NC PRISON GUARDS FREQUENTLY SKIP INSPECTION ROUNDS LEADING TO UNNECESSARY INJURIES AND DEATHS: Early one winter morning in 2012, officers at an eastern North Carolina prison found inmate Willis Gravley hanging from a bed sheet. He’d been dead for hours. His death raised a question: Why didn’t officers at Bertie Correctional Institution stop Gravley from killing himself – or why, at least, didn’t they find his body earlier? Prison investigators later found that officers in Gravley’s unit had been skipping a crucial part of their job for years: doing the required 30-minute security checks. Instead, officers falsified prison records to indicate they had made their rounds, according to dismissal letters issued to some officers involved. In some of North Carolina’s most dangerous prisons, officers routinely fail to make their rounds, a Charlotte Observer investigation found.
2017 A YEAR FULL OF COURTROOM CHALLENGES FROM GOVERNOR COOPER: Cooper squared off against the GOP-controlled legislature in and out of court, issuing legal challenges to several laws passed by the General Assembly as well as 14 vetoes. Lawmakers overrode 10 of those vetoes and tweaked legislation to bypass another. Many of the court cases weren't handled so easily, as lawsuits over a proposed combination of state elections and ethics boards, the size of the North Carolina Court of Appeals and who's in charge at the state Department of Public Instruction remain unresolved. As the federal courts settled long-running lawsuits over voter ID and the legality of state House and Senate voting districts (GOP legislative leaders lost on both counts), new challenges arose as lawmakers tried to rejigger voting districts. The maps to be used in the 2018 elections haven't been settled yet but will likely go a long way toward deciding the balance of power in the General Assembly in the coming years. Legislative plans to overhaul North Carolina's judicial system by redrawing districts for trial court judges and possibly shifting to a system of lawmakers appointing people to the bench or retention elections for sitting judges, also created a stir late in the year.
IRS SAYS PAYING 2018 PROPERTY TAXES IN 2017 IS A TRICK THAT JUST WON'T WORK: In Wake County, 560 taxpayers have prepaid about $2.3 million in 2018 property taxes, according to Marcus Kinrade, the county’s director of revenue. Orange County has gotten hundreds of requests to prepay, and the majority of people in line Wednesday in Durham County were there to prepay, according to officials there. But according to guidelines released by the IRS on Wednesday, North Carolinians may be out of luck. Property taxes in North Carolina are not assessed until July after counties set rates. Payments are due Sept. 1, but not considered late until Jan. 5. That makes North Carolina counties like the hypothetical county in what the IRS guidelines call Example 2. In that example, taxpayers who prepay their 2018 property taxes in 2017 “will not be allowed to deduct the prepayment on their federal tax returns because the county will not assess the property tax for the 2018-2019 tax year until July 1, 2018.”
TRUMP HAS TWITTER TANTRUM ABOUT CHINA TRANSFERRING OIL TO NORTH KOREA: President Donald Trump attacked China on Thursday following reports that Chinese ships transferred oil to North Korean vessels at sea in violation of U.N. sanctions over the North’s nuclear weapons program. Trump said on Twitter that China had been “Caught RED HANDED,” adding he was “very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea.” “There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!” the president said, without citing the source of his information. China accounts for the vast majority of North Korea’s external trade and oil supplies. Just two weeks ago, Trump credited China for its help in the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang, including support for three U.N. Security Council resolutions this year — the latest last week — over the North’s nuclear and missile tests. However, on Tuesday the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo cited unidentified South Korean government officials as saying U.S. reconnaissance satellites have spotted Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels some 30 times since October in seas off China. That report was picked up by some U.S. media outlets, including Fox News.
RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA SALES IN CALIFORNIA OFF TO A SLOW START: Marijuana legalization arrives Monday in California with lots of hoopla, but only a handful of cities will initially have retail outlets ready to sell recreational pot. By Thursday afternoon, California had issued only 42 retail licenses. Another 150 applications were pending and regulators planned to work a second straight weekend to review them. Los Angeles and San Francisco were late to approve local regulations, meaning no recreational pot shops there will open their doors Monday. The lucky few outlets with licenses — mainly in San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Palm Springs area and Santa Cruz — think they have an edge being first out of the gate. But excitement about California joining the growing list of states and Washington, D.C., with legal recreational weed is tempered with the stresses of ensuring shelves are stocked in the face of uncertain demand.