Friday, June 27, 2008

A slow, hot Friday...

The budget folks apparently took the day off. A much needed breather from what I hear. I was going to cover a drought working committee today as well that got cancelled.

So, instead I went to the farmer's market! Here's the script below if you're interested. I'm probalby on car insurance Monday. The next round of hearings gets underway. Political Connections tonight and Sunday on News 14 Carolina looks back at a busy week.

RALEIGH -- As food prices continue to rise, North Carolina farmers are hoping you'll decide to buy local.

In many cases, prices at farmers markets are cheaper than the grocery store.

On a sizzling Friday afternoon, customers swarmed to the state farmer's market.

"Particularly with the tomato scare that was recently in the news you know you can come out here and get fresh vegetables and feel good about what you're getting," Shopper Glenda Small said.

Small says she feels better about the price as well. She says it's only gone up about ten percent since last year.

"I think they are better than the grocery stores, some things, the corn seems to be about the same as grocery stores," Small said. "Tomatoes in the grocery store are a little higher."

NC Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler added, "In most instances our food products are going to be cheaper out here than the grocery store. Even if they're not people need to understand that by buying these fresh products here or across the state are keeping farmers in business."

Staying in business has proven tough. Fertilizer costs have doubled since last year and fuel prices are still rising. That has led to higher prices for food. It didn't help when more than a million acres of corn were devoured by the Mississippi river in the midwest. However, that has created a high demand for North Varolina corn.

That's a bit of a double edged sword. iI's creating problems at the same time for other North Carolina farmers.

"We have the huge pork and poultry industry in North Carolina that depend on corn, soybeans, and wheat as a food source and its driven their feed costs through the roof," Troxler added.

As long as oil prices remain high, tToxler says food costs will do the same, but he hopes it will convince people to buy more local food.

Most grocery stores do sell North Carolina grown products. The locally grown food will have stickers that say "Got to be NC".

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trouble in paradise?

So, word was that lawmakers were on a roll and planned to have a budget done in time to light off fireworks for the 4th of July (ones that don't leave the ground or are in general interesting of course unless you're at a professional show).

Anywho, at the end of the House session Rep. Mickey Michaux told his colleagues some some road blocks had come up and was dogging the Senate a little bit. While it was clear there was hope that lawmakers would get a glimpse of a budget on Monday, Rep. Michaux said today he would bring them a budget "soon".

Looks like the honorables will have a long weekend-at least the ones on the conference committee.

On top of that Easley's right hand man, Dan Gerlach, delivered more bad news that revenues are going to be $70 million less than expected. Ooops..better order in some pizzas!

In the meantime I did an update to a story today that the N&O actually broke in February. It is below..

RALEIGH -- Lawmakers say they are about to right a wrong when it comes to rape victims in this state.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that a large majority of rape victims were forced to pay for their own rape kits at hospitals. It was also hitting hospitals in their pocketbook.

When lawmakers realized earlier this year that rape victims were forced to pay for rape kits many of them were shocked.

"We had no idea here in the General Assembly that victims of sexual assault, rape, we're having to pay for their own evidence gathering," Sen. Alice Bordsen (D-Alamance) said.

About 3000 people are examined each year for rape in emergency rooms across the state. The test and exam can cost as much as $1600.

"We need to make sure rape victims are not billed for the collection of forensic evidence just like the victim of any other crime doesn't have to pay for the collection of evidence," Rep. Bordsen added.

Months later, lawmakers appear to have a resolution. The Senate and House both have funding in their budget proposals to pick up the tab whether or not a victim has insurance. It not only prevents rape victims from paying but hospitals as well.

The Hospital Association did not want to talk on camera but a spokesperson did say they are optimistic will come up with a plan that will benefit everyone.

While the money will pay for the collection of evidence it will not pay for everything.

"Any other expenses such as mental health services, medical services, replacement of clothing, we have the victims assistance fund and they can draw from that for those types of needs," Rep. Bordsen said.

It's not a done deal yet with budget negotiations ongoing-however supporters are highly optimistic it will end up in the final spending plan.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Session's end and marijuana?

So, I keep hearing from folks working on the budget they are intent on wrapping up the budget next week (it's supposed to be done by Monday night but that won't happen). Anyway, conventional wisdom is it takes two weeks to wrap up session after the budget.

I've had three dates thrown at me-the 15th, 17th, 21st. Any guesses? Perhaps this could be another 8 ball decision over at my colleagues blog The Dome? Or he could get another pool going. Not as interesting as elections but it is a hot topic among the honorables.

I went to a hearing on medical marijuana today. I'll leave the jokes behind and just leave the script instead!

RALEIGH -- A state lawmaker wants North Carolina to study and potentially legalize medical marijuana.

Guilford County Representative Earl Jones filed the bill. Wednesday, a former U.S. Surgeon General testified in favor of it as well.

From 1993-1995, Dr. Joycelyn Elders was the country's top doctor. Nearly 20 years, later she's here in North Carolina advocating medical marijuana.

"We've been using marijuana out there as I said for 5000 years," Dr. Elders said. "It's safer than an awful lot of medications than we have out there on the market."

But opponents say that's not the case.

"When you consider the carcinogens in marijuana alone, it's multiple to that of smoking so this is not really a safe drug to take," Mark Creech from the NC Christian Action League said.

Supporters believe medical marijuana helps health problems related to Alzheimers, AIDS, arthritis, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

"And if you can prevent nausea and vomiting the body might soon recover but so many of these patients die of starvation because they can't keep anything down," Dr. Elders added.

Rep. Jones agrees and wants north carolina to look into the idea.

12 other states have legalized medical marijuana. Most of them are out west or in the northeast. Rep. Jones of the bill points out this is just a bill to study the idea.

He emphasizes it's a study, but it's clear he supports the idea to help patients with nausea and vomiting.

"Marijuana has clearly demonstrated to stop that process, people gain weight, they have a high quality of life, they are psychologically and emotionally enhanced," Rep. Jones (D-Guilford) said.

"Who's gonna grow it?" Creech asked. "That's a question that has to be considered and can that get out of hand. It has gotten out of hand as I understand it in California."

Lawmakers did not vote on the proposal and it appears House leadership is reluctant to take up the issue. A similar bill failed in the North Carolina legislature in 2003. Recent attempts in Tennessee and South Carolina have failed as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Happy Tuesday and voting day for some!

So, a record turnout is expected for the second straight primary election. Problem is, we could reach a record low for today's runoff compared to record highs in the May 6 primary.

I was in Atlantic Beach this weekend for the debates. If you haven't seen them we are in the process of putting them on our Carolina Ondemand channel which you can get on Ch. 1234 on Time Warner Cable. I really think viewers can take a lot from both debates. I think the U.S. Senate candidates made a much stronger point to show clear differences between themselves. All four candidates appeared well prepared and had some great stories lined up to illustrate points.

Today, it's a busy one at the legislature and I'm just one man so the bosses wanted me to focus on a wrongly convicted compensation bill. Here's the script from my story.

RALEIGH -- The state could soon more than double the amount of money given to wrongfully convicted people.

Just in the past year, two people have been released from prison after new evidence found them innocent. Lawmakers are working on a bill that would help them find jobs as well.

Last summer DNA evidence cleared Dwayne Dail after serving nearly 20 years in prison for a rape that he did not commit.

"I can take this day and start my life now," Dail said the day he was released. "Today is the first day of the rest of my life and I'm absolutely going to make the most of it."

But getting that start can prove difficult after years behind bars. If the governor offers a pardon of innocence, those who are wrongfully convicted can get $20,000 for every year they spent in prison but no more than $500,000.

Tuesday a House committee voted to more than double that amount.

"When we have created the double injustice of not solving the crime we do great harm to society and the victim," Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) said. "But this is dealing with the other harm, the person we have put in prison wrongfully and taken away years if not in some cases decades of their life."

The proposal offers $50,000 per year served in prison but no more than $750,000 total.

The idea of this bill goes beyond money. It's to help the people wrongfully convicted get back on their feet by offering a free education.

"If someone qualifies within ten years of their release for tuition and fees at a community college or constituent university campus if admitted," Rep. Glazier added.

It also offers at least one year of job skills training for those not interested in school. Just five people since 2001 qualified for the money so it won't create a big strain on state budgets, but it could have a huge impact on the lives of those who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

The bill must still pass on the House floor and in the Senate. If it's approved there, the governor must sign the bill as well.

Friday, June 20, 2008

To debate...or is it forum?

Make sure to check out special editions of Political Connections this Sunday on News 14 Carolina.

11:00am - Debate/forum between Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory
1:00pm - Debate/forum between Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan

It's in Atlantic Beach for the Bar Association's gathering. It's really the first debate/forum between the candidates.

We will air them in their entirety and let's hope it's interesting!

I'll be heading down as's funny because everyone keeps saying oh you have to work on a Saturday but you're going to the beach. I will see it on the way into the forum and on the way out..that's about it!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Following the money..

If you want to see how the money race is shaping up in the Prez race the Federal Elex Commission has a pretty neat map system right on its front page.

At the moment (last reporting period) there's some interesting stuff.

-NC has contributed $9,265,183 to candidates
-While NC is traditionally a red presidential state McCain is 4th behind Obama, Edwards, and Clinton
-Democrats have raised almost 3-1 over Republicans

You can even narrow it down by zip code and then when you click on a zip code it tells you who's contributing.

It's not earth shattering news or new but if you haven't seen it, it can be a little addicting.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sorry no major update today, I'm working on a non-political or state government story today.

However, you are well covered by my colleagues who are covering the goings on at the General Assembly.

It appears we will have votes Wed. and Thurs. on the budget in the Senate and it won't be terribly different than the House on the hot button items. Should be interesting if they can get a deal done by July 1 and what Gov. Easley will have to say about teacher pay proposals that don't come anywhere near his goal.

Tomorrow I'll likely be focused on a couple things. It's equal rights for women day at the GA which is an interesting topic with so many high profile women up for office this year. There could be some news out of an immigration rally planned as well. Will keep you posted!

Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm headed to the following this weekend for news stories but wanted to keep you posted on our other efforts involving debates for this weekend.


Raleigh, NC (, 2008) –News 14 Carolina, Time Warner Cable’s 24-hour local news network, will televise the first debates between the major candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate.

The first joint appearance of the two major party candidates for both offices is June 21st at the meeting of the North Carolina Bar Association in Atlantic Beach. Beverly Purdue, Pat McCrory, Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan will respond to questions from a media panel in two separate 45 minute forums.

News 14 Carolina will record both forums and televise them Sunday, June 22nd. The Gubernatorial forum will air at 11 am. The U.S. Senate forum will air at 1 pm.

Both forums will then be available on-demand to Time Warner Cable digital subscribers on Carolina on Demand. Carolina on Demand is a free, exclusive service of Time Warner Cable on channel 1234. It features news, sports and entertainment programming produced in and about North and South Carolina.

News 14 Carolina is sharing its coverage of the forums with UNC-TV. This will make them available to non-cable subscribers across North Carolina. “Time Warner Cable is dedicated to providing all citizens of our state with the information they need to make informed choices at the polls,” says News 14 Carolina VP & General Manager, Alan Mason. “We are pleased UNC-TV will telecast our coverage of this important event on its digital service across North Carolina.”

About News 14 Carolina:

News 14 Carolina is an exclusive service of Time Warner Cable. News 14 Carolina is available to all 1.3 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in the Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville and Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem television markets. News 14 Carolina will expand to the Wilmington, Morehead City and Jacksonville area on August 18.
About Time Warner Cable:
Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., with technologically advanced, well-clustered systems located mainly in five geographic areas — New York state (including New York City), the Carolinas, Ohio, southern California (including Los Angeles) and Texas. As of December 31, 2007, Time Warner Cable served approximately 14.6 million customers who subscribed to one or more of its video, high-speed data and voice services.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I was off politics today in a way. Rev. Al Sharpton was in Charlotte protesting police and the death of a young man at the hands of a police officer.

I helped them out by doing a companion piece on new training efforts for officers to deal with potentially lethal situations. Here's the story if you're interested. Have a great weekend! This weekend's Political Connections focuses on the week that was and Obama's return trip. 6pm tonight and Sunday at 11am on News 14 Carolina.

RALEIGH -- This year alone more than two dozen officer involved shootings were reported to the State Bureau of Investigation.

In some parts of the state there is new technology to help prepare officers for these situations. The simulator can look like a video game, but it's far from a game. It trains officers to deal with life and death situations.

"To say okay what should I do in this situation, not to jump to a quick decision but to think that decision through before taking any action," Anthony Caison, Dean at Wake Tech Community College said.

This year alone, the SBI has investigated 26 officer involved shootings, half were fatal. The statistics only include shootings the SBI has investigated.

Under state law, officers essentially have the authority to shoot and kill if the officer's life or any other life is in danger. The simulator allows superiors to see how their officers will react in a life and death situation.

"We want to see how accurate they are in situations because the screen is firing at them and it actually makes them more stressful and see how they react under stress," Fuquay-Varina Police Chief Larry Smith said.

Beyond the fact they believe it helps with decision making and accuracy with shooting, they also believe it has a huge impact in the real world.

"And many of the scenarios in the firearms training simulator are actual scenarios that have happened and that's why they are constantly updating the software," Caison added.

"I've been through the fats training and I find myself ducking behind the table and yelling commands at the screen to drop their weapons and we want to see that to make the officers are doing the right things," Chief Smith said.

The right thing to make sure no one dies unless absolutely necessary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sen. David Hoyle says he thinks the Senate will vote on a budget next week. That gives conference less than two weeks before the June 30th deadline. Can they do it? They are pretty darn pushy about getting it done by that date and get home but that's not a lot of time either.

In the meantime, involuntary annexation opponenets got a small victory today but still face an uphill battle. Here's the script from my story...

RALEIGH -- A legislative committee approved a one year ban on involuntary annexations today.

Involuntary annexation is when a town or city forces outlying residents to become city residents. One by one opponents of involuntary annexation pleaded their case to lawmakers.

"I got involved in annexation after the mayor of selma decided that he needed to fix the town,' Tony Terrington from Johnston County said. "He had a very unlawful annexation and i was successful in fighting it."

With involuntary annexation, the new residents must pay taxes but get city services like water, transportation and police. City leaders across the state say annexation is necessary as town and cities grow, but homeowners often say they already have those services and don't want to pay more taxes.

"Our community is a gated, private community," Moore County resident Doug Aitken said. "We have every single service the law talks about."

Thursday the House Finance Committee approved a one year ban on forced annexations to study the law.

"There are some problems with the law," Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham) said. "It's 49 years old and there have been some excesses and we have some good suggestions that we have talked about in our committee."

Cities and towns are against the moratorium but agree some changes to the law are necessary.

"I think the issue that probably has to be looked at is water and sewer," Andy Romanet from the League of Municipalities said.

Opponents are hoping lawmakers would require a vote by residents for all annexations. They also want more supervision of cities trying to annex new residents.

The bill must still pass another House committee then a full vote on the House floor. It then heads to the Senate where leaders are reportedly not likely to hear the bill.

North Carolina is one of just five states that allow involuntary annexations.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Realtors pledge more...

Despite a 20-0 record against counties, the NC Realtor's Association has pledged a $10 million dollar campaign to continue it's fight against any land transfer tax increase.

Here's my story from today..

RALEIGH -- Realtors across the state are stepping up their efforts to fight any tax increase on the sale of a house.

The North Carolina Association of Realtors pledged a multi million dollar fight against what's known as the land transfer tax. It comes as lawmakers battle over the future of the tax as well.

Hundreds of realtors filled the halls of the state legislature Wednesday with one simple goal, to let lawmakers know they are serious.

"The Realtors Association has made a $10 million commitment to continue the fight against the home tax as well as other assaults against private property rights," Tim Kent from the NC Realtor's Association said.

Realtors are fighting what's known as the land transfer tax. It's a tax on the person selling a home. Last year counties were given permission by lawmakers to put an increase of that tax on the ballot to help raise money to build schools and roads.

"The people have already had a chance to vote on this," Kent added. "20 times, 3 out of 4 voters have said absolutely no to the home tax."

Realtors say it unfairly targets homeowners but counties say without it, they would have to hike property taxes. Realtors are getting help from some lawmakers in trying to keep land transfer tax increases off voter ballots.

"Anything that we add to the cost of selling or transferring real estate is just counterproductive," Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston) said. "We're trying to do things to spur people to buy not discourage it."

While realtors continue their expensive campaign against the tax and the Senate appears poised to possibly vote against the tax as well, there is some strong support from one of the state's top leaders for the counties.

House Speaker Joe Hackney wants it to remain an option for counties and other leadership in the house appears to agree.

"As long as you require voter approval, I don't see any need for major changes," House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said.

With the House opposing changes, that likely means there will be no change in law and it could end up on ballots in future elections.

So far, only Polk county plans to put the land transfer tax on the November ballot.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hey all...

Not much to report on my front. I'm caught up doing a lot of non-legislative work again. This week seems to be filled with a lot of interesting bills in committees. I took up a driver's license bill today. Here's the text...

RALEIGH -- A new plan to change drivers licenses is cruising toward approval at the state legislature.

Monday, a senate committee approved the idea that changes the look of licenses for those under 21 years old. Advocates hope the idea will cut down on under age drinking.

At John Hernly's restaurant, his company goes the extra mile to help prevent his employees from serving minors.

"We have a bars program," the Champps General Manager said. "We have undercovers that we pay coming in here to check up on us constantly so we're always aware of that."

Lawmakers are working on a way to make it easier for bars and restaurants to check id's.

"It simply changes anyone's driving license from horizontal with which you're familiar with to vertical because the number of complaints and sales to minors of alcohol," Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson) said.

Those complaints come from ALE. This year, during 700 compliance checks, ALE officers found that under age drinkers were able to buy alcohol 18-percent of the time.

21 states already use the vertical id for people under 21 including Virginia, where Hernly use to work.

"It's a lot easier for the staff to recognize under 21 you know and I think it's harder to alter the id," Hernly said.

North Carolina currently uses color coding systems to identify those under 21 and 18 but retailers believe this new id is a better solution.

So far, there has been no vocal opposition to the proposals. Supporters understand it won't cure underage drinking but it will help.

The bill still needs approval on the House and Senate floors and from Governor Easley. If it passes, the new licenses will start in October.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Dems support Obama...

Gov. Easley introduced Obama basically saying better late than never. John and Elizabeth Edwards are here as well.

So, I'm here covering the Barack Obama speech at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh. It seems most of the top Democrats in the state are here. There's probably 500 people maybe. It's an invite only event. It's clear there are volunteers and supporters in addition to the public officials. There are people of all ages.

The list includes....

House Speaker Joe Hackney
Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand
State Treasurer Richard Moore
Rep. Ty Harrell
Rep. Dan Blue
U.S. Rep. GK Butterfield
U.S. Rep Bob Etheridge
Rep. Linda Coleman
Sec. of State Elaine Marshall
Sen. Vernon Malone
Ed Turlington (Edwards 04 Campaign Chair)
Hampton Dellinger (Frm. Lt. Gov. candidate)
NC NAACP Prez William Barber
Rep. Jennifer Weiss
Rep. Floyd McKissick
Rep. Verla Insko
Rep. Fisher

So far no sign of Gov. Easley or Sen. President Pro Tem Marc Basnight

Keep you posted!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Will Easley veto budget?

Hello again! I'm back from a great five day trip to the Outer Banks.

I spent a short time at the General Assembly today because I had some meetings. What's interesting is the buzz I heard about the House budget and what's next.

We'll have to see what the Senate does with the budget and teacher pay in particular, but there is a lot of talk about the governor's reaction.

If you missed my interview with the Gov this past weekend I asked him if he would veto a budget that doesn't help teachers reach the national average in pay. He paused, grinned, then said he would have to see what the rest of the budget looks like.

Several lawmakers posed the question today about Easley potentially vetoing the legislature's budget. Some believe he would to make a point since he's leaving office and does not face an election. Others believe he won't because he doesn't want to worry about tarnishing his reputation if his veto was overruled.

Either way, it is interesting to chat about and creates some interesting chit chat as lawmakers figure out their budget.