Header

Archive for State News

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.

NCDMV State Moped Registrations Begin July 1

On Wednesday, July 1, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles will introduce new statewide requirements for moped operators in accordance with House Bill 1145. These new regulations require all moped operators to register their vehicle with the DMV, and obtain a registration card and license plate, which must be displayed on the rear of the vehicle at all times.

Moped operators will be required to visit their local license plate agency for the registration process. The office locations can be found on the DMV website.

The cost of registering each moped is $18 annually. Durham ($15), Orange ($15), Randolph ($1) and Wake ($5) counties each charge an additional transit tax.

Operators must be 16 years of age or older and must have a valid N.C. driver license or N.C. ID card along with the moped manufacturer’s certificate of origin (MCO). If an operator does not have an MCO for their vehicle, the operator can fill out an Affidavit of Facts for the Registration of a Moped form (MVR-58) to serve as proof of ownership.

State statute defines a moped as having two or three wheels with an engine capacity of 50 cubic centimeters or less, no external shifting device or the ability to exceed 30 miles per hour on a level surface.

To help customers determine if their vehicle falls within the moped category, Division License and Theft Bureau inspectors will be available at most license plate agencies during the first week of issuance to answer questions. If an L&T inspector is not available, you can visit your nearest L&T District office.

Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is a Constitutional Right

In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today 5-4 that gay and lesbian couples across the country have a constitutional right to marry.

Minutes after the vote was announced, President Obama tweeted, “Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins”

The Supreme Court’s decision caps a long and often contentious battle over what many have called the “defining civil rights challenge of our time.”

At least 36 states plus the District of Columbia currently recognize gay marriage in some form. The other states passed state laws banning same-sex marriage.

So two questions in particular were facing the Supreme Court: Does any part of the Fourteenth Amendment, with its guarantees of equal protection and due process, compel states to perform same-sex marriages? And – if not – are states required to at least recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state?

Public support for gay marriage has reached a new high, with 61 percent of respondents in an ABC News/Washington Post poll two months ago saying gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry.

The case behind today’s decision began in 2013, after the Supreme Court ruled in a separate matter that same-sex spouses must be afforded the same federal benefits as other married couples. That ruling, though, did not tackle the question of whether gay marriage is a Constitutional right.

In the wake of the United States v. Windsor decision in 2013, Ohio real estate broker Jim Obergefell and his dying partner of 20 years were married in Maryland. But the state of Ohio, which has passed a ban on same-sex marriages, refused to recognize Obergefell as a “surviving spouse.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit backed the state of Ohio, ruling Ohio didn’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Soon enough, the matter landed before the Supreme Court, consolidated with cases fighting over similar issues in Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on April 28. As with many cases before the high court, many expected moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy to provide the deciding vote in Obergefell v. Hodges.

During the arguments, Kennedy noted the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman “has been with us for millennia.”

“And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh well, we know better,’” he said.

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage. In the years since, as other states followed suit, the U.S. government extended certain benefits to same-sex couples.

Four years ago, the Defense Department ended its policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay and bisexual soldiers to openly serve in the military.

“After decades of untold struggle, unyielding advocacy and unfathomable bravery, it is clear that we are in the midst of a national awakening,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told an advocacy group this past week. “Of course, even as we celebrate remarkable advances, it is clear that we still have more work to do.”

Ginseng Permit Process for 2015

The U.S. Forest Service, National Forests in North Carolina announced that forest visitors have until Wednesday, July 15 to submit their contact information to a Nantahala or Pisgah National Forest district office if they want to participate in the lottery to receive a ginseng harvest permit this year.

Visitors must obtain a permit to collect wild ginseng in the two national forests during the designated harvest season.

In 2013, due to concern over reductions in wild ginseng numbers, the Forest Service implemented changes to wild ginseng harvests in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests to conserve wild ginseng populations. These policies remain in place including:

The number of permits issued is limited to 136 annual permits, a 75 percent reduction from historical permit issuances.
Permits are issued through a lottery system (selected randomly) by each district office. Individuals may submit their names at more than one district office.
A permit allows a person to harvest 1-3 wet pounds (at $40 per pound) of wild ginseng in the ranger district where the permit is issued.
The permitted harvest season is 2 weeks. Harvesting will be allowed Sept. 1-15 in 2015.
Each district ranger may further limit ginseng harvests to certain areas of the national forest to allow the plants to regenerate, or to protect designated wilderness and other natural areas. Harvest area descriptions and maps will be provided to permit recipients.
Those requesting a permit must call or visit a ranger district office and submit their name and address by July 15. Requests by email will not be accepted. Written notification will be mailed to applicants selected by lottery before Aug. 15. District offices will issue permits Aug. 20 – Sept. 1 to selected applicants. Harvest is prohibited in designated wilderness and other natural areas set aside for research purposes, such as Walker Cove and Black Mountain.

In addition to reducing the legal harvest of wild ginseng, the Forest Service plans to increase law enforcement efforts to reduce poaching. Removing a wild ginseng plant or its parts from national forests without a permit or outside of the legal harvest season is considered theft of public property. Penalties for plant poaching may include a fine up to $5,000 or 6-month sentence in federal prison, or both. Every plant on the national forest is public property and is sustainably managed by the Forest Service to meet the needs of present and future generations.

Ginseng root has been favored as a tonic primarily in East Asia for the past two-and-a-half centuries. In North Carolina, ginseng is more common in the mountains, very infrequent in the piedmont, and very rare in the coastal plain.

NC teen charged with attempting to aid terrorists

A Morganton teen has been charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, federal law enforcement officials announced Monday.

The criminal complaint was filed Monday in federal court in Charlotte, charging Justin Nojan Sullivan, 19, with one count of attempting to provide material support to ISIL, one count of transporting and receiving a silencer in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony, and one count of receipt and possession of an unregistered silencer, unidentified by a serial number, according to a news released from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sullivan was arrested in his home on Friday at 5470 Rose Carswell Road without incident. Morganton, in Burke County, is about 60 miles east of Asheville on Interstate 40.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendant was planning assassinations and violent attacks in the United States and is charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIL and federal firearms violations,” Assistant Attorney General Carlin said. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is counterterrorism and we will continue to pursue justice against those who seek to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.”

The criminal complaint alleges that the FBI became aware of Sullivan’s plans to obtain a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at the Hickory Gun Show on June 20, which he planned to use to kill a large number of U.S. citizens on behalf of ISIL.

The news release and accompanying criminal complaint make no mention of whether Sullivan ever was in contact with the terror group. Justice department spokeswoman Lia Bantavani said she could release no other information.

According to the criminal complaint, an FBI undercover agent made contact with Sullivan beginning on June 6, during which time Sullivan described himself as “a mujahid,” and as a Muslim convert living in the eastern United States. Sullivan also told the agent that “the war is here,” and gave the agent the opportunity to join what he called the Islamic State of North America, whose “doctrine is Guerilla Warfare in and out,” the complaint alleges. The criminal complaint further alleges that over the next few days and during various conversations, Sullivan discussed with the agent, among other things, his various terrorist attack concepts and instructed the agent on how to obtain weapons, specifically “an AR-15 .223 with split ammo” at a gun show.

According to the criminal complaint, “During the course of their conversations, Sullivan made clear to the UC (undercover agent) that Sullivan was familiar with ISIL’s social media efforts to encourage followers to conduct terrorist attacks in the United States.”

According to the complaint, on June 9 Sullivan discussed with the agent the possibility of making homemade silencers and asked the agent whether he would be able to make one. When the agent said that he thought he could, Sullivan told the agent, “I’ll need to have one built by next week.” The complaint alleges that Sullivan also told the agent, “Yeah ill let u mail me…I plan on using it this mont[h],” and that Sullivan planned on doing “minor assassinations before the big attack for training.” He also told that agent that “we are going to send a video to IS.”

According to the complaint, during a follow-up conversation, Sullivan told the agent again that he would need the suppressor “before the end of next week,” apparently referring to June 19.

On June 19, the FBI, with the support of the Hickory Police Department, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, arrested Sullivan at his home and located the silencer at his residence, which Sullivan had received earlier that day. No one was harmed during the arrest.

Sullivan is in federal custody. He was expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Charlotte on Monday.

North Carolina Nonprofits Urge Legislature Not to Harm Nonprofits

The N.C. Center for Nonprofits, with 1,500 nonprofit members serving all 100 counties of North Carolina, has alerted the House and Senate members that certain nonprofit provisions under consideration in the Senate tax plan would cause significant hardship to nonprofits and communities across North Carolina.

“We are concerned that the Senate’s tax plan would harm communities across the state by taking away already limited resources from nonprofits that provide essential services for every citizen of our state,” said David Heinen, Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, at a news conference at the North Carolina General Assembly today.

Joining Heinen at the news conference were officials from nonprofit organizations including churches, colleges and universities, hospitals, YMCAs and others, who agreed that the Senate’s proposal would have a crippling effect on the more than 10,000 nonprofits that serve the state.

The Center and its nonprofit members are especially concerned with proposals for new taxes for large nonprofits and limitations on tax incentives for charitable giving. The Center noted that, under current law, almost all charitable nonprofits are eligible for semi-annual refunds of all of the sales tax they pay on their purchases, but that the Senate plan would phase down a cap on these refunds to $1 million per year by 2020. Nonprofit representatives demonstrated that this downward trend suggests that the nonprofit sector is not safe from shortsighted tax reform efforts. This tax increase will affect more than just the largest nonprofits in the state – in fact, it would have a significant effect on the entire nonprofit sector and on our communities. The Senate plan also only allows nonprofits to apply for refunds once a year – meaning that charities would loan their private money to the state for 12 months instead of the previously dictated six months.

Additionally, the plan includes charitable deductions in a $20,000 cap on all itemized deductions that would be barely higher than the standard deduction. This would effectively eliminate any state tax incentive for charitable giving, leading to a decline in private giving to North Carolina’s nonprofits. Currently, North Carolinians give nearly $6 billion per year in tax-deductible charitable contributions.

“I pray that our elected officials will demonstrate compassion for our fellow North Carolinians who need food, clothing and shelter, and the many nonprofit organizations that provide this support. Subjecting charities, including churches, to a greater tax burden will hamper our ability to serve our communities and create holes in the safety net that we’ve built across the state,” said Rev. Joe Mann, adjunct professor at the Duke Divinity School.

“If enacted, the Senate’s tax plan would critically reduce the ability of YMCAs and many other key nonprofits to offer programs and services for the most under-resourced areas in our community, as well as for children and families with the highest needs across our region,” said Sherée Vodicka, Executive Director of the NC Alliance of YMCAs.

New Vaccine Requirements For NC Students

Students in North Carolina public schools must meet new vaccine requirements in order to attend class in the fall.

The new guidelines include:

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV) – 2 doses

One dose is required entering the 7th grade or by age 12, whichever comes first.
A booster dose is required entering the 12th grade or by age 17 beginning August 1, 2020.
If the first dose is administered on or after the 16th birthday, the booster dose is not required.
Changes to previous shot requirements include:

Polio vaccine – The booster dose is required on or after the 4th birthday and before entering school for the first time.
Varicella vaccine – Two doses administered at least 28 days apart.
One dose is required on or after 12 months of age and before 19 months.
A second dose is required before entering school for the first time.
Documentation of disease must be from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant verifying history of varicella disease. Documentation must include the name of the individual with the history of disease, approximate date or age of infection and a healthcare provider’s signature.
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) – Tdap

A booster dose of Tdap is required for individuals who have not previously received Tdap and who are entering 7th grade or by age 12, whichever comes first.

More information about the immunization requirements can be found on the state’s immunization website.

USDA seeks applications for grants to develop rural co-ops

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is accepting applications for grants to help rural cooperatives develop new markets for their products and services. USDA is making the grants available to nonprofit corporations and institutions of higher education through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program.

“Cooperative organizations are important catalysts for economic growth and job creation in rural America,” Vilsack said. “The lack of investment capital is often the key factor holding many rural areas back from economic prosperity. The investments that USDA is making available will help organizations start cooperatives, expand existing ones, boost sales and marketing opportunities, and help develop business opportunities in rural areas.”

USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant program improves economic conditions in rural areas by helping individuals and businesses start, expand or improve the operations of rural cooperatives and other mutually owned businesses through cooperative development centers. Other eligible grant activities may include conducting feasibility studies and creating business plans.

USDA is making up to $5.8 million in grants available in Fiscal Year 2015. One-year grants up to $200,000 are available. In most cases, grants may be used to pay for up to 75 percent of a project’s total costs. Recipients are required to match 25 percent of the award amount. The grants will be awarded prior to September 30, 2015. The recipients will have one year to utilize the awarded funds.

The application deadline is July 30. For additional information, see Page 34129 of the June 15, 2015, Federal Register or contact the USDA Rural Development State Office.

Online Driver License Renewal Announced in NC

Governor Pat McCrory announced that the state has launched a testing phase for on-line driver license renewal. This new service will allow customers to save time and complete driver license renewals at their convenience without having to visit a driver license office. Allowing customers to renew online will also help reduce wait times in North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles offices throughout the state.

“This new service is a major milestone in our continued efforts to improve customer service online and in our DMV offices throughout the state, making it faster, easier and more convenient for people to complete their business and get back to their busy lives,” said Governor Pat McCrory.

“I am proud of the tremendous efforts and major impact our team has made to enhance customer focus since early 2013, including extending hours across the state, adding greeters to help triage needs, and incorporating new innovative technology,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “Online renewal is another important step and just the beginning of more enhanced services to come for our customers.”

NCDMV is also now issuing a new more secure and durable type of driver license through the online renewal and online duplicate request testing phase. The new design helps prevent counterfeiting, reduces the risk of identity theft, decreases the potential for fraud and meets federally recommended security features. The new license is expected to be available in NCDMV offices beginning this summer.

Among the DMV customer improvements added since 2013 are extended service hours in mornings, evenings and on Saturdays in key locations, adding front desk greeters, self-service kiosks and improved equipment, all with the goal of reducing wait times in some of our busier offices.

Weekend Shark Attacks Shake Coastal Community

Two shark attacks over the weekend in Coast North Carolina has left many stunned.

Officials say two young people who lost limbs in separate shark were in waist-deep water about 20 yards offshore when they were attacked.

Sunday’s attacks happened less than 90 minutes apart. The call about a 12-year-old girl came in about 4:40 p.m. The call about a 16-year-old boy attacked about two miles away came in at 5:51 p.m.

The girl lost part of her arm and suffered a leg injury. The boy lost his left arm. Their names haven’t been released. Both teens were on vacations and live in other parts of the state.

Officials said they couldn’t confirm whether the same shark attacked them or give details on the size of the animal or animals.

Both victims were airlifted to a Wilmington hospital on Sunday night with life-threatening injuries and underwent surgery.

Poultry shows and public sales will be suspended this fall due to threat of avian influenza

State Veterinarian Doug Meckes and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced today that all North Carolina poultry shows and public sales will be suspended from Aug. 15 to Jan. 15 due to the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza. This includes the N.C. State Fair and Mountain State Fair poultry shows, bird shows at county fairs, live bird auctions and poultry swap meets.

The current strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has been found in 21 states, mostly in the Midwest, and has not been detected in any state along the East Coast. This strain has not been found to affect human health and does not affect food safety. The virus is thought to be carried by migratory fowl, so veterinary officials are bracing for possible introduction of the virus during the fall migration.

“We did not make this decision lightly,” said Meckes. “Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a serious threat to our state’s poultry and we anticipate the threat of the virus will increase this fall. We want to take appropriate precautions to prevent the introduction to backyard and commercial flocks.”

The decision comes after department officials consulted with industry representatives, poultry specialists from N.C. State University, fair officials and other related parties. North Carolina joins at least 13 other states that have cancelled or altered poultry shows due to HPAI.
“We know this ban will affect a number of poultry shows and kids who have planned to exhibit at their county fair or the State Fair,” Troxler said. “We regret having to make this decision, but we think it is in the best interest of everyone involved. We’re working on ways to keep youth who wanted to show at fairs interested in showing.”

The future of transportation in NC

The North Carolina Board of Transportation has approved the 2016-2025 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a 10-year transportation plan that includes nearly 1,100 projects in the state over the next decade. The highway projects alone are expected to support the creation of nearly 300,000 jobs. The plan is the first developed using the Strategic Mobility Formula – a method for distributing funding for and prioritizing transportation projects – that was created two years ago with the passage of the Strategic Transportation Investments law (STI).

Using the mobility formula, the N.C. Department of Transportation is able to invest existing transportation revenues more efficiently, funding 303 more projects and helping support about 126,000 more jobs than it could have under the state’s previous funding formula.

The STIP includes projects in all 100 counties and all transportation modes, making it one of NCDOT’s most comprehensive state transportation programs to date.
The Strategic Mobility Formula directs 60 percent of available funding to improvements on the regional and local levels to ensure NCDOT is meeting the varied needs of communities throughout North Carolina. The remaining 40 percent goes to projects of statewide significance.

While projects on the statewide level are determined based only on data, local input is considered in determining projects at both the regional and division levels to ensure that local transportation priorities are addressed.

Planning organizations across the state submitted projects to NCDOT for evaluation at the local, regional and statewide levels. The projects were scored by a data-driven process that weighed factors such as safety, congestion and economic competiveness. Those at the statewide level that did not score high enough to be funded also had the opportunity to compete on the regional and division levels.

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata and Governor McCrory unveiled a draft of the State Transportation Improvement Program in December. NCDOT held a series of meetings over the past several months for public comment prior to the transportation board’s approval Thursday.

NC Expects Record Blueberry Crop This Year

Blueberry growers across North Carolina are expecting a record crop as they start harvesting for the season, thanks to recent dry weather.
North Carolina is the seventh-largest producer of blueberries in the nation. In 2012, the state grew 41 million pounds of blueberries. About 75 percent of the state’s crop is sold to fresh markets such as grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands.
Bill Cline, a plant pathologist at the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Castle Hayne, works with blueberry growers throughout the year. He said consumers should have no trouble finding N.C. blueberries during the next few weeks. Shoppers are encouraged to check labels to see if blueberries were grown in North Carolina, but Cline said that even national brands should be using N.C. blueberries right now because of availability.
One of the best ways for consumers to know they are getting locally grown blueberries is to buy berries directly from growers at farmers markets, roadside stands or pick-your-own farms. Many of these growers expect to have crops that last until Labor Day. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers an online directory of farmers markets, roadside stands and pick-your-own farms atwww.ncfarmfresh.com.

Local Employment Conditions Improve

Between April 2014 and April 2015, unemployment rates fell in 95 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 15 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 53 counties and in 2 metro areas.

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

“Local unemployment rates declined throughout North Carolina over the past year,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “While noteworthy, the declines in local unemployment rates do not alter the fact that many local labor markets still have not recovered from the last recession.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.5 percent more payroll jobs (+63,500). In April 2015, the state gained 11,100 more jobs than it lost (+0.3 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 390,000 payroll jobs (+10.2 percent).

Between March and April of 2015, local unemployment rates decreased in 89 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in 6 counties, and held constant in 5 counties. Individual county rates in April ranged from 3.9 percent in Orange and Buncombe counties to 12.8 percent in Graham County. Overall, 2 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 61 counties posted rates between 5.3 and 9.9 percent.

“The combined unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties in April was 4.2 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 21.8 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas now have 5 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 8.4 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 4.5 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 this year, 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 March and April, unemployment rates fell in 13 of the state’s 15 metro areas, increased in 1 metro area, and held steady in 1 metro area. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (7.9 percent), followed by Fayetteville (6.8 percent) and New Bern (5.7 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.1 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (4.3 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (4.4 percent), Burlington (4.7 percent), and Wilmington and Winston-Salem (both 4.9 percent).

Compared to April 2014, unemployment rates in April 2015 were lower in 95 counties and in all 15 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 53 counties and in 2 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 1.9 percent larger (+89,077 individuals) in April 2015 than it was in April 2014.

All of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in metro areas, which collectively added 101,653 persons (+2.8 percent). Among metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+9.5 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+6.7 percent) and Raleigh (+4.7 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78.2 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.2 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

In the long term, improvements in North Carolina’s overall labor market depend on growth 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 1. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 10.4 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in April totaled 4.8 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest April unemployment rate (4.5 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad and Charlotte (both 5.1 percent).

Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 16,151 down from the 19,181 initial claims filed a year earlier (-15.8 percent). Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,250), followed by Wake (1,628), Guilford (1,115), Forsyth (697), and Cumberland (643) counties.

In April 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $22.4 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $38.5 million received in April 2014. This decline (-41.8 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 restricted eligibility for unemployment insurance compensation.

“Many labor markets across North Carolina, particularly some of the largest metropolitan ones, experienced improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “At the same time, many local labor markets still have not recovered from the last recession, and in many respects, the state’s labor market remains far from healthy—a reality that policymakers cannot choose to ignore.”

NC Labor Market Improves, But Slowly

In April, employers in North Carolina added 11,100 more jobs than they cut, with net gains occurring in the public and private sectors. Over the year, North Carolina gained 106,600 more jobs than it lost, due entirely to gains in the private sector. Although the statewide unemployment rate rose to 5.5 percent in April, the rate still was almost a full percentage point lower than had been the case a year earlier.

These findings come from new data released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Department of Commerce.

“So far in 2015, North Carolina has gained 28,400 more payroll jobs than it has lost,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “For comparison, the corresponding number in 2014 was a gain of 32,000 jobs. Even with the steady payroll gains logged over the last few years, North Carolina has just 63,500 more jobs, or 1.5 percent more jobs, than it did 7.3 years earlier.”

Between March 2015 and April 2015, North Carolina employers added 11,100 more jobs than they cut (+0.3 percent). Private-sector payrolls gained, on net, 7,200 positions (+0.2 percent), and public-sector payrolls added, on net, 3,900 jobs (+0.5 percent), due chiefly to net hiring by local governments. Within private industry, the trade, transportation, and utilities sector added 3,100 payroll jobs (+0.4 percent), with all of the gain occurring in the retail trade subsector. The leisure and hospitality services sector also added 3,100 jobs (+0.7 percent), with 61 percent of the gain originating in the accommodation and food services subsector. Overall, payroll levels rose in six major private industrial sectors, and fell in four sectors.

A revision to the March payroll data found that the state lost fewer jobs than first reported (-1,800 jobs versus an original estimate of -2,600 jobs). With that revision, North Carolina now has, on net, 63,500 more payroll positions (+1.5 percent) than it did in December 2007. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted an average of 6,300 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 390,300 positions (+10.2 percent).

Over the year, North Carolina employers added 106,600 more jobs than they cut (+2.6 percent). Private-sector payrolls gained, on net, 108,200 positions (+3.2 percent), while public-sector payrolls lost, on net, 1,600 jobs (-0.2 percent). Within private industry, virtually every major industrial sector netted payroll jobs, with the professional and business services sector gaining the most positions (+23,000 or +4.1 percent, with 60 percent of the gain occurring in the administrative and waste management services subsector).

“The steady payroll growth experienced over the past year remains insufficient to close the job gap that exists in North Carolina, a gap that may be as high as 425,000 jobs,” noted Quinterno. “North Carolina indeed has slightly more jobs than it did when the recession started, but the state’s labor market remains well short of a full recovery.”

According to the monthly household data, the statewide unemployment rate rose in April to 5.5 percent, which still is one of the lowest monthly rates logged since early 2008. Last month’s rise in the unemployment rate was attributable in large part to an increase in the size of the labor force (+33,169 persons, +0.7 percent). Over the month, the number of employed North Carolinians increased by 25,712 persons (+0.6 percent), and the number of unemployed persons rose by 7,457 individuals (+2.9 percent).

Over the past year, the statewide unemployment rate fell by almost a full percentage point, dropping to 5.5 percent from 6.4 percent, with the number of unemployed North Carolinians decreasing by 34,427 persons (-11.7 percent). During that same period, the number of employed persons rose by 143,339 individuals (+3.3 percent), while the size of the labor force increased by 108,912 persons (+2.4 percent). This suggests that the labor market managed to accommodate new members of the labor force and move unemployed persons into jobs.

Other improvements recorded over the course of the year include a rise in the share of working-age North Carolinians participating in the labor market (to 61.1 percent from 60.4 percent) and the share of working-age North Carolinians who are employed (to 57.7 percent from 56.6 percent). Although both of these measures have increased recently, they remain not too far from the lowest monthly rates recorded at any point since January 1976.

Between April 2014 and April 2015, the number of claimants of regular state-funded insurance fell by 16.4 percent, dropping to 18,384 from 21,988. Also in April 2015, the state paid a (nominal) total of $22.4 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, an amount 41.8 percent lower than the (nominal) total of $38.5 million paid in April 2014.

“North Carolina’s labor market has improved in many ways over the past year, but those improvements have come slowly,” said Quinterno. “In recent months, North Carolina has managed to add enough jobs to keep pace with the growth in the size of the labor force and to slowly close some of the sizable job gap that was created during the recession. Yet the labor market still is not generating enough jobs, quickly enough to employ all those who want work.”