Header

Archive for State News

Medical Marijuana Could Be in NC Soon

A North Carolina bill would legalize medical marijuana in the state, nullifying the federal prohibition.

Introduced by State Rep. Kelly Alexander, House Bill 78 (HB78) would allow medical marijuana to make its way into the hands of the qualified patients after receiving ID cards issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; something that federal law says is illegal.
Under HB78, a qualified patient would be defined as someone who “has been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition.” There is no specific or finite list of specific conditions necessary to qualify. Patients would be allowed to keep a 24 ounce supply.
Additional provisions make it illegal for a person to be denied entry to a school, a job position, visitation or child custody rights, or a lease with a landlord due to their use of medical marijuana.

Medicinal products would go towards treatment of such physical and mental illnesses as anorexia, PTSD, Chrohn’s disease and cancer treatment, depending on patient.

Bill H78 will now go to a special House Committee, which will conduct further studies into the proposal and offer amendments and recommendations to the bill before it comes up for consideration by the NC House of Representatives.

Report Card: Unhealthy State Could Create Unhealthy Economy in NC

North Carolina isn’t making the grade when it comes to the health of its citizens – according to the 2015 N-C Prevention Report Card released by Chapel Hill based Prevention Partners. The evaluation gave the state failing marks when it comes to nutrition and obesity.

Rachel Zucker with Prevention Partners says the state’s overall health could ultimately impact its economic development as out-of-state companies evaluate whether to locate or expand in the state, “We could really start to see North Carolina losing out on opportunities for economic development if companies are seeing ‘Oh, North Carolina is not doing so well in health. Do we really want to locate there and pay a bunch more in employee health-care costs?’ ”

According to the report, slightly more than 12% of the population eats the recommended serving of at least five fruits and vegetables every day, and two out of every three North Carolina adults are overweight or obese. Together with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Center for Health NC and the North Carolina Hospital Association, Prevention Partners is coordinating the “Healthy Together NC” initiative, which is working in all 100 of the state’s counties to meet specified health goals by 2025.

Zucker says programs such as “Healthy Together NC” are working with policy makers, employers, health-care providers and schools to increase the availability of healthy food and means for exercise, “If we put those policies into place where we can create tobacco-free spaces, where we can create cheaper foods that are healthy, that’s where we can start to see the change is really at that policy level of change.”

Zucker says individuals should set a goal of 30 minutes a day for physical activity to improve their health. That time can even be broken down into shorter increments to make it easier to make it a part of your daily routine.

NCWorks Commission adopts new direction for workforce system

The NCWorks Commission approved a ground-breaking strategic plan today that creates an integrated workforce development system that is responsive to the needs of employers and better prepares workers for North Carolina’s economy. This means that for the first time, North Carolina now has a comprehensive plan that sets the direction of the entire workforce system.

The two-year plan identifies the goals, objectives, and strategies for improving North Carolina’s workforce development system, which includes access to training programs for job seekers and working with employers to find qualified candidates. The Commission’s goals are as follows.

Create an integrated, customer-centered workforce system.
Create a system that is responsive to the needs of the economy.
Prepare workers to succeed in the economy by improving their skills.
Use data-driven strategies to ensure accountability.
The plan was developed by the NCWorks Commission and includes key input from representatives of the Department of Commerce, Department of Public Instruction, Community College System, as well as more than 70 local organizations. The Commission’s goals advance the mission of the NCWorks initiative—connecting talented workers to employers by streamlining how services are delivered and aligning state agencies.

“The amount of positive momentum and work done since NCWorks was announced has been significant,” said Korey Coon, chairman of the NCWorks Commission. “NCWorks Career Centers have been streamlined, the workforce development team has visited more than 1,000 employers, partnerships have improved, and our unemployment rate has declined significantly. Now, with this comprehensive strategy in place and the buy-in of all responsible groups, we can progress even further by focusing on the details outlined in the plan.”

The 25-member Commission oversees the state’s workforce development system. The Governor appoints its members, a majority of whom represent private businesses, educators, community leaders and labor representatives. In addition, leaders of state workforce agencies are members by virtue of their office.

NCWorks

In April 2014, Governor Pat McCrory announced NCWorks, a new partnership between the N.C. Department of Commerce, the N.C. Community College System, and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to improve the state’s workforce system. Through the NCWorks initiative, partners will create a stronger alignment of services and resources to meet the workforce needs of businesses, connect North Carolinians to technical training and quality careers, and use data to monitor and assess program outcomes. For more information about NCWorks, visit www.nccommerce.com/ncworks.

The N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions is a part of the N.C. Department of Commerce. For more information about the division, visitwww.nccommerce.com/workforce.

Report Alleges American Kennel Club Lax on Puppy Mill Laws

Dogs at AKC Breeder FacilityPurebred dogs are the picture of perfection, and their popularity was highlighted recently at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – America’s second-longest continuously held sporting event. But an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States alleges that the American Kennel Club – a major player at dog shows – has opposed more than 150 different laws around the country, including North Carolina – that would help protect dogs in puppy mills.

Kim Alboum, the North Carolina state director of the Humane Society, says it’s important consumers understand what their pup’s paperwork means, “It’s very frustrating because I think consumers are duped into thinking that there’s some level of comfort with having a dog that’s AKC registered, but it absolutely means nothing.”

Alboum says in addition to lobbying efforts, two former AKC “Breeders of Merit” reportedly were found to be keeping dogs in poor conditions after recently passing their AKC inspections. A spokesperson for the American Kennel Club says the organization would “never support disreputable breeders,” and any violation of their policies is met with a quick response.

Kathleen Summers with the Society’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign says the organization has an incentive to register more dogs. “There’s a profit motive involved. The AKC does get income from litter registrations, and the more puppies they can register, the larger their market share as a dog-registry organization.”

Alboum says the best thing consumers can do is investigate breeders before doing business with them, and if they decline a request to visit their facilities, it could be an indication they don’t have the dogs’ best interest at heart.”What you’re looking for is you’re looking for a breeder who welcomes you into their home, welcomes you to interact with all of their dogs, and a breeder that’s perfectly willing to give you references, and a breeder that asks you for references.”

Alboum also emphasizes that many purebred dogs can be found at local animal shelters and asks consumers to report any suspicious breeding facilities they encounter to the local authorities.

Gov. McCrory Declares March 1-7 Severe Weather Preparedness Week

Governor Pat McCrory has declared March 1-7 Severe Weather Preparedness Week in North Carolina, cautioning North Carolinians to practice how to be safe when thunderstorms and tornadoes threaten. While damaging storms and tornadoes can occur any time of the year, March through May is peak tornado season for the state.

“Severe thunderstorms can strike quickly and spawn dangerous winds and tornadoes,” Governor McCrory said. “Despite the snow, sleet and freezing rain over the past few weeks, we are now entering the peak severe storm season, and we need to prepare and practice what to do when severe weather occurs. It’s critical to have emergency plans in place, put together an emergency supply kit and listen for weather alerts.”

Schools and government buildings statewide will hold tornado drills Wednesday, March 4, at 9:30 a.m. to practice their emergency plans. Test messages will be broadcast on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios and the Emergency Alert System. All North Carolinians are encouraged to participate in the drill.

In 2014, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued 81 tornado warnings for North Carolina and recorded 36 tornadoes that killed one and injured 34 people. Combined, the tornadoes caused more than $22 million in damages. In addition, the NWS issued more than 632 severe thunderstorm warnings, and recorded more than 686 incidents of severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and/or large hail. The severe storms killed three people, injured seven others and caused $3.5 million in damages.

While spring and late fall are typically peak tornado season, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can happen at any time of the year.

Tornadoes usually form during heavy thunderstorms when warm, moist air collides with cold air. These storms can also produce large hail and strong winds. Damaging winds are equally as dangerous.

Last April, nine tornadoes touched down in one day in Beaufort, Bertie, Chowan, Currituck, Greene, Halifax, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Pitt counties, killing an 11-month old child and injuring 28 others. More than 300 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Emergency Management officials recommend having a weather radio that broadcasts NWS alerts when severe weather threatens. Many North Carolina tornado fatalities have occurred at night when people are asleep and less likely to receive a warning without a weather radio.

Emergency officials recommend people use the following safety tips:
Know the terms: WATCH means a tornado is possible. WARNING means a tornado has been spotted; take shelter immediately.
Know where the nearest safe room is, such as a basement or interior room and away from windows, and go there immediately if you hear or see a tornado.
If driving, you should leave your vehicle immediately to seek safety in an adequate structure. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle, and do not stop under an overpass or a bridge.
If you are outdoors, and there is no shelter available, take cover in a low-lying flat area. Watch out for flying debris.
Following a storm, wear sturdy shoes, long sleeves and gloves when walking on or near debris, and be aware of exposed nails and broken glass.
Be aware of damaged power or gas lines and electrical systems that may cause fires, electrocution or explosions.
More information on tornadoes and overall emergency preparedness can be found in the ReadyNC mobile app and online at www.ReadyNC.org. View and download the full proclamation here.

NC Child Poverty Rate Would Double Without Intervention Programs

North Carolina has numerous programs that aim to improve the lives of children and their families living in poverty, but how do you quantify the difference the programs make? A report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation – “Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States” – demonstrates that without interventions, the state’s child poverty rate would be more than double from 17% to 35%.

Laila Bell with NC Child says the value in the report is an understanding of how programs can enact change in the lives of children, “What it’s really showing us is that we have the tools that can really help make sure that we are keeping kids out of poverty and really helping to avoid some of those preventable long term costs.”

Today’s report uses the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) developed by the U.S. Census, which Bell says provides a more complete picture of how families fare, when compared to the current method of measuring the impact of programs. According to the nonpartisan NC Child recent changes to the state’s child care subsidy program represent one example of how recent policy decisions in the state are making it difficult for families living in poverty to get ahead or even survive.

The current method used to measure poverty was developed in the 1960s, and according to the U.S. Census sets a standard of $24,000 dollars a year for a family of four, regardless of where that family lives or accounting for inflation.

Laura Speer with the Annie E. Casey Foundation explains better measurement tools, such as the SPM, help make improvements in public programs, “Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure we can really see the successes and the limitations of the safety net resources that we’ve put into place. We can also see that these resources don’t go far enough. We still see that there are 13 million children below the poverty line.”

The SPM takes into account living costs such as medicine, housing, food and utilities and how those costs affect disposable income. It also accounts for how government programs such as SNAP help offset those costs. Bell says gaining a better picture of poverty in North Carolina helps to improve the economic future of the entire state, “We know that children really do their best when they live in financially secure families, and we all shoulder the burden when our children don’t have the opportunity to grow up and become productive citizens and members of our community. ”

The Annie E. Casey report recommends state and federal governments expand access to early childhood education, change tax credit policies to keep more money in the hands of struggling families, and streamline food and housing subsidies.

State Prepares for More Snow to Hit North Carolina

Back-to-back winter storms will bring measurable snowfall to much of the state twice in three days, a rarity for North Carolina. By the weekend, two separate winter storm systems will have moved across the state. Today’s band of snow showers is expected to bring 1-2 inches of snow in the Triangle and Triad areas, 2-3 inches of snow in the Fayetteville and Sandhills areas, 3-6 inches of snow in the foothills and mountains, and up to 2 inches in parts of eastern North Carolina. Snow showers will taper off mid-afternoon, but will not melt until Wednesday afternoon when temperatures briefly rise above freezing.

A more significant winter storm will move through the state Wednesday evening and through Thursday bringing more snow. Accumulations from the second snow storm are forecast to bring an additional 3 to 6 inches of snow across most of the state. The extreme southeastern portion of the state will likely see a wintery mix of snow, sleet and rain.

“While today’s snowfall has caused hazardous driving conditions in several areas from the mountains to the coast, we’ve seen relatively few power outages, downed trees or other impacts typically associated with winter storms,” said Governor Pat McCrory.

Governor McCrory said he will activate the State Emergency Operations Center Wednesday afternoon and is prepared to declare a state of emergency and waive certain vehicle weight and serve hour requirements once needed. This morning, the governor implemented the Adverse Weather Policy for state employees enabling those workers who are not essential to storm response or daily operations to remain home.

Since 6 a.m., State Highway Patrol troopers have responded to 2,060 calls for service. Of those, 1,727 were collisions. Troopers typically respond to approximately 1,000 calls in a 24-hour period.

One person was killed earlier today in a single-vehicle collision when the driver’s car slid off the road and ran into a tree. Preliminary indications are that the accident was due to slick road conditions.

“We urge motorists to stay off the roads adversely impacted by weather unless it is absolutely necessary to travel,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “Our state troopers are ready to assist stranded motorists as needed, but the best way to remain safe is to stay off the roads.”

NCDOT crews across the state have been working throughout the day to clear roads and treat slick areas with sand and salt, as well as brine roads where possible in advance of winter precipitation. The department will monitor conditions overnight and crews will be on standby to respond as needed. Full crews will be out in force again on Wednesday to continue addressing roadways and preparing for the next round of winter weather forecasted for this week.

“The safety of both motorists and our team members continues to be our top priority as we work to stay ahead of this storm and its impact to travel throughout the state,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said. “Our crews have worked hard today to address quickly changing weather and road conditions, and we urge travelers to use caution and avoid driving if possible as we continue our response efforts and prepare for the arrival of additional snow and ice.”

Real-time weather and road conditions and shelter openings, as well as winter safety tips, can be found on the free ReadyNC mobile app or online at www.readync.org web site.

Travelers are urged to call 511 or go to www.ncdot.org for up to date roadway conditions. Motorists are reminded to call 911 for emergencies only and refrain from calling the State Highway Patrol Communication Centers for roadway conditions.

Obamacare Enrollment Up 56%; Deadline Extended

Almost 560,000 North Carolinians bought or renewed health policies on the Affordable Care Act market by the time enrollment closed Sunday, the federal government reported Wednesday.

The total of 559,473 is a 56 percent increase over the number who signed up for 2014, the first year federally subsidized coverage was offered.
North Carolina saw a surge of sign-ups in the final days of enrollment, perhaps prompted by tax penalties for remaining uninsured.
National enrollment went from 6.7 million for 2014 to an estimated 11.4 million this year, up about 59 percent.

Taxpayers facing fines for not having health insurance in 2014 will get another chance to sign up for benefits on the Obamacare exchanges this year, federal officials announced Friday.

From March 15 through April 30, individuals who learn when they file tax returns that they must pay a penalty under the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate can return to HealthCare.gov to choose a plan for the current year

Conditions Improving, But Temperatures/Ice Still Pose Danger

While the threat of a major snow and ice storm may have passed, State Emergency Response Team officials say they are remaining vigilant and responsive.

“The situation is improving, but that does not mean that conditions have returned to normal,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “People still need to be cautious whether they are out driving or walking. The black ice is a very real threat and should be taken seriously.”

Perry said state and local emergency management officials are still coordinating response to the storm and State Highway Patrol troopers will continue to have increased patrols at least through Saturday to ensure no motorists are left stranded in the dangerously low temperatures.

While ice accumulations were not as severe as predicted, most of the state remains under a Winter Weather Advisory due to dangerous black ice. Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing this afternoon allowing some of the ice to melt. But a brief chance of scattered snow showers combined with below freezing temperatures statewide for the next few days will leave many secondary roads, streets, driveways and yards in ice skating rink-like condition.

Law Enforcement Commissioner Gregory K. Baker also thanked state agencies for a tremendous job coordinating together to respond to the winter storm and for their extra efforts to ensure that no motorists were left stranded overnight in freezing temperatures.

“North Carolinians largely heeded our warnings to stay off the roads,” said Highway Patrol Commander Bill Grey. “Following that advice has greatly reduced the number of wrecks and injuries from what we’ve seen in previous storms.”

Overnight, Highway Patrol troopers responded to nearly 100 calls for service statewide, well below average. Troopers typically respond to approximately 1,000 calls daily.

National Guard soldiers, Wildlife officers, Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and DOT roadside assistance patrols also have assisted motorists.

By 11 a.m., the utilities reported about 12,200 power outages statewide, mostly in the Southeastern and Sandhills areas.

Governor McCrory lifted the State of Emergency late Tuesday. The truck weight and hours of service restriction waivers that also were signed earlier this week are still in effect as companies continue to move fuel, propane and other goods to recover from the winter storm. The waiver is in effect for 30 days or until it is canceled.

NCDOT has scraped or treated with salt and sand nearly all the interstates and four-lane divided highways. Crews will finish the primary routes today then shift their focus to secondary roads. Even with treatment, icy spots will remain especially on bridges and overpasses.

The department currently has 2,474 NCDOT employees responding to the effects of the winter storm statewide. They are using 1,316 trucks loaded with plows and spreaders and 213 motor graders to clear the roads of snow and ice. Since Monday, crews have put down 38,555 tons of salt and 9,061 tons of salt-sand mix on the roads.

Real-time weather and road conditions, as well as winter safety tips, can be found on the free ReadyNC mobile app or on line at www.readync.org web site.

Travelers are urged to call 511, follow NCDOT’s Twitter accounts or go to www.ncdot.org for up to date roadway conditions. Motorists are reminded NOT to call 911 or the State Highway Patrol Communication Centers for roadway conditions; those lines must remain clear for emergency calls.

Report Examines North Carolina Economic Incentive Programs

A bill is expected in the State Assembly as early as this week for a new jobs plan at the urging of Governor Pat McCrory. But it comes on the heels of a new report that 60% of those projects under the Job Development Investment Grant (J-DIG) Program have failed to deliver what they promised.

That’s according to the North Carolina Justice Center and the report’s author, Allan Freyer, who questions the allocation of additional funds, “If there were any other program in state government that failed 60% of the time, the Legislature would have eliminated it already.”

The J-DIG program has a spending cap of $22,500,000 annually. Recently, more than half the money was awarded to MetLife in Charlotte, which Freyer points out reduces availability of funds for other, smaller companies in rural communities where jobs are badly needed. The report says 90% of J-DIG dollars have gone to urban communities and more than 77% of projects approved in rural communities have failed.

Supporters of the J-DIG program say it enables the state to compete with others for new projects or expansions with existing employers. The money is not awarded to companies until they fulfill their promise of added jobs, but Freyer points out the money for J-DIG is still a line item in the budget and cannot be allocated to other proven programs, “It’s less money that’s available for the real building blocks of economic growth like education, job training, industrial and transportation infrastructure. These are the types of investments that actually promote broadly shared economic growth that benefits everyone in the state.”

The report recommends the state examine why so many incentive programs are failing, improve the evaluation process before projects are approved, and focus incentives in industries predicted to experience the largest growth.

Highway Patrol Offers Simple Winter Driving Tips As Potential Winter Weather Approaches

With the potential of winter and the possibility that motorists may
have to drive in inclement weather, the Highway Patrol is offering simple
and safe driving tips. The weather in North Carolina is often times
unpredictable and this time of year you never know when to expect black ice,
snow, icy roads or a mixture of road conditions. The Highway Patrol is
asking motorists to be prepared as the potential winter storm approaches.

“Winter weather brings new obstacles and responsibilities that the motoring
public will experience anytime inclement weather moves into our state.
Despite a rather mild winter so far, North Carolina’s weather can often
change from one day to the next,” says Patrol spokesman, Lt. Jeff Jeff
Gordon. It’s important that we monitor this weather system and plan
accordingly.”

Here are a few simple steps to help keep you on the road and less anxious:

Avoid travel unless necessary when winter weather is in your area.
Decrease speed.
Wear your seatbelt.
Driving Considerations

Leave Early- allow more travel time; expect delays.
Increase distance between vehicles – it takes significantly longer to stop
on snow covered or icy roadways.
Clear all windows on your vehicle prior to travel – having unobstructed
vision is vital to avoid running off of the road or having a collision.
Illuminate your vehicles headlamps.
Use caution on bridges and overpasses as they susceptible to freezing before
roadways. Avoid using cruise control – cruise can cause the vehicle’s wheels
to continue turning on a slippery surface when speed needs to be decreased.

Be Prepared – ensure your vehicle has a full tank of gas in the event you
are stranded for an extended period of time.
Charge your cellular phone prior to departure.
Take a blanket.
Notify a family member or a friend of your travel plans prior to departure –
if you travel is interrupted, someone will know.

Collision Information- first, be patient. Winter weather also limits our
capabilities and increases our response time; also, keep in mind that we
will be experiencing a high volume of requests for service. Attempt to move
your vehicle out of the roadway if you are involved in a minor, non-injury
traffic collision; especially if you are in a dangerous area such as a curve
or a blind hill. If your vehicle is stranded or wrecked but not in the
roadway, attempts to recover your vehicle will have to wait until conditions
improve for safety considerations.

Road Conditions – to check the status of road conditions, motorists are
asked to go to the Department of Transportation’s website at
http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/. The public is not advised to dial 911 or the
Highway Patrol Communication Centers for road conditions.

However, citizens can contribute to highway safety by reporting erratic
drivers to the Highway Patrol by dialing *Hp or *47 on their cellular
phones. Callers will remain anonymous and should give a description of the
vehicle, location, direction of travel and license number if possible.

Golden LEAF commits $50 million to entice auto manufacturer

The Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors announced today that it reserved $50 million to provide support for the location of an automobile manufacturing facility within the borders of North Carolina.

“The state is readying itself to win and host this type of manufacturing industry,” said Johnathan Rhyne, Chair of the Golden LEAF Board of Directors. “The Golden LEAF Board took this action to demonstrate its commitment to this emerging opportunity. An automobile manufacturer and its suppliers can create thousands of jobs and serve as a catalyst for long-term economic advancement.”

Since its inception, Golden LEAF has been committed to using the funds entrusted to it for projects with the most potential for bolstering North Carolina’s long-term economy, especially in tobacco-dependent, economically distressed, and/or rural communities.

“The committed Golden LEAF funds are not earmarked for a specific site or company, but to a site that an automobile manufacturer has indicated is its preferred North Carolina location,” said Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF President. “The Foundation generally does not make a single grant of this magnitude, but recognizes the transformative potential of attracting this industry. The Board’s commitment is equal to a year and a half of our current grantsmaking budget, conveying the seriousness and aggressiveness that will be required to be successful.”

As a public charity, Golden LEAF funds can be used for costs associated with project needs such as public infrastructure and workforce training.

Taken for a Ride? Subprime Auto Loans Driving Consumers to Bad Credit

Trends have been found in auto lending that look an awful lot like the mortgage market prior to the meltdown that resulted in the recession. Those trends are featured in a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending. The report focuses on the growth of subprime lending … loans to people with poor credit scores.

The center’s Chris Kukla explains there are several issues at play – cars are more expensive and wages are stagnant. Plus, he says dealers are rewarded for issuing loans at inflated interest rates – an undisclosed practice called a dealer markup, “You’re already underwater by 40 percent to half the minute you drive off the lot, but you’ve also got a depreciating asset. Most people, they’re going to be underwater the entire time that they’re in the loan.”

Kukla contends that subprime loans are not only dangerous to a family’s economic health, but in the long run it hurts car dealers as well, because consumers upside-down in long-term loans aren’t repeat customers.

The report found the use of subprime loans for cars has grown quite suddenly, and there’s been a corresponding uptick in car and truck repossessions.

Kukla says consumers may think they have protections, but the industry has been aggressive in averting regulation – especially at the state level, “This is an area where there has been very little, if any, real consumer protections put in place, when you compare it to any other lending market.”

Those against regulations say stricter rules could make it tougher for people with sub-par credit to find auto loans with payments that work within their budget.

Group: Big Macs, McNuggets Should Be Sold Without Antibiotics

gr-44209-1-1The company known for its “Golden Arches” is being asked to make its burgers, chicken nuggets and other menu items antibiotic-free. It’s estimated that nearly 70% of all antibiotics sold in the US are used in raising livestock and poultry. McDonald’s sells more than 1,000,000,000 pounds of beef each year, and Pamela Clough with the watchdog US Public Interest Research Group says if the fast-food giant required its suppliers to stop raising meat with antibiotics, it would prompt sweeping changes in the industry, “If they were to make this change, it would be the equivalent of banning antibiotics in meat production in a small country. And so, if they make this commitment, it could really change the paradigm of the market and make antibiotic-free meat more affordable and more accessible for everybody”

Some medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic-resistant infections that are serious public health threats. McDonald’s says it recognizes the importance of combating antibiotic resistance and an update to its policy on antibiotic use in food animals is due out this year.

Other restaurants, including Panera and Chipotle, say they already use only antibiotic-free meats, and the Chick-fil-A chain has made a commitment to only purchase chicken raised without antibiotics by 2020. In 2003, McDonald’s implemented a policy about antibiotics, but Clough says it didn’t go far enough, “It only applied to some suppliers, and didn’t require even these suppliers to only purchase meat raised without antibiotics. It had to do with antibiotics used for growth promotion versus disease prevention. In the end, we need stronger action.”

The fast food giant announced last year that it will start transitioning to sustainable beef by 2016, but Clough says it wasn’t specific about the definition of “sustainable.”

Calls Today to End Corporate Influence in Elections

Protest events are planned around the nation today to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court. The ruling removed limits on the amount of money an independent organization can spend on political campaigns.

Adam Sotak with Democracy North Carolina says the result is that millionaires and billionaires have greater influence over elections at every level of government, “We the people need to be in the driver’s seat of our elections, not wealthy special interests who are able to hide behind shadow groups and spend exorbitant amounts of money.”

A recent report on campaign spending on Senate races by the Brennan Center for Justice found that since Citizens United, spending by outside groups has doubled. In 2014, North Carolina’s Senate race received attention for the most outside money, with groups spending $80,000,000.

Stephen Spaulding with the nonpartisan group Common Cause, says political campaign spending from undisclosed sources topped $170,000,000 dollars in 2014, and was more than $300,000,000 during the 2012 presidential election, “And we’re well over $500 million money that is untraceable, that has been dumped into our elections, that otherwise likely would not have been spent, but for Citizens United.”

Spaulding says the impact of Citizens United could be reduced or even eliminated with tougher disclosure laws for independent campaign spending. He also thinks lawmakers should support a constitutional amendment giving Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign spending and require full disclosure of its sources.

Medicaid Expansion Not Yet Off the Table in NC

Despite opposition from some state lawmakers, Medicaid expansion is not off the table in North Carolina. At the start of the 2015 legislative session last week, Senate President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) both dismissed the idea of expansion. But Governor McCrory has said he would be open to the idea if federal officials allow the state to develop its own plan.

Nicole Dozier with the NC Justice Center’s Health Access Coalition says it’s time for leaders to listen to the people, “Lawmakers are elected to serve the people who entrust that leadership in them. The leadership is saying there’s no case for it, they’re not convinced, but the counties they come from there are people there who say they do need it.”

Dozier says Medicaid expansion would extend health insurance to nearly 500 thousand people and would bring money into communities. And if it had happened in 2014, she says over 370 new jobs would have been created in Berger’s district of Rockingham County; and over 500 jobs in Moore’s district of Cleveland County.

Opponents of expansion say it would still increase the state’s already overrun Medicaid expenses, but Dozier argues the federal government would take on the bulk of the initial cost, “Lawmakers say that the Medicaid system is broken, it’s a big part of the budget and it is. But the system isn’t broken and any system can always be improved, and if you bring the federal dollars down you have the money to reform it.”

She adds the federal government has allowed flexibility in expansion. The majority of the 26 states that accepted federal funds last year did so through a state plan amendment option, or the continuation of a waiver.

TDozier says she’s heard from many people around the state who cannot afford health insurance, but need it for themselves and their families so they can stay healthy and live a productive life, “For folks to not be eligible for help because they make too little who work every day, who are in construction, and in home health industry, and food and beverage. Those are the stories that break my heart, the people who deserve access to health care.

At 24%, North Carolina has one of the highest rates of uninsured adults in the nation.

North Carolina Honors Dr. King through the Lens of Service

The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be remembered and honored today through acts of service in North Carolina and around the country. The federal holiday became a national day of service in 1994.

Samantha Warfield, with the Corporation for National and Community Service, says every year, more and more people become engaged and want to give back to their community, “Young people have grown up in school learning about what Dr. King does through the lens of service, whether through service learning projects or through history lessons. And we hope that Dr. King would be proud of a day that’s named in his honor and the work that’s being done.”

Tag: In North Carolina, schools, universities, businesses, and community organizations are hosting service events around the state. Volunteers are doing a variety of projects including sorting donations at food pantries, delivering meals to home-bound individuals, creating care packages for the homeless, and cleaning up neighborhoods.

Natasha Wayne with the United Way of the Greater Triangle says they are hosting nearly 40 projects today throughout the area. She says the day allows groups and organizations to step outside of their own mission and join others in common cause, “MLK Day is a day of service allows everyone to come together and further the vision and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, helping us to transform our community into a stronger, more powerful place.”

Wayne says engaging children and students in the MLK Day of Service can lead to a lifetime of giving back to their community, “Oftentimes the problems that we face as a community feel very overwhelming, but it’s important to help, particularly students, understand that every little bit that you do is helping. That way they kind of grow up with that and then feel part of their community from the beginning.”

According to a recent report, North Carolinians contributed nearly $5,000,000,000 of service through more than 211 million hours of volunteering in 2013.

Texas Hearing Has Implications for North Carolina’s Immigrants

North Carolina is among states involved in the national battle over immigration reform, with a court hearing today in Texas on a lawsuit filed over President Obama’s executive action. About two dozen states, including North Carolina, are seeking an injunction against the plan, claiming it’s unconstitutional.

But Hector Vaca with Action NC says removing the threat of deportation for certain undocumented workers, students and their parents – which is what the president’s order does – is vital for future financial stability, “This would also mean more people would be able to come out of the shadows and contribute to the local economy by purchasing. And it would also means stronger workers rights for immigrants and for everybody else. The governor and the 25 states that are suing, it sounds to us like they just don’t understand it.”

An estimated 120,000 people in North Carolina would qualify for the president’s executive action, which Vaca says would generate about $170,000,000 in tax revenue in five years.

Vaca says this battle playing out in the courts again points to the need for Congress to act on comprehensive, just and realistic immigration reform. He says another benefit, beyond the economic impact and the impact on these families, is that North Carolina’s roads would be safer, “If these people could get this executive action, they would be able to qualify for driver’s licenses, which means more people would be buying car insurance, therefore more people would be insured on the road.”

Under Obama’s executive order, up to 5,000,000 immigrants would be eligible to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs.

Petco pulls China-made food, treats from shelves

Petco has begun the New Year by quickly fulfilling one of its main resolutions — Removing all dog and cat treats made in China from its store shelves and website.

The past few years have brought headlines of tens of thousands of American pets becoming ill after eating Chinese-produced pet food; and over 1,000 pets have actually died after consuming these contaminated treats.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to investigate the link between pet sickness and treats made in China, Petco has made good on its promise to remove these treats from its 1,300 stores across the nation as well as its website. Vets from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have faced this issue before and speak to the history of problems with pet treats produced in China as well as the ongoing efforts to provide American pets with safe food. Here are some answers to questions that may surface from these new headlines:

Is Petco the only retailer to pull Chinese-produced pet foods?

While Petco is the first to pull Chinese-produced pet treats, it has been reported that PetSmart, Inc is going to follow in its footsteps and pull these treats later in 2015.

How can pet owners make sure the food they are giving their pets is safe?

While further investigation is underway about China-made chow, the safest bet is to purchase domestically produced pet food and treats. A vet will be able to give pet owners safe and appropriate recommendations for their pet’s diet.

What are some of the symptoms to lookout for in case pets have eaten these treats in the past?

While the investigation into these treats is still underway, the FDA has advised pet owners that symptoms can include: vomiting, decreased appetite and movement, increased urination, and water consumption. Some of the more severe symptoms have led to the diagnoses of kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding and pancreatitis.

For more information about pet food safety, visit www.AVMA.org

Gov. McCrory’s Financial Ties Questioned in Ethics Complaint

As he enters the second half of his term this week, Governor Pat McCrory is facing allegations of ethics violations. Progress North Carolina Action filed an ethics complaint against the governor, accusing him of failing to disclose ownership of stock in Duke Energy, failing to report income from Tree.com, and failing to report he was on the board of Tree.com.

Progress North Carolina Action executive director Gerrick Brenner says it shows a pattern of omission and incomplete answers that covers up conflicts of interest, “This is not some mid-level bureaucrat in state government who failed to report rental income. This is the chief executive of the ninth largest state in the country who campaigned on transparency and open and clean government, and his ethics forms are a mess.”

McCrory has previously denied any wrongdoing, and when questioned about the complaint at a news conference Monday, the governor said it would be inappropriate to respond to what he called ‘a left-wing, very closed-eyed group.’

The complaint also alleges discrepancies in how the governor describes his relationship with the firm McCrory and Company. Brenner says public documents and the firm’s own website describe the governor as a “partner,” while McCrory has only described himself as a “consultant.” “Calling himself only a consultant, he doesn’t have to answer key questions on the Statement of Economic Interest which would reveal and acknowledge that McCrory and Co. has business dealings with the state, which raises concerns about other conflicts of interest.”

Brenner says it’s a felony to intentionally fail to disclose financial interests on Statements of Economic Interest, and adds that he hopes the State Ethics Commission launches an investigation.