DANNY BRITT AMENDS BILL TO CONTINUE ALLOWING 14 YEAR-OLD GIRLS TO BE MARRIED: The bill would also allow children over 14 who become pregnant or have a child to marry the father. A judge must rule, however, that the marriage is in the best interest of the children. “The amendment lines up with what our current statutory rape laws are,” Britt said. “So essentially, what we were allowing as a state was the offense of statutory rape to occur so long as you were married.” Britt said another concern he had was that teens would abort their children instead of having a baby out of wedlock. North Carolina is one of two states, Alaska being the other, that allows children as young as 14 to marry. Swegman said the amended bill “maintains the most concerning aspects of North Carolina’s current law while simply tinkering around the edges in an attempt to appear meaningful.”
JUDGE REFUSES TO RELEASE BODYCAM VIDEO OF ANDREW BROWN KILLING: A judge refused Wednesday to release body camera video showing North Carolina deputies shooting and killing a Black man, ruling that making the video public at this stage could jeopardize the investigation into Andrew Brown Jr.'s death. However, the judge did order authorities to allow Brown's family to privately view five videos from body cameras and one from a dashboard camera within 10 days, with some portions blurred or redacted. Family members had previously been allowed to view only a 20-second clip from a single body camera. Judge Jeffery Foster said he believed the videos contained information that could harm the ongoing investigation or threaten the safety of people seen in the footage. He said the video must remain out of public view for at least 30 days, but he would consider releasing it after that point if investigations are complete. “The release at this time would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice,” Foster said. Because it will show unfair, partial, and disorderly administration of justice?
COOP IS DIALING BACK CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS, OUTDOOR MASKING WILL NOT BE REQUIRED: North Carolinians will be allowed to assemble in larger groups and gather outdoors starting Friday without having to wear their masks. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday afternoon that the state will soon lift the outdoor mask mandate and boost mass gathering limits to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, which represents a doubling from the current levels. The Democratic governor's moves comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces outside anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. Under some circumstances, unvaccinated people don't need to be masked outside, according to the CDC. Cooper plans to eliminate social distancing and mass gathering restrictions by June 1 and eliminate the mask mandate altogether once at least two-thirds of North Carolina adults are at least partially vaccinated. Nearly half of adults in the state have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot and more than 39% are fully vaccinated, as of Tuesday, according to state health department data.
BIDEN'S SPEECH TO CONGRESS WAS BOLD AND AMBITIOUS: President Biden on Wednesday night used his first speech to a joint session of Congress to argue for a dramatic expansion of government services, making a plea for sweeping plans to provide universal preschool, free community college and expanded health care and new tax breaks for families — much of it funded for by higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. While he also renewed calls for an array of priorities — including immigration changes, gun control and police reform — Biden more broadly portrayed a country that is rapidly emerging from the depths of a global pandemic and has survived events that, in his view, tested American democracy as rarely before. “We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy — of pandemic and pain — and ‘we the people’ did not flinch,” he said toward the end of a 65-minute speech. Biden’s remarks juxtaposed a more traditional presidential cheerleading for America — a country he declared was “on the move again” — with far more unusual warnings about existential threats to American democracy and references to a country that repeatedly flies flags at half-staff because of mass shootings. “I took the oath of office — lifted my hand off our family Bible — and inherited a nation in crisis,” Biden said. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Biden also spoke forcefully of the need for racial equity, and he made a point of embracing LGBTQ rights. “To all the transgender Americans watching at home — especially the young people who are so brave — I want you to know that your president has your back,” Biden said in another striking moment.
AHMAUD ARBERY'S KILLERS INDICTED ON HATE CRIMES BY JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Three Georgia men were indicted on federal hate crime charges in connection with the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death while jogging through a South Georgia neighborhood last year, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday. The deadly encounter helped fuel nationwide racial justice demonstrations last year, and the charges are the most significant hate crimes prosecution so far by the Biden administration, which has made civil rights protections a major priority. The suspects — Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and William Bryan, 51, all of whom are white — were each charged with one count of interference with Mr. Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race. They were also charged with one count of attempted kidnapping. Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count each of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm. Travis McMichael is accused of shooting Mr. Arbery. “As Arbery was running on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Ga., Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at Arbery, using their truck to cut off his route and threatening him with firearms,” the Justice Department said in a statement. Mr. Bryan, known as Roddie, joined the chase and used his truck to cut off Mr. Arbery, the department said. The three men were accused of chasing after Mr. Arbery in their trucks in an attempt to detain him against his will. All three suspects also face state charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. No date has been set for the state trial. State and federal prosecutors work together to determine when they will try their cases. State prosecutors, who often can bring a broader array of charges, typically go to trial first.