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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.”

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.