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Friday Forward News Roundup

North Carolina Republicans at Budget Impasse Over Earmark Spending

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly are at a stalemate over the state budget, with Senate leader Phil Berger opposing the House's proposal to spend $1 billion from state reserves on earmarks. The state has a $1 billion revenue surplus this year, but the House wants to use both the surplus and reserve funds, which Berger argues is fiscally unwise given economic uncertainties. House leaders counter that their budget priorities include salaries and childcare, and they dispute Berger's characterization of their spending plans. (News & Observer)

Governor Cooper Vetoes Transportation Bill Over Billboard Rule Changes

Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a transportation bill that includes changes to billboard regulations, which he argued would harm the state's natural beauty. The bill permits billboard owners to cut down more vegetation, including protected redbud trees. While the bill passed with some bipartisan support, Republicans, who have narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers, plan to attempt an override. (CBS 17)

House Committee Moves to Repeal Automatic Expunctions in North Carolina

A North Carolina House committee approved legislation to repeal the automatic expunction of criminal records, a process initiated by a bipartisan 2020 law to remove records of dismissed charges and "not guilty" verdicts without a formal request. The automatic expunction process, which began in 2021, faced operational challenges, leading to its suspension in 2022. The new bill, led by GOP Rep. Sarah Stevens, cites unresolved technical and legal issues and suggests retaining the petition-based process instead. Criminal justice advocates argue that the repeal would undermine efforts to remove barriers posed by criminal records. (ABC 11)

NC Attorney General Seeks Funds to Combat Fentanyl Trafficking and Address Law Enforcement Vacancies

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, also the Democratic nominee for governor, is seeking additional funds to hire staff for a fentanyl control unit and a cold case unit within his office. Stein aims to tackle the state's fentanyl crisis, which saw nearly 3,400 overdose deaths in 2022, and to address longstanding sexual assault cases. He also proposes a $23 million package to provide bonuses and stipends to law enforcement recruits and officers to alleviate staffing shortages in police departments and jails. This initiative aims to support local law enforcement and enhance public safety. (WCNC)

NC House Rejects Senate Mask Restriction Bill Over Health Concerns

North Carolina House Republicans are opposing a Senate bill that removes the public health exception from the state's mask ban, raising concerns about potential arrests of individuals wearing masks for medical reasons. The bill, supported by Senate Republicans to facilitate police actions during protests, faces criticism for its potential negative impact on individuals with weakened immune systems. House Republicans, including Rep. Erin Pare and Rep. John Torbett, advocate for reinstating the health exception while maintaining increased penalties for crimes committed while wearing masks. The NC House ultimately rejected the Senate bill that would restrict the wearing of masks in public. Legal experts warned that the bill could be struck down if enforced against individuals wearing masks for medical reasons. (WRAL, Carolina Journal)

Key Considerations for Durham's 2024-2025 Fiscal Year Budget

Durham City Manager Wanda Page will present her recommendations for the city's 2024-2025 fiscal year budget at the city council meeting, highlighting several critical issues. The budget presentation will signal the council's priorities, focusing on public safety, employee compensation, transportation infrastructure, support for small businesses, and potential tax increases. The city council will hold a second public hearing on June 3 and take a final vote on the budget on June 17. (Indy Week)

UNC System Abolishes DEI Policy, Introduces Non-Discrimination and Equality Policy

The Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina System voted to eliminate its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policy, affecting 17 colleges and universities, including UNC Charlotte. This decision reallocates $2.3 million in DEI funds to public safety. The new policy emphasizes "institutional neutrality" on political issues while allowing students and professors to express their views. Staff and administrators, however, are required to exercise restraint. UNC Charlotte Chancellor Dr. Sharon Gaber stated the university must comply with the new policy by September 1. (FOX 8)

NC Bill Proposes Overhaul of School Grading System

A proposed bill in the North Carolina General Assembly aims to revamp the state's method of evaluating and grading public schools, aligning with Superintendent Catherine Truitt's earlier recommendations. House Bill 1057, the School Performance Grade Pilot, proposes a new grading formula: 50% based on student performance, 30% on academic growth, and 20% on criteria set by the NC Department of Public Instruction. The pilot program will start in select schools in the 2024-2025 school year, expanding statewide by 2025-2026. The new system would focus on four pillars: academics, progress, readiness, and opportunity. However, some education experts, like Dr. Robert Luebke from the John Locke Foundation, criticize the shift away from primarily academic metrics. (Carolina Journal)

End of ESSER Funds Poses Financial Challenge for Buncombe County Schools

As federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds wind down, Buncombe County faces significant budget challenges for public education. The county has doubled its education funding since 2014, with the commission providing substantial salary supplements for K-12 schools. Despite this, there remains a pressing need for additional staff such as counselors and social workers. Buncombe County Schools requested nearly $13.5 million for the FY24 budget but may only receive $3.4 million. The county also faces a $28 million budget deficit, exacerbated by insufficient state funding for education. Potential cuts could significantly impact staffing and resources, creating a challenging environment for the upcoming school year. (ABC 13)

Alarming Increase in Work Zone Crashes on NC Roads

A new survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Heavy Construction Systems Specialists reveals that 84% of construction firms in North Carolina reported vehicle crashes into work sites over the past year. Of the more than 700 contractors surveyed, 73% witnessed crashes involving injuries, with 24% involving construction worker deaths and 29% involving driver or passenger fatalities. Factors contributing to the high crash rates include increased traffic due to area growth, phone usage while driving, and speed. The AGC is urging Congress to implement measures such as mandatory work zone safety courses for new drivers and increased fines for speeding in work zones to enhance safety. Officials emphasize the need for drivers to slow down and stay attentive, particularly in work zones. (CBS 17)

Contractor Disputes NC DMV's Claims on License Production Delays

A dispute has arisen between the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV) and its contractor IDEMIA over delays in the production of licenses and IDs. NCDMV notified customers of delays beyond the normal 15-day period, with some waiting up to six weeks. Commissioner Wayne Goodwin attributed the delays to IDEMIA, while IDEMIA countered that the NCDMV provided faulty renewal records, leading to a manual review process and subsequent backlog. Production resumed after a 10-day halt, and an additional factory was approved only in May. IDEMIA criticized Goodwin's statements as misleading, and state lawmakers, frustrated by the situation, are considering reforms and greater oversight of the NCDMV. (CBS 17)

NC Medicaid Expansion to Address Employment Barriers for Low-Income Residents

Medicaid expansion in North Carolina has provided health insurance to over 450,000 residents and is now set to include a plan to improve job opportunities. State lawmakers require the DHHS to collaborate with the Department of Commerce to address employment barriers for Medicaid recipients. The initiative, beginning this May, aims to upskill employed individuals without imposing work requirements, with the goal of integrating supportive job services and boosting workforce participation. (NC Health News)

Major Retailers Cut Prices Despite Ongoing Inflation

As Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer season, major retailers like Target, Walmart, and Aldi are reducing prices to offer some relief amidst persistent inflation. The Consumer Price Index showed a 3.4% rise in prices in April compared to last year, down from 4.9% the previous year. Target plans to reduce prices on around 5,000 items, with some deals already available for summer essentials. Despite these efforts, local economist Michael Walden warns that not all retailers will follow suit, and prices won't return to pre-pandemic levels. (CBS 17)

The CARes Project Offers Car Loans to Low-Income Workers in North Carolina

The CARes Project provides car loans to low-income, credit-challenged individuals in Forsyth, Davidson, and Davie counties, with Forsyth receiving 73% of the loans in 2023. CEO Scott McLaughlin highlights that the average FICO score of clients is 450. The program aims to boost financial independence through car loans, with recipients' credit scores increasing by an average of 150 points after loan repayment. Applicants must meet specific income guidelines, have a North Carolina license, and be open to financial coaching. Loans can go up to $15,000 with a multi-year repayment period. The CARes Act has helped 73 families and given over 700,000 dollars since 2018. They hope to expand to more counties in years to come. (ABC 45)

DOJ's Marijuana Reclassification Sparks Discussion on North Carolina Legal Impacts

Following the DOJ's reclassification of marijuana to a Schedule III drug, ABC11 explored potential impacts on North Carolina's legal system. Triangle District Attorneys, including Wake County DA Lorrin Freeman and Orange County DA Jeff Nieman, noted a shift away from prioritizing low-level marijuana charges. Freeman observed a decline in marijuana-related prosecutions and custody cases, while Nieman emphasized that deprioritizing these charges could alleviate prosecutors' workloads. Both DAs acknowledged a rise in violent crimes linked to illegal marijuana trade, with Nieman suggesting that legalization might reduce such violence. As more states legalize marijuana, Freeman anticipates North Carolina might follow, with legislative discussions possibly underway this year. (ABC 11)

Decline of Local Newspapers and the Future of Regional Media in North Carolina

Over the past two decades, nearly 70% of jobs at U.S. newspapers have vanished, with daily circulation dropping from over 60 million copies in the 1990s to under 21 million today. In North Carolina, the number of active local newspapers decreased by 22% between 2004-2019, with total circulation falling by 38%. Six counties in the state now lack a local paper, and two-thirds of counties are considered "news deserts." The decline is largely due to the collapse of advertising revenue, exacerbated by the rise of the internet and social media. Many remaining newspapers are owned by large conglomerates, leading to "ghost newspapers" that no longer serve their local communities. New media models are emerging, such as ideologically driven outlets like the Carolina Journal and NC Newsline and subscription-based digital magazines like The Assembly. The future of regional media will depend on public demand for local news and the development of sustainable business models. (Carolina Forward)

The Story Behind May 20, 1775, on North Carolina's Flag

The date May 20, 1775, on North Carolina's state flag commemorates the controversial Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. According to legend, this declaration was made by county representatives in Mecklenburg, North Carolina, as a statement of independence from Great Britain. However, its authenticity has been questioned since its "discovery" in 1819, with many, including Thomas Jefferson, considering it a hoax. In contrast, the genuine Mecklenburg Resolves, dated May 31, 1775, were a practical set of resolutions adopted by the county to annul British laws and establish a self-governing framework in response to British tyranny. These Resolves set up a local government structure, including a military organization and tax collection system, highlighting North Carolina's early steps towards independence while still leaving room for reconciliation with Britain. (Carolina Journal)

North Carolina's Top 12 Beaches for Summer Getaways

From the northern Outer Banks to Sunset Beach, North Carolina offers some of the finest beach destinations. Here's a roundup of the best beaches as voted by readers. Enjoy North Carolina's beautiful beaches and all they have to offer this summer! (Axios Charlotte)

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