Thom Tillis calls himself voting rights hero (Greensboro News & Record) – Republican Sen. Thom Tillis used Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearing Wednesday to defend North Carolina’s voting laws and paint himself as a voting rights hero. “I made sure we made heroic efforts to preserve everyone’s right to vote,” the freshman Republican asserted. He asked Lynch whether it made sense, given the department’s limited resources, to proceed with the suit. Lynch, the Greensboro native nominated to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general, didn’t back down. It’s a “core principle” of the Justice Department, she said, to protect voting rights. She expected the case to go to trial this summer.
Q-and-A with North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger (AP) -- In an interview with The Associated Press as this year's legislative session begins, Berger, 62, talked about current issues, his political legacy and his evolving views on redistricting reform and leader term limits. Questions and answers were edited for length and AP style.
NAACP leader will bring 'people's grand jury' to Raleigh (Fayetteville Observer) -- Rev. William Barber said he and other activists plan to hold a "people's grand jury" in Raleigh to take testimony on North Carolina's decision to reject federal government health insurance for approximately a half-million low-income workers.
Moral Monday Photo Exhibit Opens (Facing South) -- Since launching in 2013, the Moral Monday movement has engaged thousands of people across the state in protests against regressive policies. A photo exhibit opens Sunday, Feb. 1 at the Marion Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History and Vimala's Curryblossom Café, aims to engage more people in the movement.
N.C. Bill Keeps Teachers’ Group From Collecting Dues Via Paychecks (WUNC-FM) -- North Carolina's Republican lawmakers are trying once more to prevent employees’ associations from collecting their members’ dues via payroll deductions.
State Sen. Files Bill To Defund Group That Spent $200k Against Him (Follow the Mondy) – Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County has filed a bill that would reduce funding for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which tried to unseat Hise in last year's GOP primary.
Woman to Watch: Paula Wolf (Women AdvaNCe) -- Paula worked for 20 years as a lobbyist. She warns, "Legislation will happen to you if it doesn't happen for you. People say, 'I'm not political.'" Here's the secret: "everything's political."
Bill would hold charter schools more accountable for spending state funds (Wilmington Star-News) -- State Rep. Larry Hall said his legislation would aim to end "reckless mismanagement" of taxpayer dollars by some charters.
Robinson, Lowe to fill vacancies at NC General Assembly . (AP) — A Winston-Salem minister and a former state House member will be heading to Raleigh to serve out two-year terms for North Carolina General Assembly seats vacated earlier this month.
County asks legislators for help on film credit, funding coastal projects (Port City Daily) -- New Hanover County commissioners laid out their priorities for this year’s legislative sessions to state and federal representatives in a meeting today.
Bikers' group wants legislature to fund driver's ed (Raleigh News & Observer) -- N.C. Concerned Biker Association members will be in Raleigh on Wednesday to try to convince legislators to continue state funding for driver's education. These bikers are worried that without the courses, young drivers will be a danger to motorcyclists.
POLICIES & POLITICS
Cooper about even with McCrory in campaign cash (AP) — Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and potential Democratic 2016 election rival Roy Cooper were about even with campaign cash entering 2015. Their campaign committees disclosed fundraising totals for the final six months of 2014 on Friday, the deadline for candidates not on last year's ballot. The governor reported raising $554,000 and having nearly $1.6 million in his campaign coffers. Cooper is the sitting attorney general. He reported raising $310,000 and had about $100,000 less cash on hand than McCrory.
N.C. remains on shakier economic footing than rest of U.S. (Charlotte Observer) -- North Carolina still lags behind other states when it comes to the economic well-being of its residents, a study found, despite the fact that the national and state economies have strengthened considerably during the five-year recovery. The state ranks 41st in terms of overall outcomes of its residents, according to an analysis published Thursday from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. The report evaluated states on 67 criteria related to finances, employment, housing, health care and education. The report underscores how the disproportionate growth of low-wage jobs, as well as lower education attainment and health care coverage, means many North Carolinians are still on a shakier economic footing than the rest of the country.
NC’s true jobless rate at 12.1% using measure that includes under-employed (Raleigh News & Observer) -- North Carolina’s jobless rate was 12.1 percent in 2014 according to an little known federal estimate that some consider the most accurate measure of unemployment.
Upcoming photo ID requirement to vote in NC weighed in court (AP) — North Carolina's upcoming photo identification requirement to vote received a full day in court Friday but no decision from a judge on whether the mandate is lawful to begin in 2016 or unconstitutionally harms the poor or older adults who lack IDs.
Opponents ask judge to throw out voter ID requirement (WRAL-TV) -- Voting rights groups argued Friday that a requirement set to take effect next year that North Carolina voters must present photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot is unconstitutional.
Judge to take several weeks to rule on NC voter ID challenge (Raleigh News & Observer) -- A Wake County judge plans to take two to three weeks to decide whether a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's voter ID law should be dismissed or proceed to trial this summer. The case is rooted in an overhaul of NC election law that was adopted by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2013.
CHARLOTTE SMACKDOWN: Pittenger v. Watt -- New guard goes after old on housing (McClatchy Newspapers) -- One of North Carolina’s new men on Capitol Hill went after one of its older guys on the block in a Beltway sparring match.
McCrory will tout tax credits for historic businesses, homes (AP) — Using a nostalgic locale as his backdrop, Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday that he would propose restoring tax credits for historic homes and businesses when he addresses North Carolina lawmakers in his State of the State speech.
Gov. McCrory joins bid to restore historic preservation tax credits (Charlotte Observer) Cities across North Carolina, in conjunction with the NC Metro Mayors Coalition, are working toward the reinstatement of the Historic Preservation Rehabilitation Tax Credit program of the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office.
AOC names former Rep. Tom Murry new chief legal counsel for gov. affairs (N.C. Political News) -- John W. Smith, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts announced Tom Murry will be chief legal counsel for governmental affairs, Murry will coordinate all legislative activities for the Judicial Branch and will work with legislative leaders and stakeholders of the court system in order to promote consensus on critical funding needs.
Burr and other leaders call for advancing personalized medicine (McClatchy Newspapers) -- The Senate is starting to take a look at how to get new drugs, medical devices and treatments for cancer and other diseases to the public faster and with less expense. Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., got the effort started with a report Thursday that outlines an investigation of what new policies are needed to improve the work of the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
NC History Museum marks 86 years of State Highway Patrol (AP) — North Carolina's history museum is giving patrons an opportunity to look back at nearly 90 years of the state Highway Patrol.
VA trying to earn back veterans' trust, deputy secretary says (Wilmington Star-News) -- Sloan Gibson says officials are striving to make it easier for Wilmington-area veterans to get the help they need.
VA deputy secretary hears from students, and others, who want to help (Fayetteville Observer) -- With graduation day in sight, nursing student Nicole Shepard knows she wants to use her expertise to care for veterans in a VA hospital.
Pantano claims he’s put state Veterans Affairs division on road to reform (Wilmington Star-News) -- Pantano worked to reorganize the agency like a private sector business.
Is N.C. Rep. Mark Meadows fed workers worst nightmare or best friend? (Washington Post) -- The new conservative Republican chair of House Oversight wants to meet with employees in a different agency each month.
Is Meadows quitting his birther campaign against Obama? (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- In a recent interview with The Washington Post, 11th District U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows backed away from 2012 remarks in which he said he would push for an investigation of where President Barack Obama was born and thus whether he is eligible to be president.
SBI awaiting response in gas-receipts inquiry (Jacksonville Daily News) -- An investigation that began last summer into alleged personal use of a county gas card by some Onslow County Sheriff’s Office employees is not over, State Bureau of Investigations officials confirmed this week.
Fayetteville man killed in Kabul remembered as 'genuine, down to earth' (WRAL-TV) -- Walt Fisher, a former Fayetteville and Spring Lake police officer, was one of three American civilian aircraft mechanics who were killed.
Slain contractors in Kabul were employed by Fayetteville-based company (Fayetteville Observer) -- The three American contractors shot and killed Thursday by an Afghan soldier during an apparent "insider attack" in the capital of Kabul in Afghanistan were employed by a Fayetteville-based company.
Is N.C. the State of Technology? (WRAL-TV) -- The North Carolina Technology Association released the State of Technology Industry Report online on Friday, containing valuable information to serve as a baseline resource for policy makers, economic developers, media, and of course the tech community. It will be presented to the Triangle community on Feb. 4, but we have your sneak peak.
NC Bar Association offers free legal advice in 10 locations (AP) — The Young Lawyers Division of the North Carolina Bar Association is offering free legal advice at locations in 10 cities and towns.
5 boaters rescued from sailboat 200 miles off NC coast (AP) -- The U.S. Coast Guard says it rescued five people from a sailboat after the boat's mast broke about 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
SCHOOLS & UNIVERSITIES
NC schools dealing with how to report new school letter grades (Raleigh News & Observer) -- With many North Carolina public schools expected to receive low marks next week, school officials are worrying about how to meet state requirements that they publicize the new A through F performance grades.
CFCC trustees do not disclose closed session discussions (Wilmington Business Journal) -- While Cape Fear Community College trustees unanimously approved the appointment of Amanda Lee as the college’s interim president Thursday evening, the board did not disclose its discussion regarding her salary in that position. The salary does not need approval from the N.C. Community College System, CFCC spokesman David Hardin said Friday.
UNC might offer chance to re-take fake classes (Daily Tar Heel) -- Collaboration will be key in deciding whether the University will provide makeup classes for students who took fraudulent classes offered between 1993 and 2011 that were exposed by the Wainstein report in October. Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, said no decision has been made yet as to whether or not students will be allowed to re-take the classes. He said the University will work with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, UNC’s accreditation agency, to reach a decision.
Panel reviews Aycock discussions (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- An East Carolina University committee on renaming Aycock Residence Hall met on Friday to discuss responses from two forums earlier this week and possible recommendations to make to the chancellor.
Wake Forest to raise tuition next school year (Winston-Salem Journal) -- The Wake Forest University board of trustees on Friday approved raising undergraduate tuition by 3.25 percent for the 2015-16 academic year. Undergraduate tuition will increase from the current $45,638 to $47,120 next year, Wake said in a statement.
At Stough Elementary in Raleigh, students learn in Mandarin (Raleigh News & Observer) -- At Stough Elementary School in Raleigh, some kindergartners can write their names in Chinese characters and chatter confidently in Mandarin. The school offers a Chinese immersion program.
School will build on Fire Tower (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- Officials from a new charter school coming to Winterville this year heard from parents during its first public meeting, with some parents concerned about low performance of sister schools.
Bill would hold charter schools more accountable for spending state funds (Wilmington Star-News) -- State Rep. Larry Hall said his legislation would aim to end "reckless mismanagement" of taxpayer dollars by some charters.
Lt. Gov. making big push for digital learning (Kinston Free Press) -- Education initiative a priority for 2015.
National business and education leaders want annual student tests (Raleigh News & Observer) -- National business and education groups sent a letter to key U.S. senators Thursday in support of the annual testing requirements established under the federal law No Child Left Behind. Congress is again taking a shot at reauthorizing the sweeping education law.
Jason Kilar, founding CEO of Hulu, to speak at UNC Commencement (UNC News) -- For immediate use Jason Kilar, founding CEO of Hulu, to speak at Spring Commencement Carolina class of 1993 standout will give keynote address to newest graduates.
Path For Home-Schoolers May Be Different, But The Goal Is The Same (Winston-Salem Journal) -- For some, home schooling is a mystery shrouded by stereotypes and misconceptions, even though 98,172 children were home-schooled in the 2013-14 school year, according to the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education. That included 3,173 in Forsyth County. Some of those misconceptions extend to athletics.
New documentary explores sexual assault at UNC-Chapel Hill, other campuses (Charlotte Observer) -- “The Hunting Ground,” a new documentary about campus sexual assault, features former UNC-Chapel Hill students whose federal complaint prompted significant changes at the university.
THE SPILL-THE SPIN
Year after ash spill, state of Dan River in dispute (WRAL-TV) -- "Certainly, the indications from the testing indicate that things have come back remarkably quickly, and we'll continue the monitoring to make sure that, in fact, is happening," DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart said. Environmental advocates like Pete Harrison are less sanguine. He said that the state and federal governments should continue to warn people about the danger posed by the ash on the bottom of the river. "It has a smell you'll never get off … Even one year after the spill, there’s still a lingering danger to downstream communities since the contaminants remain in the sediment, exposing people and aquatic life to toxic heavy metals,"said Harrison, a lawyer with the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Uncertainty clouds coal ash picture one year after spill (WRAL-TV) -- After dipping a few jars of water to test from the Dan River near the Virginia state line, North Carolina officials told reporters Friday that it appears the worst of the affects from the Feb. 2, 2014, coal ash spill near Eden may be over.
Groups divided on state of Dan River 1-year after spill (WSOC-TV) -- to examine water quality in the Dan River just after the 1-year anniversary of Duke Energy’s disastrous coal ash spill into the waterway. North Carolina Secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources Don Van Der Vaart lead a team of water quality specialists to the banks of the Dan River downstream from the spill. Assistant DENR Secretary Tom Reeder said oxygen levels and other tests showed a healthy river. "Chemical analysis and biological analysis, show the river has recovered quite well," Reeder said. Nearby, however, environmental activists were doing their own testing and coming up with different conclusions.
DENR: Dan River has recovered from coal ash spill (WTVD-TV) -- State officials are giving a rosy assessment of the state of the Dan River almost one year to the day after 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the river from the former Duke Energy coal plant in Eden. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Don Van Der Vaart and other top environmental officials joined inspectors Friday morning in Milton, which is about 40 miles from the site of the spill to make the point that, in large part, the river has returned to pre-spill conditions.
One Year Later: Dan River Coal Ash Progress (WFMY-TV) -- Nearly a year after the massive coal ash spill, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is taking a close look at the Dan River. On Friday, state water resource crew members and river advocates were back at the water taking water samples.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
In major shift, Obama administration to plan for rising seas (Washington Post) -- An executive order issued Friday by President Obama directs "federal agencies—as well as state and local governments drawing on federal funds—to adopt stricter building and siting standards to reflect scientific projections that future flooding will be more frequent and intense due to climate change." Agencies currently rely on historic flood data rather than future projections.
Rising seas boost tidal flooding risks on NC coast (Raleigh News & Observer) -- North Carolina's coast will see more frequent and more destructive floods at high tide over the next 30 years, several studies say - even on mild, sunny days - as rising sea levels shove the Atlantic Ocean higher onto our shores.
Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds (New York Times) -- An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.
2 firms seek NC approval to test offshore oil, gas deposits (AP) — Two companies are seeking approval to be the first to blast the Atlantic Ocean's bottom with sound waves to find oil and gas deposits.
Buxton seeks quick fix before beaches disappear (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot) -- Buxton residents want the state to declare an emergency as a way to speed up a beach renourishment project. Under the current timetable, environmental studies and permitting will prevent the work from beginning until at least the summer of 2016. "We don't believe most of the Buxton oceanfront will be here in 2016," resident Jeff Dawson said at a public meeting this week in the village.
Laws in Southeast Make it Hard for Military to Go Solar (Clean Technia) -- Why does the military finds itself in a situation where it can’t just buy renewable energy in North Carolina and take unambiguous credit for it, as it has done expertly in so many other states? If the Navy were to buy the solar energy for Camp Lejeune from a third party, it would not only be better for its bottom line (which, remember, is taxpayers’ bottom line), but also for ratepayers in North Carolina, since they wouldn’t pay a cent for it. In the current deal, Duke will pass through the solar installation costs to ratepayers. So why didn’t the military enter into a third-party PPA in North Carolina too, as it has done in much of the rest of the country, instead of arranging a land-for-cash swap with Duke Energy? The answer is that third-party PPAs, which have saved the military and countless other institutions so much money in other parts of the country, are illegal in North Carolina. North Carolina is one of only five states that expressly outlaws third-party PPAs of electricity.
Solar Energy Proposals in Va. Legislature to Watch (Energy Collective) -- It would take a hermit not to recognize the pent-up demand for solar energy throughout much of the Commonwealth of Virginia. While states such as North Carolina and Georgia are seeing significant growth, Virginia lags far behind and is all but ignoring the opportunity to diversify its economy with cleaner energy sources, led by solar and energy efficiency.
Here's the best Super Bowl bet for solar geeks (Charlotte Business Journal) -- The Solar Energy Industry Association has released a list of the “solar champions” among pro sports teams. Both the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks are on it.
Solar power bill passes key Georgia House panel (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) -- Legislation aimed at making it easier and more affordable for Georgia homeowners and small businesses to put solar panels on their rooftops passed a key House panel. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Dudgeon, House Bill 57 clarifies how homeowners can get outside financing of small solar installations. The measure quickly cleared the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee without dissent.
LEDs Will Shine on Super Bowl Sunday (GreenTech Media) -- Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and everyone else at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday (along with properly inflated footballs) will be bathed in the clear, crisp light of LEDs for the first time ever in an NFL championship game. The first considerations were energy savings and efficiency, although light quality, reduced maintenance and better controls were factors as well. The stadium chose Ephesus Lighting fixtures, which are outfitted with Cree LEDs. The system offers nearly double the illumination on the field using about half the number of fixtures.
A look at power evolution (Intelligent Utility) -- Renewable energy resources like wind and solar are a growing part of the nation’s energy mix. Utility companies across the U.S. are leading the way by investing in and integrating these resources into the power grid. Duke Energy recently announced a $500-million commitment to expand solar power in North Carolina.
Getting To Zero Forum (National Journal) -- Join the nation’s leading policymakers, design professionals, building owners and commercial real estate professionals at the 2015 Getting to Zero National Forum to share perspectives on the growth of zero energy buildings, learn about best practices for successful projects and collaborate on opportunities for zero energy to transform the built environment.
N.C. to investigate high Outer Banks gas prices (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot) -- MANTEO, N.C. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper will investigate high gas prices on the Outer Banks, his office announced Friday.
Wildlife Commission asks feds to end red wolf N.C. reintroduction program (AP) — North Carolina wildlife officials are asking the federal government to declare red wolves extinct in the wild and end three decades of efforts to reintroduce the endangered species in the state.
Boosting morale at DENR … with ‘collector’ coins (Policy Watch) -- The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources environmental agency spent $1530 in June buying 500 coins engraved with former DENR Secretary John Skvarla’s name etched on them, in addition to the agency logo and the state seal on the back. A number of the coins, but not all, were handed out to DENR employees as a way for Skvarla to recognize exemplary performance, said Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the agency.
'Public interest' at heart of N.C. water battle (Greensboro News & Record) -- The legal battle centers on who owns water rights on the Yadkin River, ccording to a report from the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation.
Duke Energy spent $45M on Lee nuclear plant in 2014 (Charlotte Business Journal) -- Since proposing the $11 billion W.S. Lee Nuclear Station in 2007, Duke Energy has spent $426.6 million on planning, pre-construction work and licensing.
Election results show education still a NC priority (Asheville Citizen-Times column) -- After Thom Tillis’ decisive win over U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on election night, combined with Republicans maintaining their supermajority in the General Assembly, you might think that voters are satisfied with lawmakers’ work on education in the Tar Heel State. However, you’d be wrong. Look no further than election results right here in Buncombe County to see that education is still a big priority in North Carolina, and the General Assembly still has plenty of work to do in 2015.
The Myth of the Harmless Wrong (New York Times) -- Social conservatives who bemoan the immorality of same-sex marriage typically also decry the harm it wreaks on society. The pundit Alan Keyes calls gay marriage a “social weapon of mass destruction,” while the North Carolina pastor Michael Barrett argues that widespread gay marriage would be “equivalent to a nuclear holocaust.” To liberals, the claim that same-sex marriage is socially harmful is uninformed at best (granting gay rights actually appears to improve a country’s gross domestic product) and shameless fear-mongering at worst. … The key message of our research, and an important step in improving moral dialogue, is to realize that perceptions of harm are psychologically real to the perceiver of immorality. They are not merely concocted to antagonize those with opposing views or to further inflame the passions of sympathizers. In the bright light of moral condemnation, harm is a ubiquitous shadow. If you can’t see it from where you’re standing, just shift your perspective.
Pray at the NCGA? No Way (Women AdvaNCe column) -- As a devout Christian -- and a frequent sayer-of-prayers -- you might expect I'd support public prayer at the start of government meetings. Wrong. Here are four reasons why I want less praying (and more doing) at the North Carolina General Assembly.
We need a real solution to issue (Wilson Times) -- You may have already seen the television commercials with a dire voice warning us that “North Carolinians drive on over 22-hundred structurally deficient bridges every day.”
Public schools aren’t failing (Charlotte Observer column) -- In a stroke of whimsy or irony, two new studies about American education have been released in time to get the most media coverage during School Choice Week.
Strong support for school choice (EdNC column) -- We can celebrate that parents have the right to choose the best educational opportunity for their child. They have the ability to choose a traditional public school, a public charter school, a private school, or a home school. In North Carolina, there are over 1.6 million students. Traditional public schools serve 1.4 million students; private schools serve approximately 100,000 students; there are approximately 100,000 home school students; and approximately 60,000 students attend public charter schools. Next school year up to 3,000 students will have the opportunity to attend a virtual charter school.
Customers should compare health care costs (Wilmington Star-News) -- Two thumbs up to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for its new cost comparison tool.