Insider State Government News Service
RALEIGH — A short, quiet week in Raleigh opened with a celebration of the national championship season of the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team and closed with another veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.
At the governor’s mansion, Cooper signed a proclamation recognizing UNC’s sixth NCAA title, a 71-65 win over Gonzaga last month, and coach Roy Williams presented the governor with a signed Tar Heel basketball.
The team then took a chartered bus to the General Assembly building, about two blocks away, where the Senate and House of Representatives gathered together to sign their own proclamation.
The governor and lawmakers praised players for their teamwork and resiliency on the court. When it was coach Williams’ turn to speak, he encouraged state leaders to follow their lead.
“This group of guys behind me, I wish they were politicians over here because one thing they did better than anybody I’ve ever seen is they made sacrifices for the common goal, to focus on what our mission was,” Williams said at the governor’s recognition.
Williams said he wouldn’t be surprised if guard Theo Pinson becomes a politician some day because he “can talk better than anyone.” Williams told legislators: “So just get ready because Theo Pinson, one of these days is going to be sitting right out there.” The crowd applauded and laughed.
On Friday morning, Cooper vetoed legislation that would limit the amount of money residents can collect from lawsuits against hog farms, setting up a veto override vote in the House and Senate.
The legislature passed House Bill 467 last month in response to 26 lawsuits pending in federal court against the state’s largest hog producer, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. In the suits, nearly 500 residents say hog farms have made their lives unbearable from odors, flies, buzzards, pig carcasses and other problems.
The legislation would not affect those lawsuits, but would curtail financial payouts in any similar lawsuits filed in the future. In other states, jurors have awarded residents hundreds of thousands of dollars in similar cases. North Carolina’s legislation would limit the financial payments to several thousand dollars per household, according to some estimates.
Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement that the bill, which alters the state’s “nuisance” laws, would take away the rights of homeowners.
“Special protection for one industry opens the door to weakening our nuisance laws in other areas which can allow real harm to homeowners, the environment and everyday North Carolinians,” Cooper, the state’s former Attorney General, said in the statement.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Election Integrity: State election officials say they’re taking steps to avoid some problems seen during November’s election by improving procedures for publishing vote counts and removing active felons from voter rolls. State Board of Elections executive director Kim Strach provided her post-election report to a House committee Thursday, highlighting some of the upgrades in the works. One election night problem was the late counting of early votes in Durham County. Because of difficulties reading the memory cards on voting machines, the county didn’t add early voting totals to online records until nearly midnight — even though the state’s website indicated that most of the county was finished reporting totals.
That prompted some confusion and suspicion, because the late addition meant that the vote totals in the governor’s race abruptly went from showing a lead for incumbent Pat McCrory to a slight lead for Democratic challenger Roy Cooper. McCrory later requested and obtained a recount in Durham County, which showed the results were accurate. Strach told legislators that Durham officials handled the problems effectively, but the state’s election-results website failed to make clear to the public that the tallies were incomplete. “We needed to have a process change,” Strach said. “If those early voting numbers are not in there, we need to let you know that. That’s an improvement that you will see next time we have an election.”
Another concern in the aftermath of November’s election involved felons who cast ballots while serving sentences. In North Carolina, a convicted felon can vote only after completing his or her sentence, including any probation or parole. The State Board of Elections released an audit last month that found 508 voters who cast ballots last November weren’t eligible to vote — and the vast majority of them were felons serving active sentences. Strach told lawmakers that the many of the 441 active felons weren’t properly rejected from registering to vote. In some cases, one county canceled a felon’s registration, but the person then moved to another county and was able to register because the county wasn’t aware of the conviction. The elections agency now will have a statewide database that makes it easier for election workers to check criminal records.
Slain Officer: More than 500 mourners — including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper — gathered in Edenton Thursday for the funeral of Sgt. Meggan Callahan, the prison officer who was killed inside Bertie Correctional Institution last week. Callahan was responding to a fire set inside the eastern North Carolina prison on April 26 when an inmate attacked and killed her, state officials say. The inmate accused of killing Callahan had “targeted” her, an investigator says.
Raising the Age: Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin urged legislators Monday not to let North Carolina become the only remaining state that automatically tries 16- and 17-year-olds in criminal court, but to pass legislation aligned with a recommendation of a commission he organized. Passing “raise the age” legislation would do away with the lasting stigma of a public criminal record for those who commit nonviolent teenage misdeeds, North Carolina’s top judge said at a Legislative Building news conference. “Normally, these charges are handled very quickly,” Martin said, “so the child, the parents, they think it’s behind them, only to learn five or six years later that it had a very, very serious effect on their ability to participate in the local marketplace.”
DPI Staff: A crack in the frosty relationship between state education leaders revealed itself Thursday when the State Board of Education made a job change the state superintendent wanted. The board voted to allow state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to select a chief of staff without board approval. The new chief of staff will report only to Johnson rather than to both him and the board. The board voted to add a new administrative position in the state Department of Public Instruction that will report to both the board and the superintendent. The board and Johnson have been tangling over who is in charge of the state education department. The board is suing the state over a new law that stripped it of some of its powers and gave them to the newly elected superintendent. Johnson joined the lawsuit on the state’s side.
Flu Deaths: The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says four people died from the flu last week. According to the weekly report, the latest deaths come after two people died in the previous week. There were no pediatric deaths among the six reported. For the 2016-17, the death toll now stands at 193 with three weeks left in the current season, compared to 59 in all of the previous season.
Mumps Cases: A state epidemiologist confirmed Thursday that seven elementary and college students in Orange, Wake and Watauga counties are among those with confirmed cases of the mumps. The cases were reported in April. The announcement comes in the wake of a report earlier this week that a UNC-Chapel Hill student was being tested for a probably case of the mumps.
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