Julie Fertig

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Video sweepstakes law can be enforced early 2013

RALEIGH — Authorities across state can begin enforcing the law outlawing video sweepstakes on January, according to the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.

Last Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled video sweepstakes are illegal which upheld the 2010 law banning video sweepstakes machines as a form of gambling.

Under the state rules, opinions of the supreme court take effect 20 days after they are issued.

Despite the ruling outlawing video sweepstakes machines, some parlors believe they’ve found a way to stay in business, which is a relief to some players like Jeremy Brown.

"That’s all the rumor that’s been talked about lately, they closing down. When they closing down? What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?" questioned Brown.

A little less than 100 parlors, like one on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, hope to remain open by updating their sweepstakes software system.

The law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice explained the new software does not use the same entertaining display as the old equipment.

“I represent VS2 North Carolina, LLC, which licenses internet sweepstakes software to various business centers and internet cafés in North Carolina,” said Winston-Salem-based attorney John Morrow.  “VS2 is aware of and respects the North Carolina Supreme Court’s recent decision that the sweepstakes ban law is constitutional. As a consequence, VS2 has developed a new sweepstakes system that we believe does not violate that law.  Specifically, the sweepstakes ban law only outlaws systems in which the sweepstakes is conducted through the use of an entertaining display. VS2’s new system does not use an entertaining display to conduct the sweepstakes.”

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association Executive Vice President Eddie Caldwell is aware some stores may convert to a new system.

"Sheriffs and other law enforcement officers who encounter any ‘converted’ machines may wish to consult with their agency legal adviser or local district attorney for guidance about charging violations of the statute," Caldwell advised sheriff offices across the state.

Despite the controversy, players like Brown hope the parlors find a way to remain open.

"It’s a fun place to be to get away from the family a little bit and enjoy some time trying to win some money," he said.

When authorities beginning enforcing the law outlawing video sweepstakes, Caldwell said sweepstake machine operators could be charged with a felony for obtaining property by false pretense.

To view the North Carolina Supreme Court opinion surrounding the complaint filed by Hest Technologies, click here.

To view the North Carolina Supreme Court opinion surrounding the complaint filed by Sandhill Amusements, click here.

To view the memo from attorneys surrounding the new sweepstakes software, click here.

To view the memo from the North Carolina Department of Justice, click here.

All but one county to complete 7th District recount Tuesday

RALEIGH — Counties in the 7th Congressional District are one day away from completing the recount in the race between Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre and challenger David Rouzer.

The recount was requested last week by Rouzer, a Republican from Johnston County, after he lost by 655 votes.

Of all the 12 counties in the 7th District, all but one will finish their recount Tuesday. Duplin County will conduct its recount Wednesday. They’ll then turn their results over to the N.C. Board of Elections who is expected finalize the race results.

McIntyre was declared the winner by a very narrow margin when the final votes were tallied last week. Rouzer’s campaign requested a recount after learning about equipment malfunction that occurred during election night in Bladen County. Election leaders in Bladen County began performing its recount Monday.

"We want it right. The people in Bladen County deserve to see it right," said Ray Britt from the Bladen County Board of Elections. "The people in Bladen County have put this board in place and we owe every voter and everybody that runs for public office to see that it is right."

Johnston County also began its recount Monday and hopes to finish up by noon Tuesday. They have about 76,000 ballots to run through.

"It’ll be a day just to count the one stops we have because there are approximately 14,000 ballots at each of our one stops," said Leigh Anne Price, the Johnston County Board of Elections director.

Stay with News 14 Carolina for the official results when they come in Wednesday.

U.S. Court of Appeals hears Cary sign ordinance case

RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments surrounding a controversial sign a Cary homeowner posted on his house in 2009 containing a message that criticized the town.

The town of Cary asked a panel of three judges on Wednesday to reverse the North Carolina district court ruling, which said the town violated homeowner David Bowden’s First Amendment rights by telling him to remove the sign.

Bowden posted a sign that said "Screwed by the Town of Cary" when the town refused to pay him $250,000 after a road widening project damaged his house.

Since 2009, town attorneys claimed Bowden violated his their sign ordinance.

"The enforcement action was taken simply based on the size and color of this signs," said Cary attorney Chris Simpson, who told judges the town’s request for removal was not based on the sign’s content, "To have sign ordinances that express the community’s standards and the desires of its citizens."

When Bowden died last year, his daughter Dawn Brown took over his estate and her father’s case. Her attorney Mark Sigmon told the judges Bowden and all homeowners need to know they have the right to make a political statement on their own property.

"It’s clear he’s in violation of both the size and the color. That’s why we’re here in the first place. The argument is that even though he’s technically in violation, you cannot apply the ordinance against him because the First Amendment does not allow that," Sigmon said.

Cary attorneys told the judges this case represents problems municipalities across the country face. They urged the judge to allow towns to uphold their sign ordinances.

"Not based on one person but on the ability of cities to regulate signs," said Simpson.

However, Sigmon argued freedom of speech should not be regulated and feels the final ruling in this case could hold implications for all homeowners.

"People have strong opinions. They want to get it out there in the best way and they’re going to do that on their own house. Hopefully the court will allow that," he said.

If the judges uphold the lower court’s decision, the town will have to pay more than $55,000 in attorney and other fees and a nominal fee for Bowden’s family.

"I saw him in the hospital a couple of days before he died and the very last thing he told me was that he wanted the dollar that Cary was ordered to pay him," said Sigmon.

It could be several months before the judges make their ruling.

Paul Ryan touts economic plan in Raleigh

RALEIGH – Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan highlighted a five-point economic recovery plan that presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is touting.

Ryan pushed hard against President Barack Obama’s economic record at a rally in Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, saying Obama inherited a mess, but has made it worse.

"President Obama and "’fiscal responsibility" are words that don’t belong in same sentence. He’s become part of the problem," Ryan said.

He also pledged that, if elected, a Romney administration would repeal health care reform, also known as Obamacare. That line received explosive cheers from the crowd.

After narrowly losing in North Carolina in the 2008 presidential election, Romney and Ryan are making it clear this is a critical state they want to win this time around. This is Ryan’s second stop in the Tar Heel State over the past week and a half.

Shortly before becoming Romney’s running mate, Ryan sat down with News 14 Carolina and discussed his support for Romney’s plans to turn the country around.

"Mitt Romney is offering a better way," he said. "Get out of this debt crisis, get back to growth and prosperity and basically people have a choice. You want the idea with the safely net, the opportunity society, or you want the welfare state with the debt crisis which is basically the track we are on with President Obama’s policies."

Ryan is also expected to attend a private fundraiser in Raleigh and be in Fayetteville on Thursday.

Attorney general urges lawmakers to act to keep crime rates low

Annual Summary Crime Report

To read the full NC Department of Justice report, click here.

RALEIGH — North Carolina experienced its lowest crime rate in more than three decades in 2011.

On Thursday, Attorney General Roy Cooper released crime statistics based on data provided by the State Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies across the state.

While crime dropped in several areas, reports show there were more murders in the state in 2011 compared to 2010.

Statistics show there were more homicide victims in 2011 compared to 2010. In 2011, there were 501 murder victims versus 468 victims in 2010.

However, statistics indicate a decrease in other violent crimes including rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.

"We need to make sure we do the right thing and keep up with this and we are falling behind," expressed Cooper, who feels lawmakers have made significant budget cuts to public safety over the past several years that are already taking their toll and could get even worse. "There are ominous warning that our state legislature must heed."

Cooper believes law enforcement needs more officers, agents and forensic scientists who all require training, equipment and enough pay to remain competitive.

"There are going to be services that aren’t going to be able to perform and those choices are going to have to be made as a result."

Some agencies are already coping with the cuts.

"The Department of Public Safety will have approximately 15,000 more probationers to supervise without getting any probation officers to supervise them," said Cooper.

To keep the number of victims from rising, Cooper urges legislators to act before it’s too late.

"We will continue to fight the fight but we risk losing ground," he said.

Based on reports from the 10 largest sheriff offices in the state, Randolph, Davidson, Onslow, Buncombe and Wake Counties experience the biggest increases in crime in 2011.

DOT assistant testifies in Senate letter investigation

RALEIGH — A North Carolina Department of Transportation worker gave state senators a tearful apology for signing two letters that have become the center of an investigation.

The letters falsely told lawmakers funding is needed this year for two highway toll road projects.

During the final day of questioning in the investigation, senators interviewed two DOT workers and one of the governor’s staffers about the mistake.

"I deeply regret applying Jim’s signatures to these letters, especially since I knew he was not aware of the specifics of the change," said Vicki Stanley, an administrative assistant for DOT Chief Operating Officer Jim Trogdon.

Stanley told senators she put her boss’ electronic signature on two letters. Trogdon was participating in a military training exercise and one of the governor’s staffers, Pryor Gibson, told Stanley there was a tight deadline to get the letters to lawmakers.

"Although I did feel a sense of due to the time deadline and a heightened sense of responsibility, anytime the governor’s office is involved, we want to be as responsive as we can," said Stanley. "I did not feel threatened or coerced at anytime. I take full responsibility for my part in this."

DOT Deputy Secretary Susan Coward admits she gave Stanley the approval to sign the letters.

"I took responsibility with my boss where I was at fault, apologized to him and my colleagues and I express the same to you today," said Coward.

Republican lawmakers interviewed Stanley and the others one-on-one, throwing out interrogation-style questions.

"We’re just trying to get to the bottom of the letter to see where we’re going to refer this or if we’re going to refer this," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson

Outraged Democrats pointed out it’s not a courtroom hearing.

"These ladies coming over like they had committed some awful crime. They were just doing their job," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake.

Despite the false information causing confusion, Democrats maintain it’s not right to treat government workers like this.

"We would not tolerate, if they called us over to a court, we would not tolerate it," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.

Gov. Bev Perdue’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin McLaughlin told lawmakers he helped write the letters. McLaughlin said the governor was not involved and he did not intentionally include false information.

"Because that’s not what was intended at the time. It was a clarification of what i saw as an open hole in this letter," said McLaughlin.

The committee will now consider what, if any, action should be taken.

Gubernatorial candidates present jobs plans for small business leaders

RALEIGH– Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory worked to earn the votes of small business leaders on Tuesday.

During the North Carolina Small Business Day at the Capital event, McCrory and Dalton discussed the changes they plan to make to keep the industry strong.

With 8,300 small business owners across the state, Dalton and McCrory recognizes the economy relies on the industry.

"You are the backbone of your communities," said Dalton.

The crowd full of business owners inside the Cardinal Club in downtown Raleigh asked how each candidate would reduce regulations.

"We have enough regulations right now," said McCrory.

The National Federation of Independent Business said regulations are one of the biggest challenges small business owners face.

"Regulations are just choking small businesses to death," said Gregg Thompson, the North Carolina director of National Federation of Independent Business

McCrory said he’s for regulations that make sense, but not all do.

“I’m not for regulations that are pseudo-regulations that really have no impact on anything except growing the bureaucracy regarding enforcement," said McCrory.

Dalton wants to create a website that would make regulations easier to understand and access.

"Tell you where you can get loans, tell you where you can get grants, talk about the regulation and take feedback," Dalton said.

Both candidates want to create jobs and lower the unemployment rate, but have different ideas to achieve the goal. Dalton wants to start new businesses in health care or military contracting equipment.

"We’ve got a plan to try to attract that,” Dalton said. “The military is a strong, strong base of our economy anyway. Eighty-five counties have a military contractor."

McCrory said it’s crucial to focus on economic development and recruitment of existing customers and not just attracting new business.

"That’s the type of spirit we need coming out of the governors office. It’s a competitive world out there, you know it, and the minute you turn your back on your customer, you lose them," said McCrory.

After hearing from both sides, the small business community plans to back one of the candidates.

After Labor Day, NFIB members in the Tar Heel State will announce which gubernatorial candidate they endorse.

Senate budget proposal draws concerns over funding for education

RALEIGH– The Senate unveiled its new budget proposal , which makes adjustments to the current two-year state budget. The plan aims to improve education without raising taxes.

Opponents, including Gov. Bev Perdue, feel the proposal does not do enough to restore funding to North Carolina schools and will hurt teachers and students.

Senator Pro-Tem Phil Berger said the plan would restore $158 million recurring dollars to the state’s K-12 education system.

However, unlike the House’s budget proposal, the Senate’s plan does not include funds to make up for the several hundred million dollars worth of federal stimulus dollars that will end next year.

"The locals can decide to use that money for the same thing that the federal stimulus money was used for but we’ve not technically ‘back-filled’ the federal dollars with state dollars," Berger said.

Under the proposal, most state workers would get a 1.2 percent raise, except the raise would be optional for public school workers. Each school district would get to decide how to spend their school system’s money.

"They also say in that same budget that superintendents can take that money and fill in classroom cuts,"said Brian Lewis, with the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Elizabeth Whisenant, who’s been teaching for nearly seven years but earns the salary of a second year teacher, fears some educators may chose another profession.

"You have good teachers. Well, a good teacher can’t stay in a county that can’t pay for things, can’t give them resources," said Whisenant, a 5th grade teacher at Millbrook Elementary School.

The Senate’s budget proposal would also put $230 million back into the Medicaid program, put an extra $100 million into the rainy day fund and help drivers save more than one cent per gallon every time they fill up.

"As promised, the budget cuts and freezes the state’s gas tax at 37.5 cents per gallon," Berger said.

Still, opponents like Whisenant remain concerned. Without more money for education, they fear the budget could hurt students.

"What’s effecting kids in the classroom is you’re losing really good teachers," reflected Whisenant.

Berger hopes the house and Senate can agree on a budget adjustment proposal by the end next week. Afterward, the plan will head to Gov. Perdue for approval.

NC could face federal lawsuit over disabilities investigation

RALEIGH — State lawmakers addressed the U.S Department of Justice’s investigation, which claims North Carolina is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two years ago, an advocacy group called Disability Rights North Carolina complained to the DOJ that thousands of people with disabilities are being needlessly institutionalized.

During a Legislative Oversight Committee meeting Tuesday, reality set in for legislators, who realized the state could face a federal lawsuit if the allegations are not addressed in a timely manner.

Department of Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Al Delia told lawmakers an agreement between the state and the DOJ will allow people with disabilities to be cared for in their own home or community when possible.

"It will mean a change in how we do business particularly as we provide services to people with mental illness and ultimately with other disabilities,” said Delia. “It really does come down to policy choices that are made and the allocation of resources."

Based on settlements with other states, legislators are concerned North Carolina does not have the revenue to implement the changes.

"That’s fantasy world I think,” said Sen. Harris Blake, a Moore County Republican. “But it would cost us dollars in the billions."

Vicki Smith, the director of Disability Rights North Carolina, filed the complaint with the DOJ in 2010. She believes changes would immediately help at least 6,000 people in adult care programs.

"A lot of people who are living adult care homes now would be able to go back to work, pay their own rent, pay taxes and contribute," said Smith.

DHHS officials said they plan to give lawmakers an exact dollar amount behind closed doors. Delia said he feels this is an ideal time for lawmakers to make changes because the budget will likely address other concerns surrounding the state health care system.

"Having that complete information can make their determinations about whether the state will go forward and trying to finalize some kind of agreement or not in the next two, three weeks," said Delia.

If the state does not take action this year, there’s a chance the DOJ may take legal action.

Controversial marriage amendment boosts voter turnout

RALEIGH — It’s primary election day and polls opened across the state Tuesday morning. Voters are casting their ballot in the primary election.

The tight Democratic race for governor is drawing a lot of attention, but it is the marriage amendment that’s really expected to drive a high number of voters to the polls.

After more than a year of debates and rallies, voters want to decide whether or not the state constitution should recognize marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

For Michelle Pridgen and other voters, it’s more than exercising their constitutional right that’s creating long lines at the polls.

"I think that amendment issue is really big for people this year," she said.

With signs, calls and commercials, the marriage amendment has been a hot topic the past few weeks.

"We’ve seen a lot of visibility on the liberal side," said voter Russell Carraway. "Probably we’re going to get a much larger turnout on the conservative side than people realize."

For or against, voters notice bigger crowds this election.

"Well I thought coming at 6:30 a.m. would be a piece of cake, but yes, it’s been quite busy," said Pridgen.

The state board of elections believes primary voter turnout could set a new record.

"First of all there is a constitutional amendment that statewide has got a lot of people interested," said Gary Bartlett, the NC Board of Elections director. "And, you have more Republican primaries than we’ve ever had in the state’s history."

As the anxiety builds until the final ballot is counted, voters like Pridgen wait for a decision that could impact North Carolina’s future.

A majority of the vote is needed for the amendment to pass meaning a simple "yes" or "no" vote could make all the difference.

Polls close at 7:30 p.m. To avoid lines, the board of elections director recommends avoiding the afternoon rush between 11 and 1 p.m. and the night rush between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.