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NC commission warns of increase in black bear sightings

Black-bear1The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is advising residents that black bear sightings will become more common across the state as temperatures rise.
According to the commission, while black bears are not inherently dangerous and rarely aggressive toward people, it advises caution and common sense to reduce the potential for problems.
The commission says if left alone, most transient bears will find their way out of town and back to their natural habitat. People are urged not to approach or follow bears, or get between a bear and its possible escape route.
Also, the commission advises people not to feed bears, whether intentionally or inadvertently. Bears accustomed to feeding on pet food, table scraps, garbage and birdseed can lose their fear of humans, leading to property damage or more serious problems.

North Carolina Cold Case Re-Opened 34 years later

New developments have sparked renewed interest and have led to the creation of a task force to investigate the 1980 murder of Ronda Mechelle Blaylock, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation said.

The 14-year-old ninth grader was found murdered on Friday, August 29, 1980 on a rural road in the Pilot Mountain area of Surry County.

The renewed attention to this case occurred shortly after a telephone call was made by Ronda’s mother to law enforcement asking about the status of her daughter’s murder investigation. “Within a day or so after receiving her call there were developments that I cannot discuss here today, but this task force is actively pursuing good leads,” Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson said.

State and local law enforcement believe this renewed focus on the nearly 35-year-old homicide will lead them to her murderer.

The Ronda Blaylock Homicide Task Force was recently formed by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Stokes County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, and the SBI to concentrate efforts on locating Ronda’s killer. Ronda lived and attended school in Forsyth County and her body was found in Surry County only a few yards from the Stokes County line. “This case involves the three jurisdictions represented here today due to the proximity of county lines to the crime scene and Ronda’s locations the day she disappeared,” said Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson.

Ronda was a student at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem when she disappeared on Tuesday, August 26, 1980, from Rural Hall. Three days later on Friday, August 29, 1980, her partially clothed body was found in a heavily wooded area near Sechrist Loop Road in Pilot Mountain. The Medical Examiner’s report indicates she was viciously assaulted and stabbed to death.

Ronda was walking a friend home after school near the Rural Hall Bowling Lanes when they accepted a ride from a stranger. Ronda’s friend was dropped off unharmed at the railroad tracks near the intersection of Tuddle Road and Priddy Road and without any indication Ronda was in any danger. Ronda’s parents, Rebecca and Charles Blaylock, desperately attempted to find her when she failed to return home. That evening they reported to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office that their only child was missing.

Passersby found her body only 18 miles from where numerous witnesses in Rural Hall saw Ronda and her friend voluntarily get into a blue Chevrolet pickup truck driven by a white man who authorities say is Ronda’s killer.

Eyewitnesses described the driver of the blue pickup truck as a white male with a tan, possibly late teens or early 20’s, tall, 165 pounds, with straight brownish hair feathered on the sides and light facial hair. He listened to a rock radio station, and smoked cigarettes. He wore a black t-shirt, faded jeans, white tennis shoes, aviator style sunglasses and a baseball cap.

Obviously, this man has aged over the past 34 years and his appearance will most likely differ from the description given in 1980. He also told Ronda that his name was “Jimmy,” but his friends called him “Butch.”

Witnesses said the blue 1970’s model truck was immaculate, except that the passenger side mirror was missing and the rear tires did not match the front tires. The truck had snow tires on the rear and white wall tires on the front. The cab had a bench seat. A CB radio was mounted underneath the middle of the dashboard and the word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel. A white camper shell covered the bed of the truck. The vehicle could have been borrowed when the murder occurred or sold afterward. Unlike many cases that are decades old without arrests, all of the evidence collected during the investigation of this homicide case exists and is in excellent condition. Some of which is currently in the State Crime Laboratory to be analyzed using DNA testing and other technology that previously did not exist and results are expected soon.

“DNA testing abilities today were unimaginable at the time of Ronda’s murder,” the sheriff said. “We are confident that we will not be disappointed by the test results.”

The task force is also using social media to keep the public informed on the progress of this investigation. Confidential or anonymous contact with the task force can be made through email at rondablaylock1980@gmail.com or by calling the task force hotline (336) 401-8971.

“This task force wants the good citizens of our region to know that this investigation is ongoing and that they can monitor our work through social media. They are welcome to contribute to this case any information they have about Ronda’s murder and killer,” the sheriff said.

There may be others in the community with potentially significant information and the task force is prepared to talk with anyone who comes forward.

Be safe during National Work Zone Awareness Week

This is National Work Zone Awareness Week and North Carolina DOT workers are urging motorists to be extra careful.

On Monday, a NCDOT worker was hit and killed on the job in Goldsboro.

Spokespersons for the DOT says warmer weather leads to more road and bridge construction projects. It also brings more tourists, unfamiliar with the roads.

According to the NCDOT, there were 4,000 work zone accidents nationwide in 2014, leading to 22 deaths and nearly 2,000 injuries. DOT advises drivers to go slow in a work zone, leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you, and don’t pass other vehicles.

The penalty for speeding in a work zone is a $250 fine on top of the speeding ticket and court costs.

Teacher Pay Still Falling Behind In NC

The latest public school teacher pay rankings show North Carolina still below the national average but making improvement after raises were approved last summer.

The new annual National Education Association report showed North Carolina ranked 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia during the 2013-14 school year in average teacher pay, at almost $45,000.

The NEA’s average pay estimate this year for North Carolina is about $47,800, compared to the national average of about $57,400. North Carolina’s 6.2 percent increase represented the highest jump in the country. The legislature raised the minimum salary to $33,000 and gave raises of varying amounts to others

The North Carolina Association of Educators said the state is now ranked 42nd. This year’s per-pupil expenditures show North Carolina behind Southeastern neighbors.

NC Bill Would Increase Citizen Involvement in Police Probes

 Rep. Rodney Moore's legislation would remove the current requirement that North Carolina communities have to receive permission from the Legislature to create a Citizen Review Board to oversee police-related complaints. Photo courtesy Moore's office.

Rep. Rodney Moore’s legislation would remove the current requirement that North Carolina communities have to receive permission from the Legislature to create a Citizen Review Board to oversee police-related complaints. Photo courtesy Moore’s office.

The issue of racial profiling is front and center this week in Raleigh, with the introduction of a bill Tuesday that supporters hope will be the first step to ending racial profiling in North Carolina. House Bill 193, introduced by Representative Rodney Moore, calls for more diversity training for law enforcement and additional oversight through Citizen Review Boards.

Representative Moore says his proposal reaches beyond race, to include other groups sometimes marginalized by the system, “I think all of those particular subcategories – nationality, religion, sexual identity – are subject to some type of profiling, one way or another.”

North Carolina communities have to receive permission from the Legislature to create a Citizen Review Board – the bill would remove that requirement. It comes after instances of police shootings across the country in which profiling was thought to be a factor. In September 2013, Charlotte police shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell after mistaking him for a suspect in a breaking and entering case – when Ferrell had been looking for help after a car wreck.

Angeline Echeverria works with El Pueblo Incorporated, an advocacy group for the Latino community in North Carolina. She says her group anticipates the cultural education law enforcement would receive if the bill passes, and the opportunity for people to be involved in providing it, “We’re excited for the possibility that there might be an additional body that provides community members with the opportunity to have oversight and have more interaction, direct interaction, with police departments.”

She adds her organization receives regular reports of profiling during traffic stops, “What we hear from families who come to El Pueblo is that they are often stopped in traffic stops and that the only ticket that they receive is a ticket for driving without a license. This is very common in communities where a lot of community members are undocumented.”

Charlotte and Durham have Citizen Review Boards in place, but Fayetteville’s recent request to create one was denied twice by the State Assembly.

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.