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Friday, December 15, 2017

UNC Passes System-Wide “Free Speech” Policy

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 6:35 PM

The UNC Board of Governors approved a free speech policy for its seventeen campuses today amid concerns from faculty and civil rights advocates. Effective immediately, the policy outlines how UNC schools may punish a student or faculty member who “substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others.” Individual campuses are empowered to implement sanctions “up to and including dismissal or expulsion." The policy lays out minimum punishments for repeat offenders but says schools can impose different sanctions if warranted. The policy suggests at least suspension for a second offense and...

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Breakfast with Santa Event in Southeast Raleigh Brings Community Together

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 4:41 PM

The neighborly tradition called "Breakfast with Santa" got its start in the 1960s, offering food and merriment to the Southeast Raleigh community, activist Octavia Rainey recalls. Rainey and a community group are keeping the event going, with the celebration for this year set for ten a.m. to one p.m. Saturday, December 16, at the Tarboro Road Community Center, 121 North Tarboro Road. It's sponsored by the North Central Citizens Advisory Council. "Breakfast with Santa was started in the early '60s by my grandmother, Sarah Rainey, and other neighbors," she said. "The goal was to bring the community together." The breakfast...

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Now the General Assembly Wants to “Reform” School Funding. Oh, Boy.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 8:49 AM

In a hearing yesterday of the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform, the chief financial officer of the Department of Public Instruction pleaded with lawmakers that, while some improvements can be made to the state’s school funding formula, it doesn’t need a wholesale overhaul. The Republicans who make up the bulk of that task force were not impressed. “State lawmakers could overhaul the way $9.4 billion in public school dollars are spent annually, affecting the way that North Carolina’s 1.6 million public school students are educated. Legislators are looking at changing how the state funds K-12 education following...

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Three People Have Applied for the Vacant Durham City Council Seat

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 12:56 PM

The Durham City Council's Procedures Committee met Wednesday to discuss how they will go about appointing someone to fill a vacant at-large seat on the council and to tweak an applicant questionnaire. Although at least seven people have publicly announced plans to apply for the seat, as of Wednesday afternoon the city clerk's office had not received any applications. Three came in today, according to the city clerk. Applications, which can be found on the city's website, are due December 19 by five p.m. The three people who had applied by Thursday afternoon were Pastor Fredrick Davis, El Centro Hispano...

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Durham Church Offers Immigrant Sanctuary from Deportation

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 11:39 AM

Samuel Oliver-Bruno has been living at Durham's CityWell United Methodist Church since Sunday. On Wednesday, he received something to make his stay at the Lakewood-area church a little more comfortable: a pillow handmade by Juana Ortega, thought to be the first person to take sanctuary in a North Carolina church from the Trump administration's ramped-up immigration enforcement policies. By moving into CityWell, Oliver-Bruno becomes the fifth. The church held a press conference Wednesday to announce its decision and show support for Oliver-Bruno and his family. A slight and gentle man who had been taking classes at Duke Divinity School, Oliver-Bruno thanked...

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UPDATED: Nobody in North Carolina Was Sentenced to Death in 2017

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 11:27 AM

For the third time since 2012, no jury in North Carolina sentenced a convicted murderer to die in 2017, according to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. There were four cases, in fact, in which prosecutors sought capital punishment, and jurors rejected them all. As the CDPL notes in a statement: “Only a single person has been sent to N.C. death row in the past three and a half years, and most of the state’s district attorneys are no longer seeking the death penalty. North Carolina has not executed an inmate since 2006 because of ongoing litigation over the state’s lethal...

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Tonight: Dismayed by Judicial Changes, Advocates Hold Fair Courts Town Hall in Chapel Hill

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 9:24 AM

Advocates opposed to recent changes that would alter the judicial branch in North Carolina will hold a town hall in Chapel Hill tonight at seven p.m. The event comes two days after the North Carolina Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement (SBOE), and SBOE executive director Kimberly Strach over the Electoral Freedom Act, a bill passed in October that cancels primary elections for judges.  In a statement, the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party said the move amounts to depriving North Carolinians of...

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NCGA Republicans Keep Screwing with the State’s Judiciary

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 9:14 AM

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Democratic Party sued the legislature over a law passed this year that will eliminate judicial primary elections in 2018 and then lower the threshold for candidates to win the general election in potentially crowded fields. This was part of a larger plan to first redraw legislative districts to favor Republican judges (which, the Republicans said, necessitated the elimination of primaries, to give them some time to hash out new districts) and eventually to end judicial elections in favor of legislative appointments altogether. And that’s where our story picked up yesterday, in a hearing of the...

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Senator Cory Booker Asks for the Release of a Department of Justice Memo on Thomas Farr’s Involvement in a Voter-Intimidation Scheme

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 1:03 PM

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, sent letters Wednesday to Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking Sessions for internal Department of Justice documents and both for an explanation for differences between Farr's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and "his apparent awareness of a major voter suppression effort," Booker's office said in a statement Wednesday. Farr was nominated by President Trump in July and won a party-line approval from the Judiciary Committee in October. A former mayor of Newark, Booker has served in the U.S. Senate since 2013 and has frequently been mentioned as a...

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North Carolina Democratic Party Files Lawsuit Challenging the Legislature's Elimination of Judicial Primaries

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 10:40 AM

The North Carolina Democratic Party filed a lawsuit yesterday over the Republican-controlled legislature's recent move to eliminate judicial primaries in the 2018 election. The General Assembly got rid of the primaries after overriding Governor Cooper's veto of Senate Bill 656, The Electoral Freedom Act. In addition to eliminating with judicial primaries, the bill also reduces the percentage of votes needed to win an election from 40 percent to 30 percent—in other words, if the field of candidates is big enough, the winner could have the backing of fewer than a third of voters. Opponents say the bill fits into a broader...

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Let’s Make Sense of the Wake County Register of Deeds Mess

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 8:59 AM

On the one hand, it was obvious from the beginning that this is where we’d end up. The same day Wake County manager Jim Hartmann and District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced an investigation into missing funds at the Register of Deeds office—later totaled at $2.3 million over a decade—Laura Riddick, the longtime register of deeds, retired. Hartmann and Riddick said at the time that Riddick was retiring because of illness, not the investigation. But the coincidence was a little much. Still, there’s something jarring about seeing a once-well-liked public official hit with six felony charges alleging that she embezzled more...

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Indictments in Wake Register of Deeds Scandal Charge Laura Riddick with Embezzling $926,615

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 4:51 PM

Former Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick faces charges of embezzling nearly a million dollars in six indictments returned by a county grand jury Tuesday. Riddick and three other Register of Deeds employees are charged in sixteen indictments related to money under their control. Riddick faces charges including embezzlement of more than $100,000 by a public official, a class C felony under state law. The indictments state that she converted to her own use money that belonged to the office she formerly headed. A series of six indictments charge Riddick with taking $926,615 from the office. "Clearly these indictments...

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North Carolina Ranks 33rd Nationally in Health, United Health Foundation Says

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 2:45 PM

North Carolina's overall health rankings slipped to thirty-third from thirty-second this year, according to the United Health Foundation study America's Health Rankings." According to a press release, compilers of this report have combed through data annually for twenty-eight years on "behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care, and outcomes" to present an overall view of the nation's health as well as state-by-state rankings. In one disturbing finding, premature deaths in North Carolina are up for the second year in a row. "Looking closely at mortality measures in the state, since 2012 drug deaths increased 14% from 12.3 to 14.0...

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A Woman’s Place Is in the North Carolina General Assembly

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 8:42 AM

Yesterday, North Carolina Democrats unveiled a slate of nine new candidates, including six women, for next year’s General Assembly elections. As Darren Jackson, the Dems’ House leader, said on Twitter: “It’s something we were seeing way before all the sexual harassment scandals started to break. After the 2016 election, a lot of women started turning out for events, indivisible groups, house parties. Many for the first time. Been seeing it for a year now.” Right now, just 26 percent of the Senate, and 25 percent of the House, is female. These candidates include: Sydney Batch, a Wake lawyer who will...

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Indictments Expected This Week in Wake County Register of Deeds Scandal

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 6:39 PM

Indictments are expected as early as Tuesday from the grand jury investigating the Wake County Register of Deeds office. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said last month that investigators will present findings to grand jurors before the end of the year. And Tuesday marks the last day the grand jury will meet, according to public records. Depending on when Clerk of Court Jennifer Knox releases the information, any indictments resulting from those grand jury sessions could be made public Wednesday. The Register of Deeds office, formerly headed by Laura Riddick, showed losses of some $2.3 million between 2008 and 2017,...

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Durham Attorney Scott Holmes Challenges N.C. Court Fees as Unconstitutional

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 3:09 PM

A group including the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice is challenging the constitutionality of court fees being levied in North Carolina. Durham attorney Scott Holmes filed a constitutional challenge to the court costs statute today in Wake Court Superior Court, saying the state constitution requires such fees to go to public schools. Instead, he says, the revenue is funding the court system. “This is an important step in reversing the flow of resources in the school-to-prison pipeline. Our Constitution requires that the fees collected in criminal cases shall fund the education of our children...

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The Republican Power Plays at the Heart of N.C. Politics

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 8:45 AM

I’ve started working on the INDY’s Year in Review issue (due out December 27), and it’s occurred to me that one of the prevailing themes of 2017 is the aftermath of Republican efforts to consolidate their power after Governor Cooper defeated Pat McCrory last year. There’s the ongoing imbroglio with the elections board, as well as lawsuits challenging the legislature’s decisions to block Cooper from appointing Court of Appeals judges and members of the N.C. Industrial Commission. The legislature also stripped much of the control of the state’s schools from the State Board of Education, who are appointed by the...

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Friday, December 8, 2017

The Problem with N.C.’s Religious Exemption Law

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 8:55 AM

The N&O has an interesting piece this morning on a rising number of kids who are attending school without getting necessary vaccinations, thanks to a broad religious exemption. “The number of N.C. kindergarteners opting out of required childhood vaccinations on religious grounds more than doubled in the five school years from 2012 to 2016. And both public health officials and anti-vaccine advocates agree that the exemption is being claimed by parents whose true objection to the shots has nothing to do with faith.” The more unvaccinated kids are in a school, of course, the more likely there is to be...

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Analysis: Under GOP Tax Plan, Tens of Thousands of Triangle Residents Would Lose Health Care Coverage

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 6:12 AM

Tens of thousands of Triangle residents could lose health coverage if the Senate's version of the tax bill passes, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. That's due to a provision in the GOP bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act's much-loathed individual mandate, which requires everyone to purchase health insurance. The move would likely result in fewer sign-ups among young, healthy people and higher costs for people bound by health necessity to remain in the individual market. If the individual mandate is slashed, millions of Americans could lose insurance over the next decade, the nonpartisan Congressional...

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Durham City Council Lays Out Plan for Filling Vacant Seat

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 4:05 PM

Durham City Council members will meet next week to discuss criteria for applicants looking to fill Steve Schewel's seat now that he has been sworn in as mayor. The council on Thursday gave the city clerk the go-ahead to advertise the vacancy and put out an initial, basic application that will be due December 19. In the meantime, members who sit on the Council Procedure Committee—Schewel, Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece, and new member Vernetta Alston—will meet next Wednesday at three to go over a questionnaire that will go out to eligible applicants. So far, at least five people have announced...

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"DACA Is Gone, But We're Still Here": Youth Activists Stage a "Death of DACA" Rally in Downtown Raleigh

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 2:10 PM

Dozens rallied in front of the Wake County Courthouse last night to mourn the coming end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that granted temporary work permits and a deportation reprieve to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors. Protesters wore all black and carried candles in a pseudo-vigil, calling the action "muerte de sueños," or death of dreams—a reference to the sense of paralysis and fear many DACA recipients feel in the face of an uncertain future. "We have gathered here today to mourn the loss of the beloved dreams and futures of eight hundred...

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A Study in Contrasts: Today, Democrats Will Likely Force Al Franken’s Resignation. The GOP, Meanwhile, Is Backing Roy Moore.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Yesterday, after yet another woman accused Senator Al Franken of harassment, the dam broke. Democrat after Democrat began demanding his resignation. By last night, Democrats were expecting him to do so today, though Franken’s office pushed back against claims that he’d reached a final decision. Still, it’s hard to see him carrying on without any support from his caucus, and the governor of Minnesota is ready to appoint his lieutenant governor—a woman—to Franken’s seat if he steps down. In North Carolina, Democratic legislative leaders Darren Jackson and Dan Blue both called for Franken’s resignation, though Governor Roy Cooper did not...

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Wildin Acosta Dropped His Asylum Case and Switched Legal Strategies. Will That Save Him from Being Deported?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 6:59 AM

Tuesday morning, in the parking lot of a Compare Foods in Durham, Wildin Acosta stood in front of a television news camera. This hasn’t been uncommon for him lately. The twenty-year-old Durham resident has given so many interviews over the past two years—since he was picked up by ICE on his way to Riverside High and shipped off to a private immigration jail in rural Georgia, only to be released last year on a $10,000 bond while he pursued his asylum case—that he’s lost count. But for the first time while speaking in public, his voice cracked. His nerves got...

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Meet the New, Fractured Raleigh City Council

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 9:37 AM

The new Raleigh City Council got off to something of a rocky start yesterday, with a council rebellion against Mayor Nancy McFarlane laying the groundwork for what could be a contentious two years. Here’s what happened: As mayors have always, McFarlane submitted a list of committee chairs and assignments for the council to vote on, based on conversations she’d had with members in recent weeks. Standard procedure. But then Russ Stephenson and David Cox submitted their own list of committee assignments, which the council, in a 5–3 vote, choose over McFarlane’s. That vote count comes with an asterisk, though....

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

New Raleigh City Council Begins With a Spat

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 6:46 PM

"Cry 'Havoc!' And let slip the dogs of war!" Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1 OK, maybe the drama at Monday's Raleigh City Council meeting didn't quite rise to Shakespearean levels. But the meeting and aftermath were unusually complicated and contentious and may portend a rocky path ahead for Mayor Nancy McFarlane and the reconfigured City Council. With members Stefanie Mendell and Nicole Stewart on board following their election in October, McFarlane faced a rebellion from incumbent members Russell Stephenson, David Cox and others who voted with them. The first indication was a five-three council vote to bypass the mayor's...

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