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Friday Forward News Roundup

Former Supreme Court Justice Sues North Carolina Over Gerrymandering, Seeking Historical Ruling to Define "Fair" Elections

Former state Supreme Court justice, Bob Orr, is suing North Carolina on behalf of a group of voters, arguing elections are non-competitive that it’s a violation of voters’ constitutional rights. North Carolina is incredibly competitive in statewide races. However, only about a dozen of the 170 state legislature seats are expected to be competitive this year and in future elections under the current maps that Republican legislative leaders approved late last year. Analyses of the new maps show that Republicans are expected to retain large majorities in the state legislature — possibly veto-proof supermajorities — even if most voters statewide cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. A similar pattern is seen in the new congressional map, which is likely to give Republicans a 10-4 or 11-3 advantage. Orr argues this is a violation of the state constitution’s guarantee of fair elections. The lawsuit filed differs from the others because it seeks to have the court declare that citizens have the right to fair elections under the state constitution (WRAL, Carolina Journal, NC Newsline)

North Carolina Changes Same-Day Voter Registration Rules

North Carolina has implemented new election laws that affect absentee ballots and same-day registration. If you vote absentee, you must have that in my office by 7:30 on election night on the day of the statewide primary, general election, or county bond election. Same-day registration is still a possibility, but you must complete an application, show your ID and provide proof of residency for the county to verify. (WCNC)

North Carolina Expands School Voucher Program

Parents across North Carolina are taking advantage of new rules that expand who can get a voucher to help pay for education cost. The online application period for the Opportunity Scholarship program opened on February 1. Now a family’s income will only determine whether they’ll receive between $3,360 and $7,468 per child for the 2024-25 school year. The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA ) has up to $293.5 million it can award for scholarships for the 2024-25 school year. The application period runs until March 1 and is not first-come, first served. (News & Observer)

North Carolina High School Students Set Record for Career and Technical Education Credentialing 

North Carolina high school students set a recent record for Career and Technical Education (CTE) credentialing during the 2022-2023 school year, according to fresh data from the state Department of Public Instruction. CTE students scored a 41% credential attainment rate last school year, a jump from 28% in 2021-2022 and the highest rate in the last 13 years. DPI data also show a 44% increase in credential attainment that aligns with the North Carolina Workforce Credentials partner list. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt underscored the importance of CTE credentialing because they represent a work-ready credential that doesn’t require a four-year college degree. (Carolina Journal)

US Economy Adds 353,000 Jobs in January

The nation’s employers delivered a stunning hiring report, adding 353,000 jobs in January. This was roughly twice what economists had predicted and topped the revised December gain of 333,000. The report pointed to broad hiring gains across the economy. Professional and business services, a category that includes managers and technical workers, added 74,000 jobs. Healthcare companies added 70,000, retailers 45,000, governments at all levels 36,000 and manufacturers 23,000. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7%. Average hourly pay climbed to 0.6% from December, the fastest monthly gain in nearly two years, and 4.5% from January 2023. (WRAL)

LGBTQ Advocacy Group Files Title IX Complaint Against North Carolina Over Parents’ Bill of Rights Law

The Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality has filed a federal Title IX complaint against North Carolina, alleging that the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights and a law barring female transgender athletes from playing on girls’ teams create a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ students. The group is seeking intervention from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, citing instances of transgender students being outed to unsympathetic parents and the removal of LGBTQ materials from schools. (News & Observer)

NC State Board of Education Reports Increase in Crime and Suspension Numbers

Data released by the State Board of Education showed an 18% increase in acts of school crime and acts of violence between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. There was also a 14% increase in the number of short-term suspensions during that time period. Drug offenses account for 54% of school crimes, 24% was related to possession of a weapon, and 11% was related to assault on school personnel. Total number of short-term suspension was 247,454 or 16.46 per 100 students. (News & Observer)

North Carolina Joins Nationwide Effort to Improve Outcomes for Freed Prisoners

North Carolina has joined a nationwide effort to improve outcomes for prisoners who return to society, focusing on education, healthcare, and housing. Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order aiming to reduce recidivism through formal training and workforce tools for incarcerated people. More than 18,000 people are released annually from the dozens of North Carolina adult correctional facilities facing obstacles to a fresh start from their criminal record. The state has set ambitious goals, such as increasing the number of high school and post-secondary degrees or skills credentials earned by incarcerated people by 75% by 2030. (CBS 17)

Duke Energy Expedites Plans for New Hydrogen-Capable Natural Gas Power Plant

Duke Energy is expediting plans to build a new hydrogen-capable natural gas power plant in Person County, North Carolina. The decision comes in response to increased power demands due to population growth and business expansion in the state. This January alone has seen 14,000 new business applications filed. Small businesses are driving a lot of that expansion. Last year, North Carolina saw the second most filings ever for small businesses, with more than 171,000 new entities registered. The record for most new small businesses was set in 2021 when more than 178,000 filed. (ABC 11)

City of Durham Sues Durham Housing Authority Over Alleged Disability-Based Discrimination

The City of Durham has reportedly sued the Durham Housing Authority twice in the past year (one filed on March 28, 2023 and the other on January 22, 2024) over alleged disability-based discrimination. In both cases, the City of Durham’s lawsuit alleges that DHA was aware of the resident’s disability, that a transfer was necessary, and that other residents in similar situations have been treated differently. The lawsuit also alleges that DHA failed to respond within the appropriate time window and that the continual delay in response to requests amounted to a denial of accommodation. (Indy Week)

First Lady Jill Biden to Visit Forsyth Technical Community College

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on January 26. During her visit, she discussed the President’s economic policies. (Queen City News)

North Carolina Sees High Growth of Single Women Buying Homes

Single women own more homes than single men — in North Carolina and across the country. Single women mortgage applicants made up 18% of the market in 2023. Census data shows single women own close to 14% of North Carolina homes, compared to just over 9% of single men. (Axios Raleigh)

Blue Ridge Parkway Saw 16.7 Million Visitors in 2023 — More Than Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite

A total of 16.7 million people traversed the Blue Ridge Parkway last year, a 6% increase over 2022, according to preliminary numbers from the National Park Service. Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw nearly 13.3 million visitors last year, according to the preliminary figures. While official numbers have not been released yet, the 469-mile-long parkway, which winds atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, likely saw more visitors in 2023 than any other national park. Despite the year-over-year increase, 2023 did not mark the Blue Ridge Parkway’s highest-ever year for visitors. According to National Park Service statistics, the parkway saw more than 17 million visitors for most years from 1985 to 2007, with visitation reaching a peak of 21.5 million in 2002. (WFAE)

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