NC lawmakers to ask US Supreme Court to take up marriage amendment (WNCN-TV) -- North Carolina's legislative leaders say they plan to file a formal petition requesting the United States Supreme Court to take up the state's ban on same-sex marriages. On Thursday, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker-Designee Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said they plan to file a petition requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court hear legal arguments for the state's marriage amendment. "We've said all along North Carolina voters deserve to have their voices heard, and this important issue won't ever be settled until a final decision is made by the U.S. Supreme Court," Berger said. "Today's petition is the most efficient and cost-effective way to reach a final resolution."
POLICIES & POLITICS
Fresh off election wins, Ager, Turner talk business (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- Democrats John Ager and Brian Turner have had little time for victory laps after their Election Day wins. Amid calls from interest groups, the new legislators have spent time in Raleigh learning how a bill gets drafted and how to speak on the floor of the House. There have been personal and business affairs to attend to before the General Assembly's long session begins Jan. 14, and one, Ager, spent a few days in the hospital with a blood disorder. Both men said concerns they expressed during their campaigns about education funding and environmental issues continue. They are among the reasons voters chose Ager, of Fairview, over Nathan Ramsey, and Turner, of Biltmore Forest, over Tim Moffitt.
State needs more Medicaid cash (Richmond county Daily Journal) -- The refusal of N.C. General Assembly leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory to accept more federal Medicaid dollars will ultimately inflict greater economic hardship on rural hospitals and the people they serve, hospital officials told Richmond County’s state representatives Thursday. Medicaid expansion in North Carolina topped the list of concerns covered in a presentation by Hugh Tilson of the N.C. Hospital Association, who briefed Reps. Garland Pierce of Wagram and Ken Goodman of Rockingham at a presentation hosted at Scotland Health Care System’s Dulin Conference Center. “What we want is expanded Medicaid coverage,’’ Tilson said, “Expanded coverage will improve health care, stabilize the insurance market and lower health care costs for small businesses.’’
Red-state governors discuss expansion of Medicaid with Obama (The Hill) -- President Obama appears more willing to compromise on the path toward Medicaid expansion in several red states, a pair of GOP governors said after a White House meeting on Tuesday. Govs. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) and Gary Herbert (R-Utah) told reporters they believe the president would sign off on their states’ alternative expansion plans for the low-income insurance program.
Improving Medicaid for ‘Medically Complex’ Kids (N.C. Health News via Stateline) -- Finding care for children with medically complex or rare conditions—which may affect fewer than 100 kids nationwide—can force parents to tap into networks of highly specialized physicians and hospitals scattered around the country. This is especially challenging when the children are covered by Medicaid, because each state-run program has a different benefit package, payment structure and provider network. Conflicting regulations and paperwork requirements can delay treatment and lead to unnecessary hospitalizations. Medicaid’s state-based rules also have thwarted efforts to develop a national clinical database researchers could use to find ways to improve the care of children with rare diseases. A new bill in Congress would amend the 50-year-old Medicaid law to make it easier for health care providers in different states to coordinate the complicated care of these very sick kids.
Division of Employment Security case process time averages 40 days (Wilson Times) -- Since February 2014, the N.C. Division of Employment Security has exceeded federal standards regarding the average time it takes to process unemployment benefit appeals, officials said.
Recession remains: 7 WNC counties see uptick in joblessness (Carolina Public Press) -- In four others, unemployment in November stayed the same, according to the latest data from the N.C. Division of Employment Security.
Burr promises tough questions as committee chairman (AP) — Sen. Richard Burr says he'll conduct "vigorous oversight" and ask tough questions as leader of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for the next two years. The Winston-Salem Republican announced Thursday his chairmanship of the committee, finalized with the ratification of leadership positions by the Senate Republican Conference. His elevation had been expected since Republicans won back a majority in the chamber in November.
Tenn. bill requires women hear about abortion alternatives (Washington Post) -- If passed, the bill would require that before an abortion, women must receive information about their pregnancy and alternatives.
Former Clinic Owner Sentenced in $3.4 Million Medicaid Fraud Scheme (FBI News Release) -- Ronnie Lorenzo Robinson, 37, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in a $3.4 million Medicaid fraud scheme involving sham mental and behavioral health services, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of N.C.. Robinson was also ordered to serve three years under court supervision and to pay $3,153,074 in restitution. Tompkins was joined by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper in making today’s announcement. Cooper oversees the North Carolina Medicaid Investigations Division.
Another BRAC round may be in the offing (The Hill) -- The Pentagon is expected to propose another round of base closures in its 2016 budget.
Boone police agree with autopsy: ASU student committed suicide (AP) — Law enforcement in Boone says it now agrees with a medical examiner's ruling two months ago that a student committed suicide just weeks after starting at Appalachian State University.
Amtrak studies bus service between Asheville, Salisbury (AP) — Amtrak is considering providing service from Asheville, not by rail but by bus.
New Hanover elections chairman in hot seat (Wilmington Star-News) -- More allegations are being brought against New Hanover County Board of Elections Chairman John Ferrante.
Burst pipes close Asheville City Hall for remainder of week (AP) — A burst pipe believed to have been caused by freezing weather led to an evacuation of Asheville City Hall and is expected to keep municipal offices closed for another day.
Second Fayetteville man wins $1 million lottery prize (WRAL-TV) -- The day after a Fayetteville veteran claimed a $1 million lottery prize, there's another $1 million winner from Fayetteville.
NC man wins $1 million in Va. Lottery's millionaire raffle (AP) — A North Carolina man has won $1 million in the Virginia Lottery's New Year's Millionaire Raffle.
Historic site hosts discussions about Wolfe's short stories (AP) — The Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site in Asheville is hosting a monthly book club meeting that will focus on short stories by the author.
Campaign urges lawmakers to restore tax break for rehabbing historic buildings (WRAL-TV) -- A social media campaign is urging state lawmakers to bring back a tax credit given to developers who restore historic buildings for new uses.
Why Did OBX State Rep. Tine Dump the Democrats? (WUNC-FM) -- A state legislator who was previously a Democrat has become unaffiliated because he feels he can get more done that way for his district. Representative Paul Tine of the Outer Banks says he wanted to stay within the moderate Democratic fold, but he felt the party was veering too far to the left for him. Tine also feels that as an unaffiliated legislator, he can work with the Republican majority to benefit his district. He says the Outer Banks benefited from strong legislators, including former Democratic Senator Marc Basnight:
NC Representative Abandons Democratic Party (TWCN-TV) - -Paul Tine has now been elected twice as a Democrat in a district considered to be somewhat conservative. He said that is because party affiliation has never been his top priority.
Another General Assembly staffer becomes a lobbyist (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The North Carolina General Assembly's staff attorney who drafted a variety of healthcare legislation is becoming a lobbyist for Cone Health.
Raleigh contractor agrees to pay workers he failed to pay in 2010 (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Robert Miller of NC Contracting has been on the radar of federal and state investigators for years for his labor practices. He has escaped punishment at every turn. On Thursday, Miller promised to compensate seven workers he failed to pay in 2010.
McCrory Announces Appointments (N.C.Political News) — The Office of Governor Pat McCrory announced the following appointments Thursday:
Terrorist Attack in France Hits Close to Home (TWCN-TV) -- The attack in Paris, France at Charlie Hebdo hit close to home for Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist, Kevin Siers. When he heard the news, Pulitzer Prize-winner Siers says it was like a kick to the stomach.
Health officials report 30 flu-related deaths in 1 week (AP) — State health officials report 30 people died of complications from the flu in North Carolina last week, more than double the number from the previous week and raising the death toll for the season to 54.
Flu Related Deaths On The Rise In NC (WUNC-FM) -- Thirty people died from the flu last week in North Carolina - about three times more than died the previous week. "And those numbers are going to continue to rise. Because we always see those numbers lag behind our flu activity numbers by a few weeks," said Dr. Zack Moore, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Human Services. Moore says people should use basic prevention methods like staying home from work when sick and staying away from people who are ill. He points out that vaccination is still an option.
Kmart distribution center in Greensboro to close, affecting 130 jobs (Triangle Business Journal) -- The news follows the closure of several other Kmart facilities in the area.
Woman hopes Internet fame translates to TV (AP) — A 380-pound North Carolina woman whose dancing video was seen by more than six million people online last year is trying to be the next reality TV star. The TLC network will premiere "My Big Fat Fabulous Life" on Jan. 13. It's about Whitney Thore, a 30-year-old woman from Greensboro, North Carolina, who wants Americans to see people behind the pounds.
JC Penney to shut 40 stores, including four in NC (AP) -- J.C. Penney Co. said that it will close about 40 stores this year and cut approximately 2,250 jobs, as it tries to improve its profitability.
Herbalife to unveil its $100M N.C. plant (Triangle Business Journal) -- The facility now employs 350, and is expected to employ 500 by the end of this year.
WRAL's Jeff Gravley named NC Sportscaster of the Year (WRAL-TV) -- WRAL-TV sports anchor Jeff Gravley was named North Carolina sportscaster of the year Thursday by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
SCHOOLS & UNIVERSITIES
Obama wants community college free to those ‘willing to work for it’ (AP) -- The White House on Thursday announced a proposal that President Barack Obama said would make community college "free for everybody who is willing to work for it." But administration officials provided no details about the program's costs or where the money would come to pay for it.
Two Years of Free Community College (Inside Higher Ed) President Obama is going big with his higher education announcement in Tennessee on Friday. He wants to make the first two years of community college as free as high school.
Obama Calls for Two Years of Free Community College for All (Wall Street Journal) -- President Barack Obama announced a proposal to make the first two years of community college free for all students. It faces an uphill climb in Congress.
President to propose making community college free (McClatchy Newspapers) -- President Barack Obama is proposing that everyone should have the chance to go to community college for free.
State Board of Ed OKs 11 new charter schools (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The State Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved 11 new charter schools that are expected to open in the fall, including a school in Southeast Raleigh that aims to help minority students from low-income families succeed in high school and college. Leaders of PAVE Southeast Raleigh Charter School say the charter hopes to work with the Wake County public school system in areas such as teacher development. "We're wide open to a positive interaction," said J.B. Buxton, chairman of the PAVE board and an education consultant and adviser to former N.C. Gov. Mike Easley. "We want to be a piece of the puzzle."
Charters schools get final OK (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- Two proposed charter schools in Pitt County received final approval Thursday from the N.C. Board of Education to open this fall.
NC school board approves new grading scale for high school (AP) — North Carolina high school students will have more leeway to earn better grades starting with the next academic year which begins in August.
NC switching all high school students to 10-point grading scale this fall (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The State Board of Education voted Thursday to switch all high school students to the new 10-point grading scale this fall, reversing its previous decision to phase in the change during the next three years.
NC School Board Approves New Grading Scale for High School (TWCN-TV) -- The state board of education unanimously voted Thursday morning to switch to a 10-point scale for all high school students.
School of Government Receives $100,000 for Local Elected Leaders Academy (UNC News Service) – The UNC School of Government Received a $100,000 Gift from Prudential Retirement for the Local Elected Leaders Academy. The gift will support a leadership program for elected county and municipal officials
In Search for Students, Colleges Put Emphasis on Personality (Wall Street Journal) -- Some colleges are looking past SAT or ACT admission tests in their search for students who will last the course at university.
NC agency ends solo status for Koch-funded history materials (AP) — North Carolina's education agency will encourage teachers to draw their American history course materials from nearly a dozen sources, not just those provided by a group backed by the politically influential, conservative Koch family.
Durham school custodial workers ask district for back pay (WRAL-TV) -- Durham school board members are considering a proposal by Superintendent Bert L'Homme to supplement $200,000 owed in back pay to sub-contracted custodial workers whose company filed for bankruptcy. The workers were not paid for two weeks in late October and early November, L'Homme said.
UNC Press receives grant from Mellon Foundation (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The grant of nearly $1 million will be used by the press for digital publishing initiatives.
State sues TVA over coal ash at Gallatin plant (AP) — The Tennessee state agency charged with protecting the environment is suing the Tennessee Valley Authority over its coal-burning power plant in Gallatin. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, claims unlined storage ponds used to dispose of coal ash are leaking contaminants into local groundwater. The lawsuit asks the Davidson County Chancery Court to issue a permanent injunction that requires TVA to comply with laws governing solid waste disposal and water quality. It also seeks civil penalties of up to $17,000 per day for violations. Those penalties could be issued retroactively for violations that stretch back years.
Ash disposal (Greenville Daily Reflector via (Ashland, Ky.) Independent editorial) -- In announcing the first national standards for the waste generated from coal burned for electricity, the Obama administration rejected demands by environmentalists that coal waste be declared a hazardous material. Instead, the new standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency treat coal waste more like household garbage than hazardous material. The new regulations are a rare victory for the coal industry in its effort to limit regulations that could hamper further production of coal in the United States. … We think on this issue, the Obama administration is seeking to find a reasonable middle ground on coal ash. We think it has found it.
From The (Ashland, Ky.) Independent
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Home Energy Efficiency Pilot Program Seeking Duke Employees (Duke News Service) -- Duke University’s Carbon Offsets Initiative has partnered with the Clinton Climate Initiative to bring a customized version of the Home Energy Affordability Loan program to a select number of Duke employees. The DCOI-HEAL program is offering free home energy assessments and Personal Energy Plans (a $500 value) to a limited number of Duke University employees in Durham County.
NC regulators reject utility argument for solar payment revision (Fierce Energy) -- Duke Energy and other utilities operating in North Carolina objected to what they described as overpayments they are required to make to renewable energy developers, including solar, and took their case to the state's utilities commission. Regulators, however, did not see it that way and refused to authorize any changes to the payments or how they are calculated. The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) also said no to the utilities' proposal to deduct the amount it cost them to connect solar producers to the electric grid from their payments.
Customer Backlash After Duke Energy Conservation Plea (WFMY-TV) -- A plea by Duke Energy for customers to conserve energy has struck a nerve. A forecasted cold spell prompted the power company to send out a message asking customers to cut back on electricity usage for 24 hours. The request quickly set off some mixed reactions on social media. "I think a lot of people think that Duke Energy is, what's the best way to say this? Maybe strong-arming them," said Nick Davis of Forsyth County. "My electric bill is high as I don't know what," Julius Wiley added.
Some customers surprised by Duke Energy request to reduce power use (WECT-TV) -- Duke Energy asked people to curb power use when temperatures dipped to record lows overnight – and got flack from some customers as a result. The topic was trending on Facebook Thursday morning, with some customers complaining about the request to reduce energy use when they needed it most.
Duke Energy's nerve center is firing during Arctic Blast (WCNC-TV) -- With cold temperatures, plenty of people are using power, and all that usage is putting a strain on Duke Energy's system. Duke's operation center is more like a nerve center. There are people who monitor two lines: a generation line, showing how much power is being generated, and a demand line, showing how much power is being used. If those lines get too close together the computer will randomly start shutting off power in certain areas because, of course, demand cannot exceed the power that is available.
Could separation of powers lawsuit sink NC fracking? (Facing South) -- With North Carolina expected to begin issuing fracking permits as early as this spring, a conservation group and a landowner have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the constitutionality of the commission that regulates the controversial gas drilling technique. The state legislature created the Mining and Energy Commission in 2012 as an administrative agency in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources but appointed the majority of MEC members. The suit claims this violates the state constitution, which says the "legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of the State government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other."
DOT: More than 1,600 trucks could be required for one NC fracking site (Raleigh News & Observer) -- NC Department of Transportation projects that more than 1,600 trucks could haul sand, water and equipment for a single fracking operation in North Carolina, chewing up country roads and causing millions of dollars in damage to roads and bridges.
In Low Gasoline Prices, an Opening Emerges for Higher Taxes (Wall Street Journal) -- The sharp drop in gasoline prices over the past few months is providing a rare political opening for state and federal officials who want to raise gasoline taxes to repair highways and boost construction jobs.
Momentum builds in Congress for raising the federal gas tax (The Hill) -- Leading Republicans now say a hike must not be ruled out.
Higher boat registration fees may help with Oregon Inlet (AP) — An increase in boat registration fees could help battle the shoaling which limits travel through Oregon Inlet.
4 men charged with felony for poaching 970 Venus flytraps (AP) — Four men face charges of removing 970 Venus flytraps from the wild in the first case since the poaching the plant was made a felony.
Proposed pipeline makes route change (Rocky Mount Telegram) -- The latest proposed route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline given to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month shows one route change in Nash County and another staying the same.
Think it’s cold now? Consider Grandfather Mountain’s year in weather (Carolina Public Press) -- After an immensely rainy year in 2013, Grandfather Mountain rainfall rebounded to below-normal precipitation levels in 2014, according to weather data
Coastal Sketch: Earl O'Neal (Coastal Review) -- This writer and historian of Ocracoke Island tells what it was like growing up there as a boy. "What a story," he says, "if only the live oaks could talk."
Elected bodies shouldn't need lobbyists (Raleigh News & Observer editorial) -- Knowledgeable, respected and popular among Republican state lawmakers, Richard Stevens is a fine choice to lobby for the interests of Wake County in the General Assembly. A former Republican state lawmaker himself, Stevens has been signed at $100,000 through the law firm with which he is of counsel, Smith Anderson. Stevens served almost five terms in the state Senate and was close to Sen. Phil Berger, the chamber’s president pro tem and state government’s most powerful lawmaker. Stevens also was the long-time Wake County manager. The question isn’t whether Stevens was a good pick. It is, rather, why the county that is home to the General Assembly and counts senior Republican lawmakers such as House Speaker pro tem Paul Stam of Apex among its representatives needs a lobbyist. A local government hiring help to communicate with state government?
'Je suis Charlie:' Cowardly terrorists will pay (Winston-Salem Journal) -- The world was shocked Wednesday to learn that three masked gunmen attacked the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people and injuring 11 before fleeing. Among the dead are two police officers, the newspaper’s publisher and three cartoonists. We hope the killers, if convicted, are punished in the harshest way possible.
Election board should solve problems, not be the problem (Wilmington Star-News) -- A board of elections has the essential duty of overseeing the cornerstone of our democracy, voting.
N.C. looms larger in presidential politics (Rocky Mount Telegram) -- You don’t have to be a political scientist to recognize the importance of North Carolina’s taste in presidential candidates.
Incentives hurt, but unprimed pumps go dry (Fayetteville Observer) -- Will leadership fiddle while the economy burns? That may happen when the new session of the General Assembly opens next month.
A red flag at the NASCAR hall (Charlotte Observer column) -- I’ve been trying this week to imagine the conversation that led to Charlotte’s two big banks forgiving $17.6 million of a loan the city took out to pay for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.