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Where children live predicts a difference in life expectancy by as much as a decade

Where children are born in North Carolina makes a big difference in how long they live and the quality of their health, according to new county data cards released by NC Child.

A baby born in Haywood County is expected to live 78.5 years. Compared to children in Orange County, where life expectancy is the longest in the state, Haywood children will live 3.2 fewer years.

The differences in life expectancy by location are dramatic. In Watauga County, children can expect to live an average of 81 years–on par with Japan where residents have the longest life expectancy of any major country. Drive over 100 miles west to Swain County and children’s life expectancies decline by nearly a decade to 73 years. On average, children born in Swain County have life expectancies on par with children in Cambodia.

The county-level pictures of child health and well-being were produced by Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at NC Child. Bell compiled data on social, economic and health outcomes for the data cards as a supplement to the North Carolina Child Health Report Card, an annual report released in partnership with the North Carolina Institute of Medicine that monitors the health and safety of children in North Carolina.

“Across indicators we see that a distance of fewer than 100 miles can mean the difference between positive or negative outcomes in children’s lives, a fact that simply cannot be explained by random chance or genetic predisposition,” said Bell. “These geographic disparities are a stark reminder of the profound impact the environments where our children live, play and go to school have on their long-term health opportunities.”

The data cards present a variety of indicators ranging from income and insurance coverage to asthma and infant mortality.

In Haywood County:

One in 27 births (3.7% percent) is to a mother who received very late or no prenatal care. Women who are uninsured at the time of conception may encounter administrative delays for Medicaid that prevent them from accessing prenatal care during the most critical period of their babies’ development.
One in three children (28.6% percent) lives in poverty. Research shows children who are raised in poverty have poorer health outcomes and are more likely to suffer from acute and chronic health problems as they age.
One in 11 children is uninsured ( 9.4% percent). Children who lack access to health insurance are less likely to receive the preventive care they need to achieve and maintain good health.
3,180 children (28.3% percent) are estimated to be food insecure, living in households that struggle to provide enough healthy, nutritious food for all members of the family.
One in 12 babies ( 8.3% percent) is born at a low birth weight putting children at greater risk for developmental delays or future health complications including infant mortality.
“These health challenges are avoidable,” Bell said.

“We know that smart public policy decisions can help enhance local efforts to ensure all children in Haywood live in homes and communities that promote their health and development.”

The county data cards identify three investments North Carolina can make to significantly improve the health of its children and families:

Strengthen access to health insurance for women of reproductive age by expanding Medicaid to cover adults below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line.
Support infant mortality prevention strategies like the Healthy Babies Bundle recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force.
Invest in early intervention services to reduce the effects of developmental delays.

NCDMV Begins Single License Plate Sticker Registrations

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing single license plate stickers for vehicles getting their registration renewed. The change goes into effect today. Changing from the current dual sticker setup to a single sticker will result in significant cost savings for the state.

The single registration renewal sticker is grey. The expiring month and year will be printed on the sticker, above the license plate number. The single sticker is required to be placed on the upper right-hand corner of the license plate.

The current setup has a red numbered month sticker on the upper left-hand corner of the plate, and a sticker with the year and plate number on the upper right-hand corner.

Once a vehicle owner gets the new sticker and places it on the vehicle, the red month sticker should be removed from the license plate.

There are no changes to the Limited Registration Plate (LRP) sticker design. However, the LRP expiration month and year will be printed under the plate number on those stickers.

AT license plate sales exceed $1 million

Appalachian Trail (A.T.) specialty license plate program have exceeded more than 1 million dollars. Since the program’s inception in 2005, it has funded dozens of trail-related projects in the state of North Carolina.

For each North Carolina specialty A.T. plate that is purchased or renewed, the ATC receives $20. The ATC then awards annual grants to organizations and individuals that help fulfill the ATC’s mission within the state of North Carolina and along its common border with Tennessee.

In 2015 alone, the ATC awarded $30,000 for Trail and facilities maintenance, environmental monitoring, natural heritage projects and education and community outreach.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is very appreciative of the support received from North Carolina drivers,” said Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director. “Support from the purchase of these plates funds projects that would not otherwise occur—both on-the-ground A.T. projects and essential administrative needs in our Asheville office, which will increase our capacity to sustain the trail into the future.”

The North Carolina specialty license plate was made possible after years of work by New Bern attorney and ATC board member Clark Wright. N.C. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, of Waynesville, then sponsored the legislation, which created the tag. Invaluable assistance was also provided by Kay Hatcher of the Department of Motor Vehicles Specialty Tag Office in Raleigh.
For more information about the A.T. specialty license plate program, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/plates.

Duke Energy Pleads Guilty

Duke Energy pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act at five of its North Carolina plants.

The nation’s largest power company agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution for the pollution of the Dan River, which flooded with coal ash from Duke’s Eden plant last February, and for illegal dumping practices at sites in Asheville, Moncure, Goldsboro and Mt. Holly.

Part of that sum, $34 million, will be spent on environmental projects and land conservation to benefit North Carolina and Virginia rivers and wetlands.

In a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Western District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney Jill W. Rose is quoted saying, “Duke’s subsidiaries discharged potentially toxic pollutants that put at risk North Carolina’s water quality and wildlife, and today’s outcome ensures they will be held responsible for violating federal environmental requirements. The defendants will now have to comply with the terms imposed by the court, including paying hefty financial penalties and making significant financial contributions toward improving the quality of impacted waterways, wetlands and our water supply system.”

Sprint, Verizon to pay $158 million for mobile cramming

Sprint Corporation and Verizon Wireless will pay a combined $158 million for unauthorized charges on consumers’ cell phone bills, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.

“Consumers who got hit with extra charges they didn’t agree to now have a chance to get their money back,” Cooper said. “Cell phone carriers must be held accountable and should give customers accurate information that shows them exactly what they owe each month.”

Cooper, the attorneys general for 49 other states and the District of Columbia, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), have reached a settlement with Sprint and Verizon over allegations of mobile cramming, the practice of placing unauthorized charges for third-party services on consumers’ cell phone bills.

Under today’s settlements, Sprint will pay $68 million and Verizon Wireless will pay $90 million, including a combined total of $537,689.72 directly to the State of North Carolina. Of those national totals, Sprint will pay $50 million and Verizon $70 million in refunds to consumers across the country who were victims of cramming. Approximately 733,200 North Carolina Verizon consumers are expected to be eligible for money back under that settlement. The Sprint settlement could result in refunds for as many as 397,800 North Carolina consumers.

Cramming on mobile phone bills typically involves a $9.99 per month fee for premium text message subscription services (also known as “PSMS” subscriptions) such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores. Usually, consumers unknowingly sign up for these services via websites, for example when they provided their phone number to receive survey results or enter a contest. In many cases, consumers were not told they were signing up for subscription services that could cost them money.

Beginning today, consumers can submit claims under the Sprint and Verizon cramming refund program by visiting www.SprintRefundPSMS.com and/or www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com. Sprint and Verizon customers should be notified by the respective company if they are eligible for money back. If consumers are unsure about whether they are eligible for a refund, they can visit the claims website or contact the Claims Administrator at (877) 389-8787 (Sprint), and/or (888) 726-7063 (Verizon) for more information.

Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into nationwide settlements to resolve cramming allegations. AT&T reached a settlement worth $105 million in October 2014 and T-Mobile agreed to a $90 million settlement in December 2014. More than 2 million North Carolina consumers could see money back under the settlements. All four major mobile carriers announced in the fall of 2013 that they would cease billing their customers for commercial PSMS charges.

Similar to the settlements with AT&T and T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are required to stay out of the commercial PSMS business, which law enforcement agencies point to as the main cause of mobile cramming. In addition, Sprint and Verizon must take a number of steps designed to make sure that they only bill consumers for authorized third-party charges, including:

· Getting consumers’ express consent before billing them for third-party charges, and ensuring that consumers are only charged for services if they’ve been informed of terms and conditions;
· Providing a full refund or credit to consumers who are billed for unauthorized third-party charges at any time after this settlement;
· Informing its customers when they sign up for services that their mobile phone can be used to pay for third-party charges, and how those charges can be blocked if the consumer doesn’t want to use their phone as a payment method; and
· Listing third-party charges in a dedicated section of consumers’ mobile phone bills, clearly distinguished from the carriers’ charges, and include in that same section information about how to block the charges.

“Review your cell phone bill carefully each month to catch any mistakes or unauthorized charges,” cautioned Cooper. “If you notice any charges that you didn’t agree to, notify your mobile phone carrier immediately. If you need help resolving any issues, file a complaint with our office.

North Carolina consumers can file a complaint with Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by completing a complaint form at ncdoj.gov or calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within state.

NC Military Pipeline Helps Public Safety Recruit Qualified Veterans

A new initiative to bring more military veterans into state employment is transitioning service members out of the military and directly into positions with the Department of Public Safety. The NC Military Pipeline, initiated by Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, is aimed at keeping North Carolina-based service members in the state after they leave the military and recruiting them to work for North Carolina employers.

As part of the initiative, Department of Public Safety representatives are involved in recruitment and hiring events at military bases and National Guard regional readiness centers (armories), with a particular emphasis on correctional officer and state trooper candidates. Future plans include recruiting for probation officer positions as well.

At the hiring events, qualified service members can apply and interview for correctional officer positions. The hiring process is streamlined and recommended candidates may receive conditional offers of employment that same day.

“This initiative not only helps the department hire quality candidates with compatible work experience, but it also helps ensure that veterans don’t have to worry about finding and securing stable employment before they leave the service,” said DPS Secretary Frank L. Perry. “This is just one way to show appreciation to those who have served their country and want to extend that service on the state level.”

At three hiring events at military bases in six weeks, DPS has made more than 30 conditional offers of employment with additional offers pending completion of required testing.

Service members who received job offers with the Division of Adult Correction may begin attending a DPS basic correctional officer training school before they are discharged. After discharge they will be able to report to the correctional facility that hired them and immediately begin work as a trained correctional officer.

“This allows the veterans to transition directly into a new job in state service and allows DPS to avoid the salary, meal and transportation costs that are usually incurred during basic training,” said Charles Walston, director of the DPS Office of Staff Development and Training.

Interested applicants for correctional officer and state trooper positions can visit www.ncdps.gov and click on “Jobs” for more information.

NC Urges Vigilance to Prevent Rabies

As warmer weather approaches, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health (DPH) encourages North Carolinians to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions while enjoying the North Carolina outdoors with family, friends and pets, to prevent the spread of rabies.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, particularly mammals. In North Carolina, raccoons and bats serve as the source for most rabies viruses. These species may infect other animals such as skunks, red and gray foxes, coyotes, groundhogs and beavers. Any animal infected with rabies poses a human health risk. In 2014, there were more than 350 cases of animal rabies in North Carolina.

“Rabies is a preventable disease,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Carl Williams. “To protect your loved ones, including your pets, make sure you take basic precautions when enjoying time outside this spring and summer.”

Steps you can take to protect yourself, loved ones and pets include:

Vaccinate your pets against rabies and keep the vaccinations current. North Carolina rabies law requires that all owned dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies by four months of age.
Supervise pets outdoors, and keep all pets on a leash.
Do not feed pets outdoors. Pet food attracts wildlife.
Do not feed wildlife, feral cats or feral dogs.
Secure garbage cans with wildlife-proof lids.
Leave young wildlife alone. If you find a juvenile animal that appears to need help, it is best to leave it alone and call a wildlife professional.
In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure. In most cases, fatality from rabies in infected humans can be prevented by prompt medical attention and vaccination.

If you are bitten or scratched by any animal that could possibly have rabies:
Clean the wound well with soap and running water for 15 minutes and contact your doctor. The doctor will determine if a series of rabies vaccinations will be needed.
Note the location and a description of the animal to provide to animal control.
Do not try to catch any wild animal that bites or scratches you. Call animal control immediately to capture the animal for rabies testing.
If the animal is someone’s pet, get the owner’s name and address and provide them to the animal control officer. Any mammal can transmit rabies. The animal that bit you, depending on the species and circumstances, must be evaluated or tested for rabies.
For more information, including facts and figures on rabies, visit: http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/rabies/figures.html

For recommendations regarding the public and interacting with wildlife, including feeding or rescuing wildlife, visit: www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/WildlifeProblems/documents/Feeding-Wildlife-Hazards.pdf

Faced With A Shifting Shoreline, North Carolina’s Ferry System Charts A New Course

The people who live on the Outer Banks don’t need anyone to tell them Hatteras Inlet’s width is growing. Old timers here will tell you the distance between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands used to be the length of a good tee shot. Now, the inlet separating the two coastal enclaves is nearly two miles wide. Hurricane Isabel seemed to kickstart the process in 2003. Hurricane Irene in 2011 made it worse.

For the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry System, the widening inlet created shoaling that clogged the channel its car ferries traditionally used to carry hundreds of thousands people and vehicles between the two islands every year. Despite repeated attempts by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the channel open, its dredging efforts weren’t enough. In December 2013, the Ferry Division determined the route was no longer safe, and switched to a longer, more stable route that extended further into Pamlico Sound.

Despite its safety and stability, the new route led to new problems. Significantly higher fuel costs. Fewer scheduled departures in the busy summer season. Longer lines. Frustrated residents and visitors.

“Right now, we have a major congestion problem at Hatteras,” says North Carolina Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. “Day trippers are turning around rather than waiting for hours to board a ferry. Because of that, fewer people are visiting Ocracoke. We have to do something.”

That “something” could come in the form of the M/V Provincetown III, which arrived on the Outer Banks May 1 and was opened to the public for tours May 4-5. The ship, a 149-passenger catamaran-type ferry, is making several test runs between the islands, in what could be a prelude to supplementing the current fleet of car ferries with passenger-only ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor, right in the heart of Ocracoke Village. “The idea is that passengers would be taken straight into the village, where they wouldn’t necessarily need their cars,” says Ferry Division Assistant Director Jed Dixon. “If we could bring more people to Ocracoke in fewer vehicles, it would be a win-win for the Ferry System and for the people and businesses of Ocracoke.”

The visit from the Provincetown III, which is on the way from its winter home in the Caribbean to its summer job ferrying passengers between Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts, is part of a feasibility study on passenger ferry service and other alternatives to alleviate the Hatteras congestion. The North Carolina Department of Transportation contracted with transportation consulting firm Volkert to conduct the study, which is set to be completed by the end of 2015.

“We’ll be asking all the tough questions,” says Will Letchworth, a transportation engineer and Volkert’s project manager. “Will day trippers be willing to part with their cars? Where can they park in Hatteras? How many passenger ferries would we need and what size should they be? Would there need to be transit options in Ocracoke? What kind of docks would need to be built? Would continuous dredging in Hatteras Inlet be feasible? There are a lot of differing opinions out there, and we will be listening to all of them.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that something needs to be done soon. Visitation to Ocracoke, accessible only by boat or private plane, dropped by 20 percent after the ferries started using the longer route. “Ocracoke’s economy can’t take any more hits,” says Hyde County Manager Bill Rich. “Tourists are the lifeblood of this island, and ferries are the only way we have to get them here. One way or another, we need to get our visitors back.”

For now, the Ferry Division is strongly encouraging this summer’s travelers to take their Ocracoke trips in off-peak hours, hoping to move the needle enough to alleviate the longest wait times. But everyone knows it’s only a temporary fix.

And like the land that used to bridge the distance between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, the time for a more permanent solution is quickly disappearing.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

North Carolina House committee voted unanimously Wednesday to ban “revenge porn” and online impersonation. North Carolina lawmakers want to make it illegal for someone to post graphic sexual pictures online to intentionally embarrass or hurt another.

House Bill 792 would make it a felony to distribute nude or sexual photos obtained “within the context of a personal relationship.” That targets the growing trend of “revenge porn,” in which someone posts nude photos online after a romantic relationship ends.

The crime would be a low-level felony that could give a judge the option of sentencing the offender to jail. The victim also could sue for civil damages.

Health Advocates Speak Out against Longer Abortion Waiting Period

Among the backlog of bills in the North Carolina General Assembly this session, one that is making progress would triple the wait time for a woman seeking an abortion to three days. The legislation (HB 465) passed the House last week and is expected to move on to the State Senate.

Alison Kiser with Planned Parenthood says while her organization supports women making informed and thoughtful decisions about a tough life choice, she believes the arbitrary time constraint is unfair, “We all want women to have the information and support they need to make a carefully considered decision about a pregnancy. This delay is really about shaming women and blocking their access to a safe, legal medical procedure.”

A woman now has to wait 24 hours to have an abortion in North Carolina, a law that was passed in 2011. If the legislation passes, North Carolina would become the fourth state to require a three-day waiting period. Supporters of the bill say the waiting period is necessary to ensure that women understand the impact of their decision.

Kiser also says it’s worth noting the speed at which the bill passed in the House Health Committee last week, “The leaders of the committee willfully ignored opponents of the bill who had lined up to speak. Only one opponent of the bill was heard, whereas more than a half-dozen supporters of the bill were allowed to make public comment in the course of a 50-minute debate.”

While campaigning for governor, Governor Pat McCrory said he would place no additional restrictions on abortion. Kiser and others are calling for him to keep that promise

History Could Repeat Itself: Concerns Over Drilling Along North Carolina Coast

As the country recognizes the fifth anniversary of the B-P Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill that continues to impact the Gulf Coast, there is concern over whether the same thing could happen off the coast of North Carolina. A new federal proposal would allow offshore oil drilling from Virginia to Georgia.

Dave Rogers with Environment North Carolina says if drilling is allowed, history could repeat itself with severe consequences, “For North Carolina the biggest impacts are the potential impacts that have to come in the future. We have seen with the BP spill that a single large-scale spill can have devastating impacts.”

Recently, Governor McCrory requested that the current proposed 50-mile “buffer zone” where drilling is not allowed be reduced to allow drilling to take place closer to the state’s beaches. Supporters of off-shore drilling say it is needed for energy independence and that new technology and regulations will prevent another Deepwater Horizon explosion from occurring.

Rogers says technological improvements don’t necessarily reduce the risk and points to data that shows nearly all offshore spills that have taken place in the Gulf since 1964 have been caused by weather, equipment failure or human error. Additionally, he explains, allowing drilling off the Atlantic coast has an additional risk for the entire seaboard, “One of the most frightening things is if they were to drill off of our coast it’s likely to occur right in the heart of the Gulf Stream. That could mean impacts for folks all around the Atlantic because the Gulf Stream moves water and nutrients pretty quickly in a cyclical fashion around. ”

The Deepwater Horizon spill contaminated more than a thousand miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida, including 600 miles of beaches.

Still No Progress on “Raise the Age” Legislation

 North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Legislation introduced this year aims to change that. Photo credit: larryfarr/Morguefile.com

North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Legislation introduced this year aims to change that. Photo credit: larryfarr/Morguefile.com

North Carolina lawmakers are back in session today, with various committee meetings on their calendar. What is not on today’s docket is a bill (HB 399) that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile system. The Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act was introduced at the end of March by Representative Marilyn Avila, a Republican from Wake County, and it has bipartisan support.

North Carolina remains one of only two states in the country that continues to try teens as adults and Rob Thompson with N-C Child says it’s time to follow the trend, “It’s really hard to imagine that we know something that 48 states don’t know that makes this policy work in North Carolina. There’s a good reason why 48 other states have raised the age and we’re behind the curve right now. ”

The bill was referred to the Judiciary II (two) committee last month. That committee is meeting today on several other bills, but not that one. Thompson says it’s one of a backlog of bills waiting to make their way through committee. Thompson and other supporters of “raising the age” point to several bodies of research that indicate the brains of 16- and 17-year-olds are not fully developed when it comes to decision making and understanding consequences.

Thompson says teens that commit misdemeanors are better served with punishment in the juvenile system that allows for more rehabilitation and the ability to reenter society without a lifeline “stamp” of incarceration on their record, “The reason it’s so important that we change this policy now is that when we put a 16- or 17-year-old in the adult criminal justice system, two things happen. One, they don’t get the treatment and rehabilitative services that are available in the juvenile justice system, and two, they get an adult criminal record.”

The legislation would only change punishment for misdemeanor crimes and not more serious capital offenses such as murder.

Still No Progress on “Raise the Age” Legislation

 North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Legislation introduced this year aims to change that. Photo credit: larryfarr/Morguefile.com

North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Legislation introduced this year aims to change that. Photo credit: larryfarr/Morguefile.com

North Carolina lawmakers are back in session today, with various committee meetings on their calendar. What is not on today’s docket is a bill (HB 399) that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile system. The Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act was introduced at the end of March by Representative Marilyn Avila, a Republican from Wake County, and it has bipartisan support.

North Carolina remains one of only two states in the country that continues to try teens as adults and Rob Thompson with NC Child says it’s time to follow the trend, “It’s really hard to imagine that we know something that 48 states don’t know that makes this policy work in North Carolina. There’s a good reason why 48 other states have raised the age and we’re behind the curve right now. ”

The bill was referred to the Judiciary II (two) committee last month. That committee is meeting today on several other bills, but not that one. Thompson says it’s one of a backlog of bills waiting to make their way through committee.

Thompson and other supporters of “raising the age” point to several bodies of research that indicate the brains of 16 and 17 year olds are not fully developed when it comes to decision making and understanding consequences.

Thompson says teens that commit misdemeanors are better served with punishment in the juvenile system that allows for more rehabilitation and the ability to reenter society without a lifeline “stamp” of incarceration on their record, “The reason it’s so important that we change this policy now is that when we put a 16- or 17-year-old in the adult criminal justice system, two things happen. One, they don’t get the treatment and rehabilitative services that are available in the juvenile justice system, and two, they get an adult criminal record.”

he legislation would only change punishment for misdemeanor crimes and not more serious capital offenses such as murder.

2015 Operation “Drive to Live”

With the beginning of prom season, North Carolina the Highway Patrol will conduct Operation “Drive to Live” during the week of April 20, 2015. The operation will be conducted from 6:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. each day. The operation is an initiative by the Highway Patrol to reduce the number of teenage related traffic collisions and deaths.

According to National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, young drivers are significantly over represented in fatal crashes, particularly 16 and 17 year olds. One area that is particularly concerning is distracted driving. Our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk, with 10% of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under 20.

In 2014, the Highway Patrol investigated over 48, 711 motor vehicle collisions involving drivers and passengers who were between the ages of 15 to 19 years old. Of those collisions, 9,153 injuries and 113 fatalities were reported.

Troopers will be enforcing all traffic laws around the state’s schools and conducting traffic safety education programs at the high schools prior to the school year ending.

North Carolina Students Join Workers: Raise Up for 15

Wednesday, as millions of North Carolina residents breathe a sigh of relief at the end of tax season, workers, students and their advocates will take part in a “Raise Up for 15″ rally, seeking a minimum wage of 15 dollars an hour.

Laura Rollins is one example of that low-wage workforce. A McDonald’s employee for five years, she says she’s tired of struggling for the multimillion-dollar company. She says the recent dollar-an-hour raise announced for a small number of McDonald’s locations isn’t enough, “I need 14 more dollars to go with that one-dollar raise they gave me, with all the work I do. I mean, I work for, like, three people – that’s including myself, and two other people – so I’m doing two other people’s jobs along with my own job.”

Buses from 23 North Carolina colleges brought participants to the “Raise Up for 15″ rally, at the Shaw University Quad. A McDonald’s representative says the company’s recent wage increase and paid time off for employees are “important and meaningful first steps” that will make a difference for employees.

Molita Cunningham has been a home care worker for the last 15 years. She says her 10-dollar an hour wage isn’t enough for her to live independent of assistance, “If I was to get to $15 an hour, you know, I could say, ‘The heck with housing, the heck with food stamps, the heck with Medicaid.’ I could breathe, and I could pay my bills.”

Cunningham says she is speaking up in part because of the recent death of a Maryland father and his seven children, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. They were using a generator to heat their home because their electricity had been cut off, “Him and his seven children died. That could have been me and my children trying to stay warm. He didn’t have enough money to pay his light bill.”

A recent study from U-C Berkeley estimates that low-wage jobs cost U-S taxpayers about $153,000,000,000 dollars a year in supplemental public assistance.

Duke Energy gives $3 million to committee tied to Gov. Pat McCrory

A new analysis of government records reveals that Duke Energy – the world’s largest private electric utility – began writing unusually large checks to the national Republican Governors Association while Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican lawmakers debated how to respond to the company’s giant spill of coal ash sludge into the Dan River.

In four payments from June to December 2014, Duke sent the Republican Governors Association a total of $3,050,000 – more than 10 times its previous record donation to the RGA. Duke’s contributions made it the top corporate donor to the RGA in 2014 and the second largest donor, behind the $3.5 million given by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands.

In 2012, the RGA spent $5 million to boost the election of Pat McCrory as governor, and it is expected to be a major financial backer of his 2016 bid for reelection. Records show McCrory has attended numerous RGA events and helped the association raise funds.

“Duke Energy’s large donations raise questions about the governor’s ability to serve the public interest more than his own political interest,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. “Critics say the coal ash regulation law passed in 2014 was too soft on Duke. Is this money the reason why?”

RGA’s website says its “primary mission is to help elect Republican governorships throughout the nation.” As a “527 political organization,” it can receive and spend unlimited donations from corporate and other donors to elect candidates, without directly coordinating with the candidate.

The organization files relatively obscure reports with the Internal Revenue Service. Democracy North Carolina’s analysis shows that Duke Energy and Progress Energy gave RGA a total of only $40,000 in the five years from Jan. 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2007, an average of $8,000 a year.

In January 2008, Pat McCrory, a long-time Duke Energy executive and former Charlotte mayor, announced his campaign for governor. Within weeks, Duke and Progress Energy began sending checks of $10,000 or more to the RGA, according to the IRS disclosure reports.

In October 2008, candidate McCrory hosted a fundraiser for the RGA in Charlotte. As the invites circulated, Duke Energy stepped up with a gift of $100,000 – its first six-figure RGA donation.

Duke and Progress Energy gave a total of $155,000 during 2008 – or 10 times their previous record of $15,000 in 2007. The two companies, now merged, increased their giving after 2008, reaching a high of $275,000 in 2013 before the new high of $3,050,000 in 2014.

The companies also increased their donations to other 527 partisan committees. Duke Energy gave $200,000 to the Democratic Governors Association in 2012 and another $200,000 in 2014. Progress Energy donated $200,000 to the DGA in 2013.

Duke also donated a total of $235,000 during 2012-2014 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which its website says promotes “the election of state Republican candidates.”

Hall pointed out that Duke may be donating significant amounts of money to other electioneering committees that do not file disclosure reports – including Renew North Carolina, a nonprofit set up by Pat McCrory’s supporters to help his political career, and NC House Legislative Partners, which supports Republican General Assembly candidates.

“The public has a right to know who is donating to our lawmakers and their reelection efforts, directly and through shadow committees,” Hall said. “Duke Energy should lead the way by voluntarily disclosing its contributions to these committees.”

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.