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Friday Forward News Roundup

Debate Over Constitutional Right to Fair Elections in North Carolina

Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr argues before a three-judge panel that North Carolinians have a constitutional right to fair elections, challenging the current election maps drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, claims these maps violate the concept of fair elections, while state legislative leaders seek to dismiss the case. The panel's decision on whether to proceed with the case remains pending. (Carolina Journal)

Democrats Challenge Third-Party Ballot Access in North Carolina

Three political parties, We the People, Justice for All, and the Constitution Party of North Carolina, have submitted petitions with enough verified signatures to be recognized by the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE). This recognition would allow them to place candidates on the November ballot. However, the Democratic Party is attempting to keep two of these parties, We the People and Justice for All, off the ballot, citing concerns over their legitimacy and potential impact on President Biden's vote count. The SBE, with a 3-2 Democratic majority, will vote on the recognition of these parties in an upcoming meeting. (John Locke Foundation)

North Carolina Senate Leader Threatens to Halt Budget Talks Over Spending Dispute

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger announced that Senate Republicans are ready to abandon budget negotiations if the House does not agree to lower its proposed spending levels. House Speaker Tim Moore plans to present a House budget offering higher raises for teachers and state employees, citing a $1 billion surplus. Berger emphasized the Senate's refusal to spend additional reserves, creating a significant impasse. Without a resolution by June 30, the Senate may leave Raleigh, affecting funds for private school scholarships and child care. (WRAL)

North Carolina House Votes to Modify Juvenile Justice Law

At a February meeting, Chuck Spahos from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys affirmed support for the 2019 "Raise the Age" legislation, which stops 16- and 17-year-olds from being automatically charged in adult court. However, he also supported recent House-passed modifications allowing certain violent crimes by teens to be tried in adult court. Critics, including Rep. Marcia Morey, argue the changes undermine juvenile justice progress and may harm teens' future prospects. The bill now awaits the governor's decision. (The Assembly)

Governor Cooper Prioritizes Gun Violence Reduction and Law Enforcement Support

Governor Roy Cooper emphasized reducing gun violence and improving gun safety education at the Governor’s Crime Commission meeting. With firearm injuries now the leading cause of injury deaths among children in North Carolina, Cooper highlighted the need for action, noting that an average of five North Carolinians die daily from firearm injuries. He also stressed the importance of supporting law enforcement amid employee shortages, advocating for better pay, benefits, and mental health resources. Additionally, Cooper called for increased support for crime victims, including those affected by sexual abuse and senior citizens. The next crime commission meeting is set for September 5. (FOX 8)

NC Bill Aims to Regulate Predatory Towing and Booting Practices

House Bill 1024, introduced by North Carolina representatives, seeks to address predatory towing and booting practices through the establishment of a regulatory commission. The bill, supported by area representatives, would set standards, maximum fees, and review complaints. Over the past five years, 627 complaints have been filed with the state’s Attorney General’s office. The bill would prohibit towing companies from booting vehicles with occupants inside and from booting tow trucks. It also aims to limit storage and credit card fees, promoting fair practices within the towing industry. (CBS 17)

NC Insurance Commissioner Announces Settlement on Dwelling Insurance Rate Increase

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey announced a settlement with the North Carolina Rate Bureau (NCRB) reducing a proposed 50% increase in dwelling insurance rates to 8%, saving consumers $151.7 million annually. Dwelling insurance, distinct from homeowners' insurance, covers non-owner-occupied residences. The agreement avoids a costly hearing scheduled for July 22. While Causey highlights the benefits of negotiation, some, including State Sen. Natasha Marcus, have criticized the lack of a public hearing on the rate changes. Causey continues to review a separate 42.2% homeowners' insurance rate increase, with a hearing set for October. (Carolina Journal)

Sylva Town Board to Vote on 2024-25 Budget

Sylva's town board will vote on the 2024-25 budget, totaling $4,505,105. The largest expense is police protection at $1.8 million, with the mayor and town board services costing $40,000. The primary revenue sources include $2.1 million from property taxes, $111,000 from vehicle taxes, and $435,000 from ABC revenue. The budget includes a 3% cost of living adjustment and up to a 2% merit increase for full-time employees. Additionally, the Police Department will replace two vehicles with new patrol SUVs costing $125,987. The agenda also includes a discussion on creating an Economic Development Board to assist business owners. (The Sylva Herald)

GOP Candidate Michelle Morrow Competitive in NC Superintendent Race

Despite criticism, Republican candidate Michelle Morrow trails Democrat Green by just 3% (43% to 40%) in a poll of North Carolina voters, with 16% undecided. Morrow, a political newcomer, defeated incumbent Catherine Truitt in the GOP primary and continues her grassroots activism. Green, former superintendent of Guilford County Schools, faces skepticism due to his association with the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The poll suggests partisan affiliation will likely determine voter decisions, with the presidential race also influencing outcomes. Other findings show Democrat Josh Stein leading Republican Mark Robinson for governor, and Democrat Jeff Jackson slightly ahead in the attorney general race. (Carolina Journal)

Alamance-Burlington School System May Have Violated State Law in Mold Remediation Efforts

The Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS) potentially violated state laws and district policies during last year's mold remediation, according to a letter from the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations to NC state Sen. Amy Galey. The commission raised concerns about ABSS's lack of transparent decision-making in selecting remediation companies and adherence to pricing protocols. Additionally, ABSS reportedly exceeded its budget by over $4 million in various funds. Galey emphasized the need for school boards to ensure laws and policies are followed and urged a collaborative approach to improve outcomes for Alamance County's children. (CBS 17)

Carteret County School Board Appeals Ruling on School Calendar

The Carteret County Board of Education unanimously voted to appeal a judge's decision invalidating the district's planned start date of August 13, nearly two weeks earlier than state law permits. The lawsuit, filed by two surf shops and a seafood restaurant, argued the early start harms local businesses. The 2004 law, influenced by tourism lobbyists, aims to protect late-summer tourism. School board members argue the law violates the state constitution by not offering equal educational opportunities, as charter and private schools are exempt. The board seeks a stay to maintain their schedule while the appeal is pending. (WUNC)

UNC Asheville to Cut Four Departments Amid Budget Shortfall and Enrollment Decline

UNC Asheville will phase out four academic departments—Ancient Mediterranean studies, Drama, Philosophy, and Religious studies—and curtail French and German concentrations in its Languages and Literatures department due to a $6 million budget shortfall and declining enrollment. Current students can complete their degrees, but future admissions will cease. Chancellor Kimberly van Noort announced the cuts after an "academic portfolio review," impacting 3.5% of the student body. These measures, pending approval from the UNC System Board of Governors, aim to stabilize enrollment between 3,800 and 4,000 students by 2030. Similar cuts have been observed at other universities, reflecting a broader trend of financial strain in higher education. (News & Observer)

NC Medicare Advantage Plan to See Premium Increases for Retirees and Dependents in 2025

The North Carolina State Health Plan Board of Trustees has voted to increase monthly premiums for 4,200 non-vested retirees and 22,000 dependents on the Medicare Advantage base plan from $0 to $33 starting January 1, 2025. The change, aimed at maintaining adequate reserves, will not affect 160,000 retired members or active employees. The decision follows an inability to renegotiate a contract extension with Humana, influenced by the Inflation Reduction Act's redesign of Medicare Part D. Additional factors include a $240 million budget shortfall, unreimbursed COVID costs, and rising expenses for weight-loss medications. The board will also withdraw $155 million from the Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund to stabilize reserves. (Carolina Journal)

Dave Ramsey Recommends Roth IRAs for Workers Without Employer-Sponsored 401(k) Plans

Dave Ramsey highlights Roth IRAs as the top retirement savings option for those without employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Roth IRAs, unlike traditional IRAs, allow tax-free growth and withdrawals since taxes are paid upfront. Although Roth IRAs have lower contribution limits ($7,000 for under 50, $8,000 for over 50 in 2024) compared to 401(k)s ($23,000 and $30,500, respectively), they offer significant tax advantages. Ramsey advises against indirect rollovers from 401(k)s to IRAs to avoid penalties and suggests considering tax implications carefully when converting traditional 401(k)s to Roth IRAs. Eligibility for Roth IRAs requires earned income below $230,000 for couples or $146,000 for singles in 2024. (News & Observer)

Rocky Mount Launches Free Downtown WiFi to Boost Growth

Rocky Mount has introduced a free public WiFi network across its downtown area, aiming to spur growth and close the digital divide. The $259,000 project, completed under budget, is expected to attract new businesses and support existing ones like Kafe Louverture, which relocated from Brooklyn. With 13% of North Carolina households lacking internet access, the initiative is a significant step toward bridging the connectivity gap. The new network, accessible under "Connect Rocky Mount," will enhance the city's appeal and provide essential internet access to residents and visitors alike. (ABC 11)

Locals Seafood Expands to Bring Fresh NC Seafood to Inland Markets

Locals Seafood, co-founded by Lin Peterson and Ryan Speckman, has expanded with a new East Raleigh market and processing facility, enhancing its ability to distribute North Carolina seafood across the state. The company focuses exclusively on local seafood, using a network of refrigerated trucks to transport fresh catches from coastal hubs like Wanchese to inland areas, including Asheville and Raleigh. The new facility triples processing capacity, enabling better access to fresh seafood for restaurants and consumers. This expansion aligns with Locals Seafood's mission to reconnect North Carolina's coastal harvest with its inland communities, promoting sustainability and supporting local fishermen. (Indy Week)

VP Kamala Harris Highlights Economic Policies in Charlotte Visit

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Charlotte as part of her Economic Opportunity Tour, focusing on investments in communities and building wealth. Joined by Governor Roy Cooper and Mayor Vi Lyles, Harris discussed the administration's economic policies at Johnson C. Smith University. The tour emphasizes actions taken during the Biden-Harris Administration, including increased access to capital, small business investments, housing cost reductions, and student loan forgiveness. Harris highlighted the importance of these policies reaching local communities and addressing economic factors contributing to crime. This visit marks her fifth to North Carolina in 2024, underscoring the administration's commitment to the state's economic growth and stability. (WCNC)

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