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Friday News: Serve and protect whom?


POLICE "WHISTLEBLOWER" BILL GETS MIXED REVIEWS: A group that represents police officers, the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, is pushing the bill with backing from GOP lawmakers. They say it will help stop people in power from retaliating against cops — or any other city government workers — who try to shine a light on corruption or abuse inside government. Democrats and a group that represents city governments, the League of Municipalities, oppose the bill, House Bill 7. They say it’s secretly intended to prevent bad cops or other government workers from ever being fired or even disciplined, since they could just claim to be whistleblowers. “My concern is that bad apples are going to be protected by this bill,” said Leo John, a lobbyist for the League of Municipalities.

Thursday News: Happy hour?

NC BARS CAN NOW SERVE PATRONS INDOORS, AT 30% CAPACITY: For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic nearly one year ago, bars will be able to serve drinks indoors. Starting Friday, Feb. 26, bars can open up inside at 30% capacity. Patrons will still need to stay socially distanced, remaining seated at a table or counter, and will need to wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking. Technically, bars have been open since October 2020, but that only allowed outdoor service and limited capacity to 30%, which in some cases meant only one or two tables. With those limits, many bars remained closed through winter. Bar owners have lobbied for months to reopen and even filed multiple lawsuits against the state, each one unsuccessful. The new alcohol curfew is 11 p.m., pushed back from 9 p.m., where it’s been since December.

Wednesday News: Broken promises


NC REPUBLICANS FACE CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT OVER RETIREE HEALTH PLAN PREMIUMS: More than 200,000 retired state workers might soon receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars, if a class action lawsuit goes in their favor at the North Carolina Supreme Court. The fight started in 2011, when Republican legislators took control of the North Carolina General Assembly and quickly passed a law introducing the premiums, plus other changes. The new retiree premiums started at around $22 a month and have more than doubled since then. The governor at the time, Democrat Bev Perdue, vetoed the bill at first. But after lawmakers compromised by not also eliminating a no-premium option for current state workers, The News & Observer reported, she allowed the changes to become law.

Tuesday News: Fast and loose

MARK ROBINSON'S CAMPAIGN SPENDING IS A BIG, HOT MESS: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s campaign report does not explain why $186 worth of medical bills were campaign-related. Or why he bought “campaign clothes and accessories” for $2,840 with the majority being spent at a sporting goods store. It doesn’t explain why his wife needed to be reimbursed $4,500 for campaign clothing or how and where she spent the money. “I think it’s questionable,” Phillips said. “Maybe his wife is someone who is with him and campaigning and there could be a case for additional expenditures ... but that needs an explanation.” And then there are the medical bills. “I have seen some leeway where people buy clothes or even get a haircut,” Phillips said. “But I’ve never seen a doctor’s bill being used or paid for by a campaign contribution and listed in a campaign finance report.”

Monday News: Ten thousand, nine hundred twenty six


NC HOSPITALIZATIONS FOR COVID 19 CONTINUE DOWNWARD TREND: At least 842,637 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus and 10,926 have died since March, according to state health officials. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday reported 2,541 new COVID-19 cases. At least 1,647 people in North Carolina were reported hospitalized with the coronavirus as of Sunday, marking the fifth day in a row that hospitalizations have declined. As of Friday, more than 1.1 million first doses and more than 608,000 second doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered in North Carolina. Some Triangle county health departments have had to reschedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments as some doses were not shipped last week due to snow and ice that hit much of the country.

Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


FOR THE SAKE OF OUR CITIES, PASS THE RESCUE ACT: We understand the need for fiscal responsibility. State law requires balanced budgets. Despite our best efforts, the fiscal challenges the pandemic has caused for local governments are unprecedented. The American Rescue Plan will give our cities the resources we need to fund our essential services — such as keeping our police and firefighters on the job. It’ll fund a vaccination program of the scope we need to end this pandemic. It’ll provide economic relief to North Carolinians facing economic desperation — through $1,400 checks, extended unemployment insurance benefits, rental and utility assistance, affordable child care, and emergency food and nutrition assistance — the kind of help we know can make a difference. We need more tools to rescue North Carolina’s small businesses from further pain through flexible grants and low-cost capital.

Saturday News: Lock 'em up


2 MORE NC RESIDENTS CHARGED IN CAPITOL INSURRECTION: Two more North Carolina residents — including a Davidson County woman accused of being part of a right-wing militia group — have been arrested in connection with the violent Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol. They were identified in newly released court documents Friday as Laura Steele, 52, of Thomasville, and Lewis Easton Cantwell, 35, of Sylva. Steele was one of six new alleged members of the right-wing group from three states who were arrested and charged with breaching the Capitol. The other included her brother, Graydon Young of Englewood, Fla., and two married couples: Kelly and Connie Meggs of Dunnellon, Fla.; and Bennie and Sandra Parker of the Cincinnati area. Cantwell, who had a midday hearing Friday in Asheville’s federal courthouse, is charged with storming the Capitol, destroying property, refusing to leave and interfering with a police officer and attempting to disrupt a government activity, among other crimes.

Friday News: Partisan politics, as usual


CONSERVATIVES LAUNCH AD BLITZ ABOUT OPENING SCHOOLS: The State Government Leadership Foundation (SGLF) and N2 America announced Thursday that their new six-figure “Let Kids Learn” ad campaign will “highlight the true cost of keeping schools closed.” The campaign will target Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia, where both groups say “union-controlled politicians” are refusing to reopen schools. The ad campaign is starting just as the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation this week that requires North Carolina school districts — but not charter schools — to offer in-person learning. Senate Bill 37 would also require school districts to offer daily in-person classes to special-education students. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper criticized the bill on Wednesday, saying it falls short of following state Department of Health and Human Services guidance and in giving state and local leaders the ability to respond to emergencies. Duncan is also president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps elect GOP lawmakers around the country.

Thursday News: No good reason


GOP MOVE TO MAKE PROGRAM EVALUATION DIVISION PARTISAN DRAWS CRITICISM: The nearly 15-year-old unit said to have saved the state millions, known as the Program Evaluation Division, has more than a dozen staffers. They will be replaced by partisan staff tasked with similar duties in the coming weeks. Legislative leaders did not say whether staff would be laid off or transferred. Democrats aren’t alone in their discontent with the sudden change. Former Republican Rep. Craig Horn, who worked closely with the division as a chair of the committee that oversees it, said he was disappointed in the decision to eliminate the division. Turcotte announced on Twitter Monday morning the elimination of the division, saying since its inception, it has saved the state some $38.6 million annually, plus an additional $37.7 million. “My concern is that we’ve got a system of government now that is depending too much on belief and not on science and not on evidence,” Turcotte said.

Wednesday News: Another Special Session?


GOP BILL WOULD ADD 6 WEEKS OF SUMMER SCHOOL TO THE CALENDAR: Students in kindergarten through third grade would focus on reading and math, and Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said the summer reading camps held in recent years to get students up to grade level by the end of third grade would be incorporated into the classes. Third-graders also would have a science class each day. Students in grades four through eight would focus on reading, math and science, while those in high school would focus on any subjects needed for graduation. Enrichment classes in art, music or sports also would be provided for all students, said Torbett, who chairs the House K-12 Education committee and is also a bill sponsor. Schools would be required to provide the classes, but parents wouldn't be required to send their children.


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