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Friday Forward News Roundup

North Carolina Holds Early Voting for GOP Primary Runoffs

Early in-person voting for GOP primary runoffs in North Carolina began on April 25th, continuing through May 11th, to determine Republican nominees for lieutenant governor, state auditor, and the 13th Congressional District seat. These runoffs were triggered because no candidate received over 30% of the vote in the initial primaries held on March 5th. Key matchups include Hal Weatherman vs. Jim O’Neill for lieutenant governor, and contests for state auditor and the congressional seat, with winners advancing to face Democrats and possibly Libertarians in the fall elections. Registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters who participated in the March GOP primaries are eligible to vote. (WRAL)

Early Voting Begins for Wake County's Second Primary Election

Early voting for Wake County's second primary election starts today, running through May 11 at three designated sites, with voting hours varying across dates. This election features runoff races for Republican nominees for lieutenant governor and auditor, and a congressional seat in the 13th district, available only to registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters who meet specific criteria. The election director reports that the runoff costs are approximately $1.7 million. (CBS 17)

Mark Robinson Endorses Hal Weatherman for North Carolina Lieutenant Governor

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is currently running for governor, endorsed Hal Weatherman for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination as early voting began in North Carolina. Robinson expressed his support through a social media post and at campaign events, although he initially hesitated to make a formal endorsement. Weatherman, a newcomer to statewide office campaigns and former chief of staff to Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, faces Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill in the runoff. The winner will compete against Democratic state Sen. Rachel Hunt in the November elections. Early voting for the runoff extends from April 25 to May 11, with the election concluding on May 14. (FOX 8)

Court Temporarily Blocks Certification of Robeson County Commissioner Election Amid Bribery Allegations

A Superior Court judge has issued a temporary stay on the certification of a Robeson County commissioner election in North Carolina following bribery accusations made by Lacy Cummings, the losing candidate in the March 5 Democratic primary. Cummings alleges that the incumbent Judy Oxendine Sampson, along with another commissioner, bribed voters. Specific accusations include payments for votes and other incentives during the voting period. A court hearing is scheduled for May 1 to address these allegations. (Carolina Journal)

Orange County School Board Member Resigns Amid Degree Controversy

Jennifer Moore resigned from the Orange County Board of Education after questions arose about the authenticity of her claimed doctorate degree from Bellevue University. The resignation, effective April 17, was accepted by the board on April 23, just ahead of a scheduled May 14 runoff election in which Moore will still appear on the ballot against Bonnie Hauser. Moore stated she will not return to the board if elected, and the board may appoint someone to fill the vacancy until a new election can be held. The controversy began when Bellevue University confirmed it had no record of Moore receiving a doctorate, despite her public use of the title "Dr." (News & Observer)

North Carolina General Assembly Reconvenes for Budget Adjustments

The North Carolina General Assembly resumed its session to focus on adjusting the state government's budget for the second year of the biennial plan. Key priorities include increasing Medicaid spending and boosting scholarship funds for private K-12 education. This session, which follows a transformative 2023 session involving Medicaid expansion and redistricting, sees the state working with an additional $1.4 billion in forecasted revenues. Governor Roy Cooper, who is facing term limits, will present his budget adjustments, although the Republican majority may bypass his proposals. (WWAY3)

Federal Judge Rules North Carolina’s Felon Voting Law Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs has struck down North Carolina's law that criminalizes voting by felons who have not had their rights restored, finding it unconstitutional due to discriminatory intent and impact. The law, originally enacted in 1877, disproportionately affects Black voters and has not been remedied by subsequent amendments, including those made as recently as 2023. While Biggs' decision does not affect a separate law that conditions felon voting rights on the completion of parole, probation, or post-release supervision, it marks a significant judicial intervention into the state's voting regulations for felons. Critics of the law argue it perpetuates racial discrimination, a point conceded by the defense in terms of historical context and current impact. The ruling could influence ongoing discussions and legal challenges regarding voter disenfranchisement and civil rights in North Carolina. (Carolina Journal)

Rep. Tricia Cotham Appointed Chair of NC House Education Appropriations Comm

Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg has been appointed as the new chair of the North Carolina House Education Appropriations Committee for the upcoming short session. Cotham, a former teacher and assistant principal, recently switched to the Republican Party, contributing to the party's super-majority in the state legislature. She has been a strong advocate for expanding school choice through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was significantly broadened last year to include all North Carolina students. However, funding shortfalls have arisen due to overwhelming demand, leaving many families in limbo. As chair, Cotham's immediate challenge will be addressing these budgetary gaps to fulfill the commitments of the expanded school choice program. (Carolina Journal)

NC Governor Cooper Proposes Teacher Raises; Republicans Cautious on Budget Increases

As the North Carolina General Assembly convened for its 2024 short session, Governor Roy Cooper proposed significant pay raises and bonuses for teachers and state employees. Cooper's proposal includes an 8.5% raise for teachers and a $1,500 retention bonus, along with 5% raises for state employees and bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $1,500. He also advocates for restoring pay for teachers with master’s degrees and expanding teaching fellow scholarships. Despite a $1.4 billion revenue surplus, Republican leaders expressed reservations about the feasibility of these raises within the state’s budget constraints, focusing instead on controlled spending that aligns with population growth and inflation. Senate leader Phil Berger hinted at potential one-time bonuses using the surplus, but remained non-committal on recurring raises. Additionally, Cooper proposed a $2.5 billion bond for public education infrastructure, which met with skepticism from Republicans prioritizing reducing state debt. (News & Observer)

Guilford County Considers Sales Tax Increase to Boost Teacher Salaries

Guilford County commissioners are discussing a proposal for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to support higher salaries for teachers and school staff. The proposed increase, aimed for a November ballot, seeks to generate an additional $25 million annually for the county. This initiative represents a shift from previous attempts to use sales tax hikes to pay off school bond debts, which were rejected by voters four times. The increase would adjust the county's sales tax rate from 6.75% to 7%, matching neighboring Forsyth and Randolph counties. (ABC 45)

Durham Public Schools Approves Record Budget Amidst Pay Controversies

Durham Public Schools has passed its largest budget ever at $26 million, marking a significant move to address longstanding pay disputes that had earlier led to employee walkouts. The budget, proposed by Interim Superintendent Cattie Moore, allocates over $8 million for raises for support staff and classified employees, along with approved state raises of 5% for certified employees and 3% for classified staff for the 2024-2025 school year. This financial boost follows months of tension within the district, affecting employees like Valerie McNeil, who experienced severe personal financial distress. The budget is now pending final approval from the Durham County Commissioners. (ABC 11)

Top Triangle Schools in National Rankings

Five Triangle-area schools in North Carolina have made it into the top 500 U.S. public high schools according to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. Raleigh Charter High School led the local list, ranking 156th nationally and 4th in the state. Other schools in the top 500 include Woods Charter School, Wake STEM Early College High School, Green Level High School, and East Chapel Hill High School. The rankings, based on the 2021-22 academic year, evaluated nearly 17,660 schools on factors like college readiness, state exam proficiency, and graduation rates. (News & Observer)

Planned Parenthood's $10 Million Campaign in North Carolina Targets Abortion Rights and GOP Majorities

Planned Parenthood groups in North Carolina are launching a $10 million campaign aimed at influencing the 2024 elections, particularly focusing on defeating GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson and ending the Republican supermajority in the state legislature. This campaign, the largest ever by Planned Parenthood in the state, involves digital ads, phone banking, mailers, and canvassing, with the goal of knocking on 1 million doors. It comes in response to recent legislation that tightened abortion restrictions from 20 weeks to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The campaign targets areas where Planned Parenthood has a significant presence and where legislative seats are critical to altering the current political balance. (North State Journal)

Moms Demand Action Rallies for Gun Safety Legislation at North Carolina General Assembly

Members of Moms Demand Action rallied at the North Carolina General Assembly, advocating for gun safety legislation and expressing frustration over legislative inaction on gun control. Founded in response to the 2012 Newtown shooting, the group is pushing for measures like red flag laws and safe storage requirements. The rally included voices from elected officials, grassroots advocates, and students, all calling for urgent action to address gun violence. Simultaneously, opposing groups like Grassroots North Carolina petitioned for loosening gun laws, highlighting the deep divide on gun policy in the state. (NC Newsline)

2024 Point in Time Count in Asheville Shows 739 Individuals Without Shelter

The 2024 Point in Time count in Asheville revealed a total of 739 homeless individuals, an increase from the previous year. Conducted over two days at the end of January by the Continuum of Care and local volunteers, the count included 520 people in shelters and transitional housing, and 219 unsheltered. This year's count featured a new methodology that identified an additional 102 people not accounted for in previous counts, aiming for more accurate data on homelessness in the city. (ABC 13)

Mixed Results in North Carolina's Air Quality Report

A new report from the American Lung Association reveals mixed findings on air quality in North Carolina. While there's improvement in particle pollution levels, ozone pollution has increased, raising concerns due to its potential health impacts. Despite some improvements, advocates urge for stricter EPA standards and individual actions like reducing gas-powered vehicle usage to address air quality issues. (CBS 17)

USDA Grants $6.2 Million to Strengthen North Carolina's Food Supply Chain

The USDA has partnered with North Carolina, providing $6.2 million in federal funding through the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program (RFSI) to enhance the state's food supply chain. This initiative aims to bolster resilience in the middle of the food supply chain, support small farms and food businesses, and create fair market opportunities and jobs. Grants will fund projects to expand infrastructure for processing, storing, and distributing agricultural products, benefiting producers and consumers alike. The program reflects lessons learned from COVID-19 supply chain disruptions and aims to improve long-term food security and local production capacity. (Carolina Journal)

North Carolina Declared Free of Avian Influenza

After a dairy herd tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1), North Carolina has been declared free of the virus by the World Organization for Animal Health. This declaration allows the resumption of exports and international trade of poultry products. While the state is relieved by this status change, officials emphasize the importance of continued biosecurity measures to prevent future outbreaks, as the virus still persists in wild bird populations. Broilers (chickens raised for meat) are the top agricultural commodity in North Carolina with over 976.2 million raised in the state annually and representing more than $6.8 billion in cash receipts for farmers every year, according to a press release. North Carolina ranks No. 1 in the nation in poultry and egg cash receipts and is the second-largest turkey-producing state, raising more than 28 million annually. Last year, poultry and poultry exports were worth $353.5 million. (Carolina Journal)

US House Approves $95 Billion Emergency Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan

The US House has passed a series of bipartisan votes to approve $95 billion in emergency assistance, including aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. The package includes $60.84 billion for Ukraine, $26.38 billion for Israel and humanitarian assistance, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific region, with additional measures to ban TikTok unless sold by its Chinese owner. The bills aim to bolster defenses against aggression from countries like Russia, provide humanitarian aid, and support allies in the face of global threats. Republican Rep. Dan Bishop (NC-09), who is running for state Attorney General, was the only member of North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation to vote against aid to Ukraine. The entire NC delegation supported the Israel and humanitarian assistance bill. (NC Newsline)

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