’s hometown, county, age and gender are not being released.)

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family,” said Acting State Health Director Dr. Megan Davies. “We hope that by making people aware of this unfortunate case we will remind everyone that flu can be a serious disease and encourage people to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated.”

The CDC recommends yearly vaccination against the flu for everyone 6 months and older. “It’s not too early to get the flu vaccine. Getting your shot now will protect you through the entire season, so it’s important not to wait.” said Dr. Davies.

According to studies cited by the CDC there are several benefits from vaccination, including the following:

Protecting people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions (including obesity) and young children.
Making illness milder if you do get sick and reducing the risk of more serious outcomes, like hospitalizations and deaths.
Protecting women during pregnancy and protecting their babies until they are old enough to get vaccinated themselves.
Other precautions you can take to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses include:
Staying home when you are sick until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours;
Washing your hands frequently, preferably with soap and water; and
Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue promptly.
For more information on flu and to find out where you can get a flu vaccination in your community, visit www.flu.nc.gov.

New Provisions in State’s Motor Vehicle Laws Effective October 1

There are four new provisions under North Carolina’s motor vehicle laws that became effective today.

The new laws, passed by the N.C. General Assembly, affect either vehicles or drivers in the state. They include:

House Bill 6 (Session Law 2015-163) defines an autocycle. An autocycle is a three-wheeled motorcycle that has a steering wheel, pedals and seat safety belts for each occupant, antilock brakes, air bag protection, completely enclosed seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride, does not require a motorcycle endorsement to operate and is otherwise manufactured to comply with federal safety requirements for motorcycles. A driver license is required to operate an autocycle. An autocycle has the same requirements for a vehicle inspection and vehicle registration as a motorcycle.

House Bill 350 (Session Law 2015-165) directs the Division of Motor Vehicles to restore the driver license of a person judged by the court to be restored to competency. This law requires the clerk of court to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles when a person is judged by the court to be restored to competency.

Senate Bill 90 (Session Law 2015-31) affects required brake light equipment. Vehicles manufactured after December 31, 1955 and on or before December 31, 1970 are required to be equipped with one stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle to operate on the state’s highways. Vehicles manufactured after December 31, 1970, are required to be equipped with stop lamps, ONE ON EACH SIDE of the rear of the vehicle to operate on the state’s highways.

Senate Bill 541 Session Law 2015-237) defines and regulates Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). A TNC is defined as any person or company that used an online-enabled application or platform to connect passengers with TNC drivers who provide pre-arranged transportation services. The legislation regulates TNCs by requiring a permit from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, maintenance of liability insurance and background checks for drivers. The legislation also requires a driver who also drives for a TNC to continue to carry liability insurance coverage while he/she is logged on to the TNC’s online-enabled application platform, but is not providing TNC service.

Last-Minute Legislation Jeopardizes SNAP Benefits for Thousands in N.C.

After taking months to iron out a state budget, North Carolina lawmakers are pushing through bills that could have just as big of an impact on citizens in the state. Among them is House Bill 318, which includes a provision that could impact the eligibility of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits for thousands of people in the state.

Specifically, the bill will prohibit the state from accessing federal waivers to the amount of time childless adults can receive the benefits and also impact any waivers offered in the future, explains Alexandra Sirota with the NC Budget and Tax Center, “You can imagine two, three years from now if we were were to have another Great Recession, the state would no longer be able to apply for this time-limit waiver to provide food assistance to those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own.”

Currently unemployment is high enough for 77 of the 100 counties in the state to qualify for the waiver because of their unemployment rate. If Governor Pat McCrory signs the bill, as many as 105,000 North Carolinians would lose access to food benefits after July of next year. Supporters of eliminating the waiver argue that it is possible for people to find work to support themselves.

As lawmakers move to reduce access to food assistance, the unemployment rates in 72 counties have increased and Sirota says there is still not enough job-training assistance to help those who can’t find a job secure the training needed to make it in the workforce.

“The challenge, of course, is that in so many communities across the state, there are too few jobs and too few training opportunities to support those who want to work, who want to get the skills that are needed for work.” Sirota adds that the missing SNAP benefits will equal millions of dollars that won’t be spent in the local economy.

Unemployment Rates Again Down Year-Over-Year

From August 2014 to August 2015, unemployment rates fell in 91 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in 14 of the state’s 15 metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 56 counties and in 4 metro areas.

These findings come from new estimates released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“In many North Carolina communities, labor market conditions have been improving slowly on a year-over-year basis,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Yet the state’s ongoing, sluggish recovery increasingly is one that is concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 2.2 percent more payroll jobs (+90,600). In August 2015, the state gained 700 more jobs than it lost (+/- 0.0 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,300 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 417,000 payroll jobs (+10.9 percent).

Between July and August of 2015, local unemployment rates fell in 86 of the state’s 100 counties, rose in 4 counties, and held constant in 10 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 4.6 percent in Buncombe County to 11.4 percent in Scotland County. Overall, 4 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 63 counties posted rates between 6 and 9.9 percent; 33 counties had unemployment rates between 4.6 and 5.9 percent.

“The combined August unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties was 5.1 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 21.9 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas have 4.1 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 30.5 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 4.1 percent. In fact, non-metropolitan North Carolina has been responsible for the entire decline in the state’s labor force that has occurred since late 2007.”

Earlier in 2015, the Labor and Economic Analysis Division implemented new definitions of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties consistent with federal changes made based on the 2010 Census. With those updates, North Carolina now has 46 metropolitan counties and 54 non-metropolitan ones. Additionally, the state now has 15 metropolitan statistical areas, up from 14; the addition is the three-county New Bern metro area.

Between July and August, unemployment rates fell in 14 of the state’s metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (8.8 percent), followed by Fayetteville (8 percent) and Greenville (6.8 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.8 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (5.2 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (5.4 percent), and Burlington (5.7 percent).

Compared to August 2014, unemployment rates in August 2015 were lower in 91 counties and in 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 56 counties and in 4 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 2.1 percent larger (+98,296 individuals) in August 2015 than it was in August 2014.

All of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in the three largest metro areas, which collectively added 112,419 persons (+4.4 percent). Among individual metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+8.9 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+7.1 percent) and Raleigh (+4.4 percent).

Decreases in labor force sizes occurred in Fayetteville (-9.7 percent), Jacksonville (-4.1 percent), and Goldsboro (-1.1 percent), while the size of Greenville’s labor force was basically unchanged.

With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78.1 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.3 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

Improvements in North Carolina’s overall labor market are being driven by developments in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Over the year, unemployment rates fell in 4 of the 5 metro areas that constitute those regions and held steady in one. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 9.8 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in August totaled 5.6 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. These regions also were responsible for virtually all of the employment growth that occurred over the year.

Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest August unemployment rate (5.5 percent), followed by Charlotte (5.8 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (6 percent).

In August, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 16,299 down from the 20,279 initial claims filed a year earlier (-19.6 percent). Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,047), followed by Wake (1,602), Guilford (1,037), Cumberland (642), and Forsyth (606) counties.

In August 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $25.3 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $33.1 million received in August 2014. This decline (-23.6 percent) is attributable to a mix of factors, such as drops in the number of insurance claims resulting from economic improvements and legal changes that have restricted eligibility for unemployment insurance compensation.

“Labor market conditions in many North Carolina communities, especially the largest metropolitan ones, steadily have been improving on a year-over-year basis,” said Quinterno. “At the same time, the overall pace of recovery remains subdued, with conditions in non-metropolitan and small metropolitan places either worsening or stagnating.”

Federal criminal probe ongoing at North Carolina’s health agency

By Sarah Ovaska-Few

Aldona Wos may no longer be the Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, but there’s still plenty of interest in how she ran the agency.

In particular, a federal grand jury wants to know how several contracts were awarded to members of her inner circle, as well as to a consulting firm that took over much of the management of the state’s Medicaid program.

The grand jury is also looking at a troubled Medicaid billing unit that was the subject of several audits that found the supervisor wasted more than $1.6 million in unnecessary overtime and the hiring of friends, family and her church members. The federal probe was first reported by the News & Observer late Friday.

DHHS spokesman Jim Jones said the agency is complying with the federal investigation.

“The Department of Health and Human Services team is cooperating and working with the federal government in this process,” Jones wrote, in a written statement. “We will continue to respect the confidentiality of the process by the federal government to protect the integrity and fairness of this review.”

The documents requested relate to scenarios already in the public eye. Those range from the controversial actions of the former Medicaid billing director Angie Sligh who hired and approved large overtime payments for church and family members to controversial hires by Wos, many of whom received significant pay through personal services contracts instead of the more typical hiring agreements found in state government.

Wos, a wealthy Greensboro physician and prominent Republican fundraiser, became Gov. Pat McCrory’s choice to lead the state’s largest agency in 2013.

While McCrory remained a staunch defender of Wos, her tenure at DHHS was marked with controversy with high-dollar hires of top staff, the bungled launch of a Medicaid billing system and food stamps delivery system and repeated criticisms of mismanagement coming from state lawmakers

Local wineries shine in N.C. State Fair competition

A syrah made in Mocksville and a muscadine from Willow Spring took top honors in the 2015 N.C. State Fair Wine Competition hosted by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council.

Misty Creek Farm and Vineyards in Mocksville won Best of Show and the N.C. Winegrowers Cup for its Syrah. The vineyard, located in the heart of the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, has been growing grapes since 2001.

Ellis, a muscadine wine from Adams Vineyards in Willow Spring, won the N.C. Muscadine Cup.

“We saw significant growth in the number of entries from commercial entries this year, and had a total of 414 entries from commercial and amateur winemakers,” said Whit Winslow, executive director of the N.C. Wine and Grape Council. “That’s a testament to the continued strength of North Carolina’s $1.7-billion wine and grape industry.”

In addition to the two cups, best-of-category awards were presented to the following commercial wineries:

Best Sparkling: Biltmore Wine Co., Biltmore Estate Chateau Reserve Sparkling Blanc de Blancs
Best White: Cypress Bend Vineyards, Catherine
Best Rose: Childress Vineyards, Classic Blush
Best Red: Misty Creek Farms and Vineyards, Syrah
Best Fruit, Honey, Dessert, Other: Linville Falls Winery, Linville Falls Blueberry
In the amateur competition, Robert Monscko of Cary won Best of Show for his Bobcin Bordeaux. Ribbons and prize money also were awarded to the top three wines in each amateur category.

Winners from the wine competition will be on display in the Education Building throughout the fair, which takes place Oct. 15-25. North Carolina wine also will be available for sample and purchase at the Got to Be NC Wine and Craft Beer exhibit in the Hunt Horse Arena outside Gate 8.

North Carolina is home to nearly 160 wineries and 525 commercial grape growers. The state is ranked 11th nationally in wine production.

NCDOT’s Helping Travelers Save Time, Money Over Labor Day Weekend

As families travel to enjoy the final holiday weekend of summer, the N.C. Department of Transportation will suspend most road construction activities on major routes across the state to help make their trips a little smoother. By avoiding traffic delays, motorists can reach their destinations safely and efficiently, while cutting down on fuel consumption and costs.

NCDOT will put on hold most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes from 4 p.m., Friday, September 4, until 9 a.m., Tuesday, September 8 with these exceptions:

U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street) in Elizabeth City is reduced to one lane in each direction from Road Street to the Pasquotank River Bridge for resurfacing and construction of a new bridge;
U.S. 264 in Dare County will have lane closures at five locations to replace five bridges by phased construction. Traffic will be controlled by temporary signals;
Hanover Street to Campbell Street will be closed with detours in New Hanover County due to a bridge replacement;
Southbound Interstate 85 at Poplar Mount Road (mile marker 227.5) in Burlington will have one lane closed;
I-40 in the Fortify work zone in Raleigh will have lane closure restrictions, with travel limited to three lanes in both directions;
U.S. 311 south of Archdale in Randolph County is closed and a detour is in place due to a culvert replacement project;
I-73 in Guilford County is reduced to three lanes in each direction in Greensboro between Wendover Avenue and I-85;
U.S. 21 in Alleghany County has two automated signals in place along a 10-mile stretch for staged structure replacement;
Eastbound U.S. 74 in Cleveland County has a one-lane pattern just east of Sandy Run Creek bridges and a one-lane detour route along new ramps for Peachtree Road and back to U.S. 74; and
Southbound I -77 Exit 51B in Iredell County is closed and a detour is in place due to ramp work at U.S. 21.
Here are some additional tips for navigating the highways safely during the holiday travel season:

Leave early to get a head start on your drive. Travel at non-peak hours when possible.
Stay alert. Even if work is suspended, you may encounter narrowed lanes and traffic shifts in work zones.
Be patient and obey the posted speed limit.
Use alternate routes, when possible, to avoid traffic congestion.
Stay informed. Real-time travel information is available online and over the phone by dialing 511.
Don’t drive drowsy. Travel at times when you are normally awake, and take frequent breaks.
Avoid distracted driving. When drivers stop focusing on the road ahead, they react more slowly to traffic conditions and are more likely to be involved in an accident.
For real-time travel information, call 511, visit the Traveler Services section of NCDOT.gov or follow NCDOT on Twitter.

Also, the 2015 Labor Day Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) “Booze It & Lose It” has kicked off and runs through September 7. Nearly every law enforcement agency in the state participates in this highly-effective anti-drunk driving enforcement and education campaign. Last year approximately 2,800 DWI arrests were made during the Labor Day campaign. Local and state law enforcement officers also issued more than 102,000 traffic and criminal citations statewide.

Sobriety checkpoints will be continually set up in all North Carolina counties during this year’s campaign. Remember, there are more ways than ever to get home if you have been drinking. Call a friend, take a taxi, ride public transportation, designate a sober a driver or use a ridesharing app.

Watvh Group Questions Abuse of NC Taxpayer Resources Exposed in Ashley Madison Hack

More than 30 North Carolina state and local government email addresses were uncovered today by NC Capitol Connection as part of the more than 10,000 government and military email addresses released in the hack of the online affair site, Ashley Madison.

NC Capitol Connection is still uncovering additional NC government email addresses and analyze the list further.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of government employees using taxpayer resources for personal use. Unfortunately, people will be distracted by the salacious nature of this abuse and not the fact that North Carolinians are being taxed to support government at all levels using state and local resources to engage in this activity at work as opposed to serving the people of North Carolina.”

A few of the NC government domains included in the addresses uncovered at the time of this release are: NC Department of Health and Human Services, NC Department of Juvenile Justice, Moore County, and the Cities of Greensboro, Charlotte, and Greenville.

Governor Announces New Transportation Secretary

The acting secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation will assume permanent leadership over the agency a week after the former head Tony Tata resigned to focus time on his writing career.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday to a meeting of the state Board of Transportation that Nick Tennyson, a former chief deputy secretary of the department, would assume the top job full-time.

Tennyson has been a supporter of the governor’s proposal to borrow almost $3 billion for road and infrastructure projects. The House recently unveiled a similar proposal focused more on infrastructure.

NCDOT Accepting Proposals for Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grants

The N.C. Department of Transportation is accepting proposals from communities for the 2016 Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant Initiative. The program provides funding for municipalities across the state to develop comprehensive bicycle or pedestrian plans. Smaller communities with populations of less than 5,000 can also apply to develop combined bicycle and pedestrian plans.

The deadline for application, to be submitted electronically, is Friday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. Award recipients will be notified by March 2016.

“These plans have a positive impact on the economy, health and safety; and are the first steps in laying the groundwork for future projects that promote options for bicycling and walking locally,” said Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Director Lauren Blackburn.

This program is sponsored by the department’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation and the Transportation Planning Branch. Since 2004, nearly $4.5 million has been awarded through this program to 164 municipalities across the state.

Proposals are divided and judged in geographical groups to help establish equitable distribution of funding across the state. The selected awardees commonly incorporate a diverse mix of municipalities from large cities to small towns.

Plans funded are not for one specific project, but represent a comprehensive strategy for expanding bicycle and pedestrian opportunities within a given municipality. The plans address facilities, programs, policies and design guidelines that encourage safe walking and bicycling.

NC Lottery Nets $522 Million for Education

The North Carolina Education Lottery has surpassed records in sales and profits kicked back to the state, bringing in $522 million for education expenses in the most recent budget year.

The lottery on Thursday announced its annual earnings for the year ending June 30. Ticket sales for the year totaled near 2 billion. More than $1.2 billion was given away in prizes.

Sales were up just over 7 percent, and profits increased nearly 4 percent, in line with the average over the past five years.

The legislature’s top economist last year projected the lottery would generate nearly $521 million for education initiatives and teacher pay.

NC Prepares for possible Avian Influenza

State Veterinarian Doug Meckes announced additional precautions that are being put in place to help North Carolina prepare for a possible introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is requiring all poultry owners, regardless of the number of birds, to register for an NCFarmID number, Meckes said. This will facilitate the department in alerting poultry owners about an outbreak, especially owners in close proximity to a positive farm. Poultry owners can also sign up for a national premises ID number, but it is not required. Anyone already part of the National Poultry Improvement Plan is exempt from this requirement. An online sign-up form will be available after Aug. 1.
“In planning our response for highly pathogenic avian influenza, one problem we’ve come across is that we can’t protect birds that we don’t know exist,” Meckes said. “We need to know where poultry are located so we can properly protect commercial and backyard flocks.”
Information gathered through NCFarmID registration is used solely for animal health purposes. This critical data will provide animal health officials with necessary contact information in case of an animal health concern, and help identify animals and premises that may have been affected.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is also requiring any commercial poultry grower with 200 or more birds to submit a HPAI outbreak plan. A commercial grower would be any grower under contract with an integrated company.
“It’s very important that growers think through the worst-case scenario, because a confirmation of high-path avian flu would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Meckes said. “We want each grower to consider their resources and location to determine how they can best handle an outbreak in a way that is environmentally sensitive and gets them back online as soon as is feasible.”
An HPAI Outbreak Plan template will be available on the department’s website after Aug. 1. Growers will need to submit the plan to the Veterinary Division no later than Sept. 15. While only commercial growers will be required to submit the plan, all flock owners are encouraged to plan ahead and consider how they would respond to a confirmed positive.
Last month, Meckes and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced that bird shows and sales would be halted from Aug. 15 to January 15, 2016. The intent is to prevent birds from commingling and spreading the HPAI virus. Individual sales are still allowed to take place.

N.C. Hospitals Applaud McCrory’s Mental Health Task Force Plan

Hospital executives know all too well the toll that mental and behavioral health patients can have on their health systems.

These patients can show up in emergency departments – and sometimes stay for days – clogging the rooms and halls of an ED, and in rare cases even becoming dangerous to hospital staff or other patients.

“Community hospitals are the safety net for behavioral health; every three minutes, a North Carolinian experiencing a behavioral health crisis arrives at a hospital emergency department,” according to the N.C. Hospital Association. “Not only are these visits and admissions expensive, but they are not providing the appropriate level of care for the patients.”

That is an average of 186 patients per day. ED visits are expensive – about $1,500 on average.

In 2013, North Carolina hospitals had 162,000 behavioral health emergency department visits and 68,000 admissions. Not only are these visits and admissions expensive, they are not providing the appropriate care for patients, according to NCHA.

Indeed it was the care of mental and behavioral health patients that led to a heated battle between WakeMed Health & Hospitals and Rex Healthcare a few years ago. The UNC Wakebrook facility, only a stone’s throw from the main WakeMed campus, is a result from those discussions.

Advocates for better mental health care lament that these services are chronically underfunded and say that society has largely turned to law enforcement as a solution. In 2010, the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness declared that “Prisons and jails are North Carolina’s new mental hospitals.”

In the fall of 2014, NAMI released a survey asking families and individuals who had a psychiatric emergency to share their experiences from the ER. With more than 1,000 individuals responding, two out of five rated their experience as “Bad” or “Very Bad.”

In an effort to improve care, Gov. Pat McCrory announced intentions to establish a North Carolina Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force, a panel that will make recommendations to improve the lives of those with mental illness and substance use disorders.

“Our goal is to improve collaboration between health care, justice and safety professionals using existing resources,” McCrory said. “If we improve these linkages, we offer the best hand up to those in need – especially our young people.”

The task force has the support from hospitals. “N.C. Hospitals are pleased that Governor McCrory has made mental health and substance use issues a priority in his administration,” according to the NCHA. “We look forward to working collaborative with the task force in developing and implementing workable strategies to address this critical health issue.”

The task force will be co-chaired by N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, and will include Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, and Rep. Susan Martin, R-Pitt and Wilson, as task force members.

“On a daily basis, courtrooms across our state serve those who struggle with mental health and substance use issues,” Martin said. “My hope is that this task force will, among other things, examine the role and effectiveness of mental health and other specialty courts currently operating in North Carolina.”

The task force will submit findings and strategic recommendations to the governor by May 1, 2016, for improving the lives of North Carolina youth and adults with mental illness and substance use disorders and their families.

Virtual Physical Education Program Arrives in NC

North Carolina’s Virtual Public School will be launching an online high school physical education class this fall. Students in Macon and New Hanover Counties will be the first to test out this option in the fall.

The state’s Department of Public Instruction announced the plan for the pilot program on Tuesday.

The state says students will watch an online video demonstration given by a teacher. Pupils will then be tasked with filming themselves practicing the physical activity or sport.

If successful, the program could expand statewide by the spring of next year.

Highway Patrol Reminds Motorists of the Dangers of Leaving Children in Vehicles

With summer temperatures rising into the upper 90 degree mark this week, the North Carolina State Highway is reminding motorists of the dangers when a child is left unattended in a vehicle.

Every year, 35 to 40 children across the country die from heat exposure in vehicles and July is historically the deadliest month for child fatalities. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes and a child’s body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. Even a few minutes of heat exposure can be dangerous for a child. Sadly, many of these deaths are due to a parent accidentally forgetting that a child is still seated in their vehicle or the parent intentionally leaves a child in a vehicle unattended and in some cases, children crawl into a vehicle unnoticed.

However, these tragedies can be prevented by simply following a few simple safety tips provided by Safe Kids of NC:

Never leave a child alone in a vehicle. Check to make sure all children exit the vehicle when you reach your destination.
Lock the doors when your vehicle is parked. Teach children that cars are not places to play.
Busy parents have a lot on their minds, so give yourself a reminder. Place your purse, briefcase or other important items in the backseat next to your child’s car seat to help you remember to look in the back before leaving the car.
Set a reminder on your cell phone or other mobile device to remind you to drop off children at school or daycare when routines change.
Make an agreement with your child’s school or daycare that you will be notified if your child is not dropped off at the normal time.
If you see a child or pet left unattended in a vehicle, call 911 immediately.
Check vehicles and trunks first if a child goes missing.

State Highway Patrol to Focus Efforts on Seatbelt Use

According to the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it is estimated that approximately 33,000 people are killed due to motor vehicle collisions across the nation. While the effectiveness of seatbelts is rated between 40 to 65 percent, they are the single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a motor vehicle crash. The use of seat belts and child safety restraints also prevent serious injuries that may occur when motorist find themselves involved in a vehicle collision.

Statewide in 2014, the State Highway Patrol reported 333 fatalities and 2,969 injuries where the occupant was not using a provided seat belt. Through a partnership with the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the Highway Patrol has identified seven counties that have reflected a high rate of unrestrained fatal collisions. These counties are Columbus, Cumberland, Guilford, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Robeson, and Wake.

Beginning on Monday, July 20th through Friday, July 26th a special enforcement project will be conducted in these counties to increase the use of seat belts by motorists. The use of child safety restraints will also be monitored by troopers throughout this allotted time frame. According to North Carolina state law, motorist must utilize a provided seat belt while occupying the front and rear seats of a motor vehicle. The driver of a motor vehicle must ensure child safety restraints are used if there are occupants within a motor vehicle under the age of 8 or less than 80 pounds.

N.C. General Statute 135.2A – Each occupant of a motor vehicle manufactured with seat belts shall have a seatbelt properly fastened about his or her body at all times when the vehicle is in forward motion on a street or highway in this State.

The current fine for a seat belt violation in the front seat is $25.50 and carries court cost of $135.50 for a total cost of $161.00. The fine for a rear seat violation is $10.00 with no court cost applied.

Following Rules of the Road to Avoid Boating Tragedy

This summer has been full of fun for some boaters on North Carolina’s waterways, but it’s also been tragic for others. Three deaths over the July 4th weekend bring the total number of people killed in boating accidents so far this year to 21 in the state.

The past commander with the Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron, Steve Stuart, was on the lake this weekend and says he saw dangerous behavior, “Wow people are falling so close behind you and at a high rate of speed. They pass you both on the right and left within sometimes 15 feet. That doesn’t give you a lot of reaction time if you want to make a small turn to avoid someone coming at you.”

Stuart says there are basic rules of the road when it comes to boating and North Carolina is one of several states that require boat drivers to take the America’s Boating Course. It teaches navigation rules, safety and operation, but people born after 1988 are exempt. Stuart is among those calling on the regulation to be expanded to include all boat operators.

Stuart says it’s important boat operators be accountable for the safety of others on the water, “There’s some responsibility there as captain not only to you but your passengers and what happens if you cause an accident. I don’t think that people think about that enough and what’s best for other people too. ”

Besides promoting boater education, Stuart says the squadron is working with marinas to encourage them to offer boating safety courses, “Some marinas are considering doing that as part of the sales, they’ll pay for your first America’s Boating Course, which is perfect.”

The North Carolina Wildlife Services Commission is also reminding boaters to follow basic safety rules, including staying sober, wearing a life jacket and always knowing your surroundings.