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East Carolina University

East Carolina University says it is using a portion of the money from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to wipe out nearly $1 million in student debt. A news release from the school says Stephanie Coleman, interim vice chancellor for administration and finance, said the debt forgiveness is intended to provide relief for students facing hardships due to the pandemic and will affect about 625 students. The funds will help pay outstanding student balances from summer and fall of 2020.

A former state environmental secretary under then-Gov. Pat McCrory is the next leader of North Carolina’s Office of Administrative Hearings. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby swore in Donald van der Vaart on Thursday to become the state’s chief administrative law judge, which also makes him OAH director. Van der Vaart succeeds Julian Mann III, who had served in the positions since 1989.

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A proposed medical marijuana law for North Carolina has cleared its first significant legislative hurdle. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday for the measure, which creates a patient, manufacturing, licensing and sales structure. The bill still has to pass through three committees before reaching the Senate floor. But the vote offers evidence that support is growing at the General Assembly for legalizing some marijuana. Patients could obtain an ID card to purchase and possess marijuana if a doctor declares they have one of several illnesses and could benefit from it.

Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have approved tenure for Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Wednesday's 9-4 vote capped weeks of tension that began when a board member halted the process over questions about her teaching credentials. The board voted to accept the tenure application at a special meeting that included a closed-door session. The university announced in April that Hannah-Jones would be joining the journalism school faculty in July. But her lawyers announced last week she wouldn't report for work without tenure.

A North Carolina House committee has approved a bill to raise the minimum age at which children have to appear before a judge from six to 10. The move to advance the measure on Wednesday ends a three-month period in which the idea stalled within the legislature. But the bill is now larger in size and scope. It now advances to another committee. Over three years, more than 200 kids under 10 were brought before a judge. The 6-year-old minimum for prosecution in the North Carolina juvenile court system is the lowest age set by law in the country.

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A new report has found that about 1 in 2,800 K-12 students who attended classes under the loosest reopening guidelines became infected with COVID-19 due to in-school transmission. The findings from Duke University and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine were released Wednesday. They show that mask wearing is the best way to reduce COVID-19 transmission. The report says state education leaders should consider eliminating quarantining youth who are properly masked and vaccinated.

The North Carolina General Assembly’s annual farm bill has received final legislative approval. The Senate voted on Tuesday for House changes to the measure and sent the bill on to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's desk. The most contentious provision left in the final measure directs state environmental regulators to develop a “general permit” for animal farm operations that want to collect methane gas from waste ponds for energy. The permit would created a streamlined process for such systems. Environmental groups and some residents in hog-intensive areas oppose the provision.

NCDPS

Many North Carolinians facing the threat of eviction can still remain in their homes through July 31. This comes despite state leaders voting on Tuesday to let a statewide eviction moratorium directive lapse at the end of June. Eligible renters can fill out a form from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and give it to their landlord if they face eviction because they are unable to pay their rent. The expiration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's moratorium is unlikely to cause mass eviction but could lead to some people being kicked out of their homes prematurely.

A University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor who posted a Facebook status that said “Blow up Republicans” has resigned from the board of a nonprofit he founded. Wilmington StarNews reports that Dr. Dan Johnson left Accessible Coastal Carolina Events, Sports and Services of Wilmington on Monday. Johnson is an associate professor of recreation therapy. His university biography says he was a liaison between the university and the nonprofit.

Southeastern North Carolina is about to get a new area code in response to the growth in the number of new residents, businesses and cell phones. News outlets report the North Carolina Utilities Commission has approved a new overlay area code for the existing 910 area code. The new area code of 472 will cover areas including Onslow and Duplin counties. Before that happens, all calls within the existing 910 area code will transition to 10-digit dialing. Calls within the 910 area code will require that the caller dial the full number, including area code.

North Carolina textile executives and advocates for the environment and the poor are urging state legislators to reject a major energy bill pushed by several House Republicans. The coalition held a news conference Monday to criticize the wide-ranging proposal. It would retire early several coal-fired plants operated by Duke Energy subsidiaries, expand solar production and allow the electric utility to seek multi-year rate increases. Textile companies are worried that the full costs of the proposal upon Duke Energy ratepayers would harm their plants and chances for in-state expansion.

North Carolina sets the lowest minimum age in the country by law for a child to be prosecuted, allowing 6-year-olds to be tried in juvenile court. Now, the state is looking to raise the age to ensure children under 10 don't have to appear before a judge. Many of the more than 2,000 reported complaints in recent years emerged in schools and were disproportionately made against Black boys. Racial justice advocates support the bill but want to see more systemic changes to the state's juvenile justice system.

Electronic cigarette giant Juul Labs Inc. will pay $40 million to North Carolina and take more action to prevent underage use and sales. That's according to a landmark legal settlement announced on Monday after years of accusations that the company had fueled an explosion in teen vaping. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein had accused Juul of unfair and deceptive marketing practices targeting young people to use it vaping products, which delivers addictive nicotine.

NCDPS

North Carolina announced on Monday the winners of its first COVID-19 vaccine lottery drawing. Winston-Salem resident and teacher Shelly Wyramon won the state’s first of four drawings for a $1 million cash prize, while 14-year-old Vania Martinez won a $125,000 college scholarship. The state will pick the remaining three cash and scholarship winners on July 7, July 21 and Aug. 4. Few residents have come in for a COVID-19 shot since the lottery was announced. Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials hope more people will get their shot after news of winners being selected.

N.C. Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo is ending the requirement for visitors to make reservations. A statement from the zoo says reservations will no longer be required beginning July 1. The zoo will still require visitors who ae not fully vaccinated to wear face coverings and to practice social distancing. When the zoo reopened in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, reservations were required to limit the number of visitors to the zoo, which is outside of Asheboro. In recent months, the zoo has welcomed an elephant, a polar bear and 12 red wolf pups.

Less than half of North Carolinians eligible for a COVID-19 shot are fully vaccinated even though there are more than 2.1 million doses waiting on shelves for residents to take. Less than 118,000 residents came in for a first dose in the two weeks since the state announced four $1 million prizes would be given out to vaccinated adult. North Carolina ranks 12th-worst in the nation in vaccines administered per capita. It is second-worst among states with a Democratic governor.

A two-year North Carolina government budget that spends, saves and cuts taxes thanks to a state revenue boon and billions more federal COVID-19 relief funds cleared the Senate. Four Democrats joined all Republicans in voting Friday for the spending proposal — just like Thursday when the chamber completed the first of two required votes. The budget bill now goes to the House, where Republicans will fashion a competing plan by next month. The two chambers then will hammer out a compromise to present to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Federal tenant protections are scheduled to expire on July 31. That has raised concerns that tens of thousands of North Carolina residents will be unable to afford their monthly rent and could face eviction. The state has set aside nearly $1.3 billion to help with outstanding rent and utility payments. North Carolinians who are evicted will be left to find a new home in a state where rental costs have risen in recent years. Realtors are seeing demand for apartments greatly outpace supply.

NCDPS

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a proposal pushed by Republicans to prohibit women from getting an abortion because of the race or sex of the fetus or a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Physicians would be required under the bill vetoed on Friday to sign a report confirming an abortion was not desired for those three reasons. Democrats and abortion rights groups feared the measure would prevent women from having open conversations with their doctors. Republicans say the proposal sought to end a modern-day form of eugenics.

North Carolina Waterkeeper Alliance

The North Carolina legislature is near final approval of its annual farm bill, which includes a new method to permit operations at hog farms so they can convert liquid waste into consumer natural gas. The House voted on Thursday for the measure, which makes changes in more than a dozen categories related to agriculture. A similar version passed the Senate last month and could soon be on Gov. Roy Cooper's desk. Interest is growing in biogas because of the potential revenue source. Some Democrats complained the permit process would be too swift and could omit concerns over air quality.

The Recycling Partnership

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has named a longtime legislative lobbyist and policy adviser on environmental issues as his next secretary for the environment. Cooper's choice of Elisabeth Biser on Thursday comes three weeks after Senate Republicans voted down Cooper’s appointment of Dionne Delli-Gatti as secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. They said her reticence during a confirmation hearing about Cooper’s natural gas policy disqualified her. Delli-Gatti's rejection marked the first such no-confirmation result for a governor since the advise-and-consent law took effect.

Republicans in charge of the North Carolina General Assembly have agreed to legislation ending the $300 federal weekly supplemental benefit to the unemployed in the state. The House and Senate voted separately on Wednesday. Nearly all Democrats voted against the elimination, signaling a possible veto from Gov. Roy Cooper. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation already is expected to expire nationwide in early September. The bill would end the program in North Carolina in roughly a month.

The House has voted to let local school leaders — and not state officials — decide for next school year whether people in K-12 schools must wear face coverings. The chamber voted Wednesday to give local school boards and leaders of private schools the “exclusive authority” to decide on face coverings. Gov. Roy Cooper’s current executive order and guidance by state health officials direct that most everyone wear face coverings indoors. The measure marks another effort by Republicans to scale back the Democratic governor’s influence over the state’s coronavirus response.

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A bipartisan effort to legalize marijuana for medical use in North Carolina has received a legislative committee hearing. But it’s unclear yet whether enough legislators are ready now to alter their views on pot. Nearly three-quarters of states already allow medical marijuana. Senators debated the measure on Wednesday. Patients would have to be declared in writing by a physician to have one of several “debilitating medical conditions” to obtain an ID card to purchase or possess marijuana. Up to 10 cannabis suppliers who are named could operate several sales centers.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell for the eighth consecutive month in May. But data released Wednesday by state officials show the reduction appears largely connected to a decline in the number of people actively seeking work. The seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell from 5% in April to 4.8% in May. The state’s overall workforce actually fell by more than 16,200 people compared to April, and the number of employed workers decreased by over 4,500.  Leisure and hospitality industries showed the largest increase in employment last month.

A key figure in a North Carolina investigation into ballot fraud in a congressional race has pleaded guilty to federal charges involving Social Security benefits. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh said Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. entered the plea Monday in Greenville federal court. Prosecutors had accused Dowless of receiving benefits unlawfully by concealing money he earned working on state and federal campaigns. The charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 15 years. Dowless still faces state charges involving the 2016 and 2018 elections.

North Carolina General Assembly

A North Carolina state government budget proposal written by Republicans that also would cut taxes by several billion dollars this decade has cleared the chamber’s finance committee. The panel’s approval of the measure Wednesday sets the stage for Senate floor debate Thursday and the first of two required votes. The bill would spend $25.7 billion in state funds next fiscal year. The measure also would reduce the individual income tax rate incrementally to just under 4% by 2026 and phase out the current 2.5% corporate tax starting in 2014.

Legislation to raise the minimum age for marriage in North Carolina from 14 to 16 has now cleared a House committee after getting Senate approval last month. The measure also would prevent the young person’s spouse from being no more than four years older. And 16- and 17-year-olds would need either written parental consent or a judge’s order to marry. Backers of the measure approved by a judiciary committee on Tuesday say that North Carolina has become a destination for out-of-state couples involving an underage partner because of its rules.

Senate Republicans have pushed their North Carolina government budget proposal through the chamber’s largest committee. The measure cleared the appropriations panel Tuesday after less than three hours of debate. The bill spends state funds and allocates over $5 billion in federal COVID-19 relief aid for business grants, state employees bonuses, broadband expansion and water and sewer projects. GOP leaders also highlighted plans within the measure to cut income taxes more deeply and fund more future capital projects.

Investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has told the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a letter that she will not join the faculty at its journalism school without tenure. NC Policy Watch reported Tuesday that the letter says Hannah-Jones will not begin her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism as scheduled July 1. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project for the New York Times Magazine. She accepted a five-year contract to join the journalism school’s faculty this year.

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