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NCDPS

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper plans to lift all mandates on social distancing and gathering limits by June 1 if coronavirus metrics remain stable and residents continue to get vaccinated. The statewide mask mandate could be ended once two-thirds of North Carolina have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine. Cooper thinks it will be hard to reach the two-thirds threshold by the end of May. He anticipates the target being reached shortly thereafter. More than 47% of adults in the state have gotten at least one shot. Nearly 36% of adults are fully vaccinated.

The veteran North Carolina legislator removed as co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee this week says she disagrees with top chamber leaders who accused her of improperly delaying a tax relief bill. Republican Rep. Julia Howard of Davie County defended her actions during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. She says she had been trying to refashion the bill so that Senate Republicans would accept it and give it a chance of becoming law. The measure in part would give additional state tax breaks to businesses that took federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.

NPS/Kurt Moses

The North Carolina site of the world’s first powered flight has launched a pilot project to test out the safety and efficacy of another transportation innovation. The popular Wright Brothers National Memorial on the Outer Banks kicked off a three-month trial run Tuesday of a petite self-driving shuttle that will tote tourists around the park. The N.C. Department of Transportation and National Park Service say it’s the first electric, self-driving transit shuttle to be tested at a recreational public lands site in the nation.

A House judiciary committee has approved a bill that would end the long practice of North Carolina sheriffs issuing permits to county residents before they can purchase handguns. The committee voted on the measure Tuesday. A sheriff decides whether an applicant is of good moral character, plans to use the weapon for a lawful purpose and conducts a criminal background check. Repeal supporters say the practice is outdated and carried out unevenly, depending on the county and the sheriff.

NC Ferry Division

The N.C. Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division has announced it will return to its full schedule on April 21 on Pamlico Sound routes between Cedar Island, Swan Quarter and Ocracoke.  The division completed a test run Tuesday with the M/V Swan Quarter to make sure the channel is navigable.  It took almost a month for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear shoaling that was occurring in the ferry channel just outside of Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor. 

The full schedule beginning April 21, weather permitting, is as follows:

N.C. General Assembly

The current longest-serving member of the North Carolina House was stripped Tuesday of her chairmanship on the House Finance Committee. Speaker Tim Moore removed 17-term Rep. Julia Howard on Tuesday from the tax-policy committee and placed her on Appropriations Committee. The two have been in an unusually public feud in recent days over tax legislation. Howard said last week she felt pressured to run a bill through her committee that she opposed. It involves federal COVID-19 relief loans that many legislators with businesses have also received.

A top North Carolina GOP lawmaker will not advance a proposal seeking to limit medical treatments for transgender people under 21. The measure put forward by three Republicans earlier this month would have prohibited doctors from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to minors and young adults. State employees would have been required to tell parents if their child expressed desire to be treated in a way that is incompatible with the gender they were assigned at birth.

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North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson says he won't seek the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2022. Robinson made his announcement late Monday, days after he said in a video he was taking a “serious look” at a bid to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Burr. He was just elected in November to a lieutenant governor’s term that runs through 2024. He said in a news release that he “will strive to honor" his responsibilities and keep his promises. His decision means that former Gov. Pat McCrory and ex-U.S. Rep. Mark Walker remain the top announced candidates in the GOP field.

There’s a bipartisan effort to better care for pregnant North Carolina prisoners and jail inmates before and after they deliver their babies. State legislators scheduled a Tuesday news conference to unveil a proposal that has support from the American Civil Liberties Union, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association and OB-GYNs. The bill would severely limit the handcuffing and shackling of pregnant women who are incarcerated and seek to ensure newborns and their mothers are cared for well. Shackling often involves chaining both wrists and ankles.

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Vice President Kamala Harris visited central North Carolina to pitch the Biden administration’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. Monday's trip marked Harris' first visit to the state since getting sworn in to office. She spoke at Guilford Technical Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Campus and later toured a Thomas Built Buses plant in High Point. Harris said the proposal is a “once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation” investment in America’s future. She highlighted many items in the plan beyond the proposed transportation infrastructure.

NCDPS

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will give his “State of the State” speech to a joint session of the General Assembly next week. Spokespeople for Cooper and top Republican legislative leaders confirmed on Monday that plans are in place for the governor to deliver the biennial address at 7 p.m. April 26 in the House chamber. The address is usually given in February or March of odd-numbered years, but things are different this year due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. This will mark Cooper’s third State of the State address and first since he got reelected in November.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission has signed off on orders involving Duke Energy’s two electric subsidiaries in the state over rate increase requests and how the company will pay to get rid of coal ash stored in the state. The regulatory panel issued an order Friday involving Duke Energy Progress. A similar order involving Duke Energy Carolinas came out late last month. The final rate increases haven't been finalized.

A federal judge says the tribe that runs both of North Carolina's casinos is out of luck in its legal challenge against a competitor vying to build a third gambling facility in the state. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg rejected a legal challenge Friday by the North Carolina-based Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians over a planned casino near the state’s southern line. The new casino is being built by the Catawba Indian Nation of South Carolina and will offer Las Vegas-style gaming at a planned resort in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

A North Carolina District Court judge has been suspended without pay for 30 days for violating judicial rules because he served as the executor for the estates of two family friends. The state Supreme Court issued on Friday the suspension for Judge William Brooks, who holds court for four northwestern counties. The Code of Judicial Conduct prevents such work by a sitting judge except when the estate belongs to a family member. Friday's order also says he failed to report nearly $90,000 in the estates' commissions he received at the time.

NCDPS

The head of North Carolina’s emergency management operations since 2013 will retire this summer. The Department of Public Safety announced on Friday that Mike Sprayberry will step down after more than 40 years of state service. After the governor, Sprayberry has been the most public face for state government’s efforts to prepare for and recover from hurricanes, snowstorms and other natural emergencies. He's a former Marine and North Carolina National Guard member who became deputy emergency management director in 2005.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell for the sixth consecutive month in March. The state Commerce Department said on Friday the seasonally adjusted jobless rate decreased from 5.7% in February to 5.2%. The national rate was 6% in March. The March rate in North Carolina is the lowest since a 3.9% rate in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic took off. The rate soon went into double digits. The jobless figures have slowly improved since then, especially as business restrictions have eased.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has nominated the current chairman and vice chairman of the State Board of Education to serve eight additional years on the panel. Chairman Eric Davis and Vice Chairman Alan Duncan are among four people the governor on Thursday asked the General Assembly to confirm for the board. The others are Melody Chalmers McClain and Ronald Hargrave. Eleven of the board's 13 voting members are gubernatorial appointees. Cooper also announced Thursday he nominated former Cabinet member Larry Hall of Durham to join the panel that hears unemployment benefit appeals.

Authorities are looking for a man on trial for attempted murder after he fled a North Carolina courtroom. The Wilson Times reports authorities are searching for 31-year-old Deonta Earl Bridgers, who jurors convicted in absentia on Wednesday after he fled. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office says that prior to his court proceedings, Bridgers was on house arrest without any additional restrictions. Wanda Samuel, sheriff’s office chief of staff, says a deputy received a tampering alert from Bridgers’ electronic monitoring device on Tuesday when he failed to return to court from lunch.

NCDHHS

The state House is backing legislation that would give additional state tax breaks to businesses that took federal loans to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Senate isn’t yet fully on board with the idea, which comes with a hefty price tag. The House gave initial approval to the measure on Thursday by an overwhelming margin. It allows businesses that spent Payroll Protection Program loan proceeds to deduct the expenses from their income for state tax purposes. The PPP money was designed to keep workers at shuttered firms employed.

Authorities on the North Carolina coast say one person is dead after a portion of an old bridge on the Outer Banks collapsed and fell into the water. Capt. Jeff Derringer of the Dare County Sheriff's Office says workers were dismantling a section of the old Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks on Wednesday when that section fell approximately 110 feet into Oregon Inlet. The accident was first reported by OBX Today, and there was no official word on any other injuries. The Bonner Bridge sits adjacent to the Marc Basnight Bridge, which replaced it in 2019.

Calls for fairness predominated a North Carolina legislative hearing on a bill that would prevent transgender girls and women from competing in organized school sports designated for biologically female athletes. A House judiciary committee debated and took testimony Wednesday on the measure but did not vote on the Republican bill. Similar bills have become law in at least four states since last year. The North Carolina legislation would apply from middle school through college and include official teams, competitions and intramurals.

Many North Carolina legislators say it’s still the right time to seek making daylight saving time permanent in the state. A House committee on Tuesday advanced a measure that would move clocks up an hour for good if Congress allows it. Other states are passing similar laws that also would require congressional approval. One bill sponsor says moving the time up would mean more time for outdoor evening activities. But a permanent shift also would mean more children getting ready for school and adults going to work in the dark.

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North Carolina’s programs that spend tax dollars on scholarships for low-income students to attend private K-12 schools and for children with disabilities to receive special education would be altered in a measure approved by the state House. The chamber passed on Tuesday the Republican bill in a party-line vote. The measure would turn the Opportunity Scholarship Program award amounts into a percentage of the state's per-pupil allocation for public schools. The state's two scholarship programs for children with disabilities would be combined.

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Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says he’ll run for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina in hopes of succeeding the retiring Sen. Richard Burr. The one-term governor revealed his plans Wednesday on his Charlotte-area radio show. McCrory is currently the most well-known candidate to have entered the contest. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker is already in the race for the GOP nomination. Democrats have targeted Burr’s seat as a prime pickup opportunity to expand their razor-thin Senate edge. McCrory was elected as North Carolina's governor in 2012 and served four years in office.

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President Biden is giving an address on plans to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that prompted America's involvement in its longest war. Watch his remarks live beginning at 2:15 p.m. 

Two North Carolina police officers have been placed on leave after at least one of them was shown on video throwing punches at a Black man after a foot pursuit. A 17-second video clip from a bystander during the arrest Monday night in Kinston appears to show an officer standing over David Lee Bruton Jr. and throwing multiple punches while he’s down. The head of the local NAACP chapter called the video disturbing, and the man’s mother said she’s grateful her son is alive.

NCDHHS

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is asking vaccine providers across the state to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after six reported U.S. cases of potentially dangerous blood clots were reported in women who received the J&J shot. None of the six cases occurred in North Carolina.

North Carolina has 85,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines it will offer to people who had been scheduled to receive a single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Those people can either reschedule their appointment if they want a J&J vaccine or elect to receive either of the other two vaccines. State health officials got word earlier in the day from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they should stop administering J&J doses over concerns of six rare cases of serious blood clots.

North Carolina House members are trying again to give school systems more flexibility over when they can hold classes. A House education committee on Tuesday passed several measures that would move up start dates or give districts wide-ranging control over their schedules. Current law requires districts to open the school year no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. There are exceptions. A uniform calendar law passed in 2004 in response to worries that traditional summer vacations were diminishing.

NC Ferry Division

Ferry service on Pamlico Sound is resuming as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues work on shoaling issues in Bigfoot Slough. The N.C. Department of Transportation says in a news release that service from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island to Ocracoke began Tuesday with a two-boat, alternate schedule while the corps continues its work. Shoaling occurs when sand and sediment fill into a ferry channel, making water depths too shallow and the channel too narrow for safe operation of the ferry system’s largest vessels.

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