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Friday Forward News Roundup

A Historical Overview of North Carolina's Experiment with Ranked-Choice Voting

In North Carolina, runoffs occur when no candidate secures 30% of the vote, leading to low voter turnout and high costs, with Wake County spending $1.7 million on such elections. The state experimented with ranked-choice voting (RCV) over a decade ago, beginning with local elections in Cary and Hendersonville in 2007, where it received positive feedback from voters. However, administrative challenges and political shifts led to its discontinuation in 2013. (The Assembly)

Bob Orr Challenges NC Election Maps in "Fair Elections" Lawsuit

Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr is challenging North Carolina's congressional and legislative election maps on behalf of 11 Democratic and unaffiliated voters, arguing that the maps violate the state constitution's guarantee of "fair" elections. Orr's legal team contends that unfair elections undermine other constitutional rights. The lawsuit targets specific districts and seeks a politically neutral redrawing of maps. North Carolina's top Republican legislative leaders have filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing nonjusticiable claims. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for June 13 before a three-judge panel appointed by Chief Justice Paul Newby. (Carolina Journal)

Hal Weatherman Secures Republican Nomination in NC Lieutenant Governor Race

Hal Weatherman won the Republican primary runoff for North Carolina's lieutenant governor race, defeating Forsyth County DA Jim O'Neill with 74% of the vote. Weatherman, endorsed by current Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, will face Democrat Senator Rachel Hunt in November. The primary had less than 3% voter turnout. In the NC Auditor's race, Dave Boliek narrowly defeated Jack Clark and will challenge incumbent Jessica Holmes. In the 13th congressional district, Brad Knott secured over 91% of the vote and will compete against Democrat Frank Pierce, following the withdrawal of Kelly Daughtry. (NC Newsline)

NC Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Mask Exemptions Amid Protests

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have advanced a bill to repeal a pandemic-era law allowing masks in public for health reasons, spurred by masked demonstrators at protests against the Gaza war. The Senate passed the bill 30-15 along party lines, with attempts by Democrats to amend it unsuccessful. The legislation, which also increases penalties for masked individuals committing crimes, now returns to the House. Critics argue the bill endangers immunocompromised individuals, while proponents insist it targets those concealing identities for criminal activities. The House is expected to review the bill within the next two weeks. (WRAL)

NC Treasurer's Report Accuses Hospitals of Misusing 340B Drug Pricing Program

North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell's recent report alleges significant misuse of the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program by state hospitals, claiming it inflates healthcare costs and fails to support disadvantaged communities as intended. The report highlights extreme price markups, with hospitals charging up to 1,120% more than Medicare rates for services, and details instances of hospitals profiting massively from discounted oncology drugs. Folwell's office calls for legislative reforms to increase transparency and accountability, urging lawmakers to address these financial practices that burden state employees and taxpayers. (North State Journal)

NC Political Donor Greg Lindberg and Associate John Gray Convicted Again in Bribery Case

Insurance magnate Greg Lindberg and former consultant John Gray were convicted a second time for attempting to bribe North Carolina’s insurance commissioner for favorable regulatory treatment. A federal jury found them guilty of bribery and conspiracy to commit "honest services wire fraud," with Lindberg and Gray facing up to 30 years in prison. Their initial 2020 convictions were vacated in 2022 due to jury instruction errors. The bribery scheme involved $1.5 million in campaign contributions to Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey's campaign. Causey alerted authorities and cooperated with the investigation. Lindberg also faces separate federal charges for alleged financial misconduct. (WRAL)

Federal Trial Concludes on NC Voter ID Law; Judge’s Ruling Pending

The federal trial challenging North Carolina's photo voter ID law concluded Thursday, with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs expected in the coming weeks. The trial scrutinized whether the 2018 law, which requires photo ID for voting and has faced accusations of racial discrimination, should be upheld or struck down. The trial featured over two dozen witnesses, including prominent figures like Rev. William Barber and Democratic state lawmakers. The outcome could impact voter ID requirements for the upcoming November general election, pending higher court reviews. (Carolina Journal)

Morrisville Proposes FY 2025 Budget with Employee Raises and Tax Adjustments

Morrisville, NC’s FY 2025 budget proposal includes a $58.2 million spending plan, with a recommended property tax rate increase to 35 cents per $100 of assessed value, raising the tax bill for a median-priced home to $1,526. The budget funds 11 new positions, employee raises, and infrastructure improvements, along with the creation of an Economic Development Department. The proposal, supporting projects approved in 2021, must be approved by June 11 before the fiscal year starts on July 1. (News & Observer)

Mecklenburg County Proposes FY 2025 Budget with Tax Increases and Significant Funding for Schools

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio has proposed a $2.5 billion budget for FY 2025, which includes a property tax rate increase from 47.31 to 48.81 cents per $100 assessed value. This would mean about $57 more annually for the owner of a median-priced home. The budget allocates an additional $56.4 million to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, raises for county employees, and funding for housing, health access, and environmental initiatives. County commissioners will review the proposal, with a public hearing on May 23 and a final vote on June 4. (WFAE)

Greensboro Interim City Manager to Present Budget Proposal Amid Fiscal Challenges

Interim City Manager Chris Wilson will present Greensboro’s FY 2025 budget proposal at the city council meeting on Tuesday, highlighting the need to balance uncertain revenues and high costs. The budget is expected to include 4% raises for city employees and an 8.5% increase in water and sewer rates. Specific details on the proposed property tax rate will be revealed during the presentation. The public hearing and vote on the budget are scheduled for June. (News & Record)

Greensboro to Build New Fire Station to Improve Emergency Response Times

The Greensboro Fire Department plans to build a new fire station on West Market Street to address a long-standing gap in their emergency response coverage. Despite having 27 fire stations, the department struggles to reach this area within their target four-minute travel time. The Greensboro City Council has allocated $1.1 million for over three acres of land to construct the new station, aiming to enhance service for the city's growing population. Deputy Chief Dwayne Church emphasizes that the new station is crucial for improving response times and better serving the community. (ABC 45)

Forsyth County Addresses Paramedic Shortages with Incentives

Forsyth County Chairman Don Martin expressed concerns about longer ambulance response times for non-critical injuries. While critical emergencies are handled promptly, less serious cases face delays. The county is addressing this by acquiring four new ambulances and offering financial incentives to paramedics. New hires will receive $5,000 over 18 months, and existing paramedics will get two retention payments totaling $5,000. Recent pay increases have improved vacancy rates, but challenges persist in ensuring timely responses for all emergencies. (ABC 45)

Mebane Named Fastest-Growing City in Piedmont Triad, Driven by Downtown Revitalization and Attractions

New U.S. Census data reveals Mebane as the fastest-growing city in the Piedmont Triad, with a 10.87% population increase from 2020 to 2023, reaching 20,212 residents. Factors contributing to this growth include the upcoming Buc-ees mega gas station and the popular Tanger Outlets. Mayor Ed Hooks attributes much of the growth to Mebane’s revitalized downtown, with its vintage shops, diverse restaurants, and converted historic buildings. In contrast, Greensboro and Winston-Salem experienced slower growth rates of 2.01% and 1.27% respectively during the same period. (FOX 8)

NASCAR Returns to North Wilkesboro Speedway for Second Year with Economic and Historical Impact

The North Wilkesboro Speedway, dormant since 1996, hosted its first Cup Series-sanctioned event in 2023 after receiving $18 million in federal funds for improvements. The event, featuring Kyle Larson's victory, brought significant economic benefits to North Carolina, including $42.4 million to the statewide economy and creating 625 jobs. This year, the historic track will host the NASCAR All-Star Race again, alongside other races and events. Renovations revealed a moonshine cave, highlighting NASCAR's roots. The winner's trophy will be a replica copper moonshine still, paying homage to the sport's history. (WUNC)

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Advocate for Accountability in Private School Voucher Program

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) are pushing for increased accountability for private schools receiving state vouchers, as the North Carolina General Assembly prepares to allocate $463 million to clear waitlists for opportunity scholarships. The expansion removes income caps, allowing any family, regardless of income, to receive vouchers. CMS board members argue that private schools should adhere to the same standards as public schools, including testing and teacher qualifications, if they receive taxpayer funding. This move aligns with similar calls from Wake County Public Schools. Critics highlight that funds would be better spent on underfunded public schools, which serve 85% of North Carolina's children. (Charlotte Observer)

UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees Vote to Reallocate $2.3 Million from DEI to Public Safety

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Board of Trustees voted to remove $2.3 million allocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in next year's budget, aiming to redirect the funds towards public safety. Trustee Dave Boliek, running for state Auditor, advocated for the reallocation, citing the need for enhanced campus security. Trustee Marty Kotis expressed that DEI represents divisiveness to many, emphasizing the need for unity and safety, especially following recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations that led to property damage and increased security costs. The decision aligns with the UNC Board of Governors' ongoing review of DEI policies. (NC Newsline)

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Protesters Disrupt Board Meeting Over DEI Fund Reallocation

Student protesters interrupted a UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees committee meeting, voicing opposition to the reallocation of $2.3 million from diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to public safety. Chanting "disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest," the protesters were escorted out by university police while distributing fliers targeting Trustee Marty Kotis, a vocal supporter of the funding shift. The Board of Trustees had cited recent campus protests as a reason for increased funding for campus law enforcement. Discussions also included potential financial penalties for damage caused during protests. The full Board of Trustees approved a $4.5 billion budget request, pending review by the UNC Board of Governors, which will soon vote on removing DEI policy requirements across public universities in North Carolina. (WFAE)

Anniversary of NC Abortion Law Override Highlights Key Issue in Upcoming Gubernatorial Race

One year ago, the North Carolina legislature overrode Governor Roy Cooper's veto, enacting a law that bans abortions after 12 weeks except in certain medical emergencies. The bill, known as the "Care for Women, Children, and Families Act," passed swiftly, with the Senate voting 29-20 and the House 71-46. As the election approaches, candidates reaffirm their positions: Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson supports a near-total abortion ban with exceptions, Libertarian Mike Ross advocates for reduced government interference in healthcare, and Democrat Josh Stein opposes the ban, advocating for reproductive freedoms. Abortion remains a pivotal issue for voters in North Carolina. (Queen City News)

Hendersonville Tackles Housing Crisis with Rezoning and Innovative Solutions

At an event addressing the housing crisis in western North Carolina, UCLA researcher Shane Phillips emphasized the widespread impact on both buyers and renters. Hendersonville, facing a poverty rate of 16.6%, is exploring unique solutions to its housing challenges. Phillips proposed rental pensions, middle housing options like four-plexes and small condo buildings, and spreading the growth burden to stabilize land prices and reduce development costs. These strategies aim to make housing more affordable and boost local contractor businesses. Hendersonville's City Council recently approved rezoning for an affordable housing project, reflecting the urgency of these initiatives. (ABC 13)

NC Senate Advances Bill to Try More Youths in Adult Court for Serious Crimes

North Carolina's Senate passed a bill, 41-4, to try more 16- and 17-year-olds in adult court for serious crimes, revising the 2019 "Raise the Age" law. The bill aims to ease juvenile court caseloads by transferring cases involving serious felonies directly to adult court. Critics argue this change undermines juvenile justice reforms designed to reduce recidivism and provide young offenders with rehabilitation services. The bill also introduces a process for moving cases back to juvenile court if agreed upon by both parties. Additionally, the Senate approved a bill modernizing sex-related crimes, including new offenses related to artificial intelligence and sexual extortion. (WWAY 3)

Tenants Fight for Compensation Amid Disrepair and Evictions in Durham Properties Inherited by Lynch Family

Tenants of four East Durham properties, inherited by Leonzo and Loretta Lynch, are fighting for compensation due to severe disrepair, including crumbling foundations and infestations. A magistrate awarded up to $10,000 each, but appeals have delayed payments. Legal Aid of North Carolina represents the tenants, who have lived rent-free for over a year, as they face eviction and continue to reside in unsafe conditions. (Indy Week)

The Rise of Neurotechnology and the Implications and Ethical Concerns

Wearable neurotechnology is becoming more prevalent, with devices like the Frenz Brainband and Meta's prototypes tracking brain waves to improve sleep, focus, and cognitive fitness. These devices are already available online, and more are expected soon. However, experts like Nita Farahany from Duke University warn about the ethical and privacy concerns, especially in contexts like workplace surveillance and education, where such technology could lead to invasive monitoring. (CBS 17)

NCInnovation Awards $5.2 Million in Initial Grants to UNC System Projects

NCInnovation, a new $500 million taxpayer-backed state program, awarded its first grants totaling $5.2 million to eight projects across seven UNC System universities. The grants, aimed at commercializing university research, fund initiatives such as lithium refining, honeybee hive production, and solutions for power-grid failures. Projects were chosen for their advanced stage and proof of concept. NCInnovation emphasizes supporting research outside the Triangle, with regional hubs at UNC-Charlotte, North Carolina A&T, East Carolina University, and Western Carolina University. (News & Observer)

Statue of Rev. Billy Graham Unveiled in U.S. Capitol

A statue of Rev. Billy Graham was unveiled on May 16, 2024, as North Carolina's contribution to the Statuary Hall Collection, replacing a statue of white supremacist Charles Aycock. The ceremony, attended by various state and national leaders, highlighted Graham's global ministry and his influence as a preacher and advisor to presidents. Despite some criticism regarding Graham's legacy, North Carolina lawmakers celebrated his contributions to faith and unity, with the statue symbolizing a significant and positive change in the state's representation in the Capitol. (News & Observer)

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