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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.

NC Bill Would Increase Citizen Involvement in Police Probes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana Could Be in NC Soon

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

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

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

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

Report Card: Unhealthy State Could Create Unhealthy Economy in NC

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

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

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

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

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

NCWorks Commission adopts new direction for workforce system

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

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

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

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

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

NCWorks

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

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

Report Alleges American Kennel Club Lax on Puppy Mill Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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