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Friday Forward News Roundup

NC Voter Registration Lawsuits Proceed Amid Rule Changes

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder has allowed two lawsuits challenging North Carolina's amended same-day voter registration rules to continue, despite recent adjustments made by state election officials. These adjustments were in response to Schroeder's concerns about the constitutionality of a 2023 law that modified the process for disqualifying votes from new registrants during the early voting period. Over 100,000 people used same-day registration in recent presidential elections in North Carolina, highlighting the potential impact of these changes on future elections. The law's disputed provision would disqualify registrants based on a single piece of undeliverable mail, a change from the previous requirement for two. Despite temporary rule changes by the State Board of Elections to address these concerns, the judge ruled the lawsuits could proceed, noting the temporary nature of these adjustments and the possibility of further legislative action. (ABC 13)

Trial Dates Set for North Carolina Election Map Lawsuits

A federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's new state Senate election map will not go to trial before the November general elections, with a potential start date of December 2, 2024, as per court proposals. Concurrently, a state court case led by former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, aiming to establish a constitutional right to "fair" elections in North Carolina, is set for a hearing in May. This dual legal challenge underscores ongoing disputes over the fairness and constitutionality of election redistricting in the state. (Carolina Journal)

Key Districts to Watch in North Carolina General Assembly Elections

In the upcoming elections for the North Carolina General Assembly, 14 districts are considered pivotal in determining the power balance in Raleigh, with Republicans aiming to maintain their veto-proof supermajority. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has highlighted nine House districts and five Senate districts as critical, many located in the Triangle, Charlotte, Wilmington, and Asheville areas. The GOP, having redrawn districts last year, holds just enough seats to override vetoes, making the battle for just one seat crucial for Democrats. Amid national and local campaign focuses, such as healthcare, immigration, and taxation, these districts represent the frontline of political contestation in North Carolina. (CBS 17)

Constitution Party Nears Ballot Access in North Carolina

The Constitution Party is close to regaining its status as an official party in North Carolina, having submitted nearly 15,000 valid signatures to the State Board of Elections—about 1,000 more than required. Al Pisano, the party's chairman, emphasized the patriotic significance of the third-party movement and its commitment to conservative policy positions, including opposition to abortion and support for the Second Amendment. The party aims to run candidates across the ballot once certified, facing a July 1 deadline to nominate candidates for this election year. This effort comes amidst other third-party gains in the state, including the Libertarians, the Green Party, and the recent introduction of the "We the People" party by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (News & Observer)

Green Party Wins Legal Fee Battle Against North Carolina Democrats

A federal judge has ordered the North Carolina Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to pay $6,525 in legal fees to the Green Party, following a dispute over the Green Party's ballot access in 2022. Judge James Dever III criticized some of the Democrats' legal actions as "frivolous" and lacking foundation, highlighting the case's significance not in monetary terms but as a matter of accountability. This order comes after the Green Party's successful lawsuit to gain ballot access for the 2022 elections, despite Democratic efforts to block their inclusion which were deemed likely motivated by electoral competition concerns. (News & Observer)

Durham City Hall Access Dispute Highlights Larger Civic Engagement Issues

During a pivotal public hearing on the 2024-25 fiscal year budget at Durham City Hall on March 18, the conversation extended beyond public worker wages to include significant concerns over public access to meetings. Residents found themselves locked out once the venue reached capacity, sparking a debate between Council member DeDreana Freeman and Mayor Leonardo Williams about the balance between safety and open access. This incident is part of a larger pattern of contention around meeting accessibility, especially following increased public turnout at city council meetings on key issues like city worker wages and a ceasefire resolution. The inconsistency in enforcing access rules has led to frustration among residents, raising questions about transparency and equitable participation in the democratic process. (Indy Week)

Multistate Lawsuit Against Mariner Finance for Predatory Lending

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined forces with attorneys general from multiple states in a bipartisan lawsuit against Mariner Finance, accusing the company of predatory lending practices. The lawsuit highlights violations of consumer protection laws, including undisclosed charges for add-on products and misleading customers about their loans. In 2019 alone, Mariner Finance charged over $121.7 million in premiums and fees for these add-ons, engaging in practices like unsolicited "live checks" and pressuring customers into refinancing with additional hidden fees, fostering a harmful cycle of debt for many individuals. (WCNC)

North Carolina Sees Significant Reading Proficiency Gains in Early Grades

North Carolina's kindergarten through third-grade students have shown a remarkable 22% increase in reading proficiency during the 2023-2024 school year, outpacing the national improvement rate of 13%. The Department of Public Instruction attributes this success to the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, which mandates science of reading training for K-5 literacy educators. Notably, kindergarteners made the most significant progress, with proficiency jumping from 33% to 55% by mid-year. Despite these advances, gaps in achievement among different racial groups remain, highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to support all students. (Carolina Journal)

North Carolina Faces Soaring Teacher Turnover Rate

North Carolina has experienced a significant increase in teacher turnover, with an 11.5% attrition rate reported between March 2022 and March 2023, translating to 10,373 of the state's 90,638 teachers leaving their positions. This 47% increase in the turnover rate represents a pressing challenge for the state, which ranks low nationally in both beginning and average teacher pay. Despite these challenges, school districts have been proactive in hiring new teachers, with 11,023 new hires in September to offset the departures. The state's efforts to improve teacher compensation, including a base salary increase for beginning teachers and an average raise of 7% over two years, aim to address the issue amidst broader concerns about public sector attrition and the effectiveness of current teacher compensation structures. (News & Observer)

Forsyth Tech Enhances Child Care Access for Student Parents

Forsyth Technical Community College is actively improving child care access for student parents through its participation in the Child Care for Student Parents Cohort, led by New America. This initiative is part of a broader effort to address the disproportionate challenges faced by student parents, particularly those attending community colleges. Forsyth Tech has utilized grants to collaborate with a local daycare and launch SPARC care, a program offering drop-in childcare and support services on campus. Despite these advances, funding remains a significant barrier to expanding these vital resources. New America's study aims to explore effective strategies and advocate for systemic policy improvements to support student parents across the nation. (WFAE)

Vice President Harris to Discuss Climate Action in Charlotte

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to visit Charlotte, North Carolina, marking her fourth trip to the state this year. During her visit, she plans to address the Biden Administration's investments in climate action, focusing on the climate crisis, environmental justice, and enhancing capital access for underserved communities. Harris will be accompanied by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and will also inaugurate a campaign field office in Charlotte. Her recent engagements in North Carolina have covered a range of topics from healthcare affordability to economic strengthening and mental health support in schools. (WSOC-TV 9)

North Carolina DMV to Increase Fees Amid Operational Challenges

The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is set to raise its prices by 19.18% in July due to a state law linking fee increases to the Consumer Price Index, which has seen significant growth since 2020. This adjustment will affect around 90 license and registration-related fees, including learner’s permits and vehicle registrations, during the DMV’s busiest season. Despite these hikes and ongoing operational issues at the DMV, the state's fiscal health remains strong, with tax revenues growing and tax rates decreasing. The move comes as state officials and legislators aim to address the DMV's long-standing operational problems, such as appointment availability and service delays, amidst broader discussions on fiscal responsibility and the cost of living. (Carolina Journal)

Asheville Seeks Further Reforms to Tourism Development Authority Funding

In Asheville and Buncombe County, local leaders are advocating for a greater share of the more than $35 million in occupancy tax revenues to be used for community needs rather than marketing. The 2022 bill already adjusted the division of these funds, but further reform is sought to directly support affordable housing, child care, and parking improvements. Sen. Julie Mayfield is preparing legislation to clarify the use of the Tourism Development Authority's (TDA) LIFT Fund to encompass broader support for the tourism industry, including significant community benefits. Despite the push for reform, the allocation of these funds remains a contentious topic, with local officials emphasizing the need for investment in community infrastructure and services to address the challenges of rising tourism and living costs. (Citizen Times)

CarolinaEast Health System Secures $45 Million Line of Credit Due to Cyberattack

CarolinaEast Health System has obtained a $45 million unsecured line of credit to manage operational expenses following a cyberattack on Change Healthcare, a claims management vendor. This attack disrupted the health system's ability to process claims since February 21, causing cash flow problems. Though patient care remains unaffected, there may be delays in claims filing for services received in the past month. The health system anticipates a return to normal cash flow within the next month as Change Healthcare's systems are restored and claims processing resumes. (ABC 45)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Undergoes $19 Million Road Rehabilitation

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the midst of a significant $19 million road rehabilitation project funded by the Great American Outdoors Act, aiming to enhance over 300 miles of roads, bridges, and tunnels within the park. The project, nearing completion, focuses on major repairs and improvements on Lakeview Drive, Newfound Gap Road, Heintooga Ridge Road, and Balsam Mountain Campground Road. Upcoming construction includes pavement, guardrail repairs, and accessibility enhancements, with temporary closures expected to facilitate the work. This initiative underscores the park's commitment to ensuring safe access for its over 13 million annual visitors, supported by federal funding aimed at addressing deferred maintenance across national parks. (Citizen Times)

Morehead Planetarium Hosts Solar Eclipse Party for Rare Celestial Event

The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill is gearing up to host a significant celebration for this year's total solar eclipse on April 8th, with Central North Carolina positioned to witness a partial eclipse where approximately 80% of the sun will be obscured at its peak. The event is expected to draw thousands, offering both indoor and outdoor activities, including live eclipse streaming and astronomy workshops. With over 31 million people across 13 states experiencing the path of totality, this rare occurrence will next be visible in the U.S. in 2044, making the upcoming eclipse a not-to-be-missed event for astronomy enthusiasts. (ABC 11)



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