Capital Tonight Dec. 4: Fracking Rules

On Capital Tonight: It’s been six months since the law authorizing fracking in North Carolina took effect. We talk with Vikram Rao, chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission, and Liz Kazal of Environment NC about how the rules governing fracking are taking shape. Congressman Robert Pittenger discusses his plan to modernize banking regulations and more. Watch the program here.

New Drone Laws Take Effect in North Carolina

GREENSBORO — Drones are expected to fly off of the shelves this holiday season, but before taking flight, there are new laws controlling drone use in North Carolina.

Brent Johnson, the owner of Hobby Town USA, said drones are definitely one of the top gift items this Christmas, and one reason is because they’re easy to fly.

“It’s successful,” said Johnson. “With the new technologies you don’t have to work as hard to get the things to fly. They’re simpler to use, simpler to maintain, and a lot more successful when you try.”

It is something which more and more people are doing.

Johnson said the people he sees at his store are just wanting to have fun with the technology and experiment with it.

Anybody can buy a drone, but there are rules and regulations that have to be followed.

“You have to have eyes on your helicopter, quad, aircraft, whatever you’re flying,” said Johnson. “You don’t fly above 400 feet above ground level, you don’t fly beyond where you can see, you don’t fly over population or people, and you definitely don’t fly near airports.”

Here in the Tar Heel state, there are even further restrictions on drones.

The General Assembly’s new law on the aircraft went into effect on Monday. It prohibits drones from being used to interfere with hunters or to be used by hunters to spot wildlife.

Also, they must not be used to interfere with planes or manned aircraft, and they cannot be used to take invasive photos.

Johnson said if people follow those rules then they are flying in a safe manor. He also said some top-of-the-line drones, in the $1,000 price range, can also keep people from breaking the law.

“You can set limits so you can make sure you don’t go over 400 feet above ground, make sure you don’t go beyond 800 or a thousand feet from you,” said Johnson. “It has an autometer, it has a compass. It will not fix eggs and ham but it will do pretty much everything else you want it to.”

There are plenty of options closer to the $50, so drones are something just about anybody can get a hold of and have fun with, responsibly.

Currently there are 20 states with laws on the books regarding drones.

– Elaina O’Connell

More Projects on Tap With NC Transportation Plan

RALEIGH—North Carolina’s first transportation funding plan using new standards has been unveiled.

The Department of Transportation released the draft State Transportation Improvement Program on Thursday. It proposes $15 billion on road construction, aviation and public transit projects through 2025.

The 10-year proposal uses the state’s new strategic mobility formula, approved in 2013.

The proposal is a hefty one, with more than 1,000 projects dealing with everything from roads, to ferries, to trains, to planes making the cut under North Carolina’s new Strategic Mobility Formula.

This new formula relying on several factors to determine what projects should be funded.

“There is congestion, there’s reduction of travel time, safety, jobs created and then creativity,” said Tony Tata, NC Secretary of Transportation.

The plan promises spending on hundreds of additional projects for the next decade, many of which would have otherwise been delayed, and is expected to create 100,000 additional jobs.

Getting the new formula approved by the legislature and up and running has been one of Gov. Pat McCrory’s top priorities, and accomplishments, since taking office. He says it is one that will prepare the state for the future.

“We’re taking away the chokepoints that block access to rural and urban areas alike to spur economic growth and to create jobs. And we are taking the politics out of transportation, so we are getting a bigger bang for limited dollars,” said Gov. McCrory.

The projects in the proposal vary widely- from completing the Fayetteville Outer Loop to connect Fort Bragg to I-95 to expanding NC 211 to help relieve congestion on the coast during tourist season.

Over 3,100 projects were submitted for consideration in the 10-year plan. Only 18 percent of them made the cut, which meant leaving more than 2,000 potential projects unfunded.

As work continues on the draft, lawmakers who will be providing the funding, say they expect to see few changes to the plan that has now been presented.

“I know there are some things that we probably want to go in there an look and make sure. In other words, trust but verify. So show me why, based on the data, show me why this project didn’t make it,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican.

There will be public comment and hearings on the proposal. The NC Board of Transportation is expected to approve the final plan in June 2015.

– Loretta Boniti 

NC Becomes Last State to Give Criminal Defendants Jury Choice

RALEIGH—North Carolina’s courtrooms saw a major overhaul this week as the number of cases where juries are mandated was dramatically reduced.

“That is the first time in North Carolina history that felony defendants have had that option,” said Jeff Welty with the UNC School of Government.

In November, North Carolina voters got a chance to amend the state’s constitution. By a margin of 53 to 47 percent, the measure was approved.

It says that felony defendants may waive a jury trial in any case that is not a capital offense.

“The most common reason a defendant would have for choosing a bench trial is if they felt like a jury was going to give them a fair shake, or as good a chance at a favorable outcome,” said Welty.

North Carolina is the last state to allow this option. But some legal experts say even though it is commonly allowed across the country, it doesn’t mean it will be common to put it to use.

“The bench trial is not something that is being done a lot. There still are jury trials. And in fact, the vast majority of jury cases are resolved by guilty plea. In those types of cases, it is not going to make a big difference. I think the jury, no pun intended, is still out on if it is going to have any effect on the cost of the budget the efficiency of the system,” said Zac Bolitho with Campbell Law School.

There is some disagreement over who benefits from a bench trial, but some say the way North Carolina’s law is written, might give one side an edge.

“The North Carolina provision does not require the consent of the prosecutor. And so I think there is a least an argument to be made that that tends to favor the criminal defendant because it does not allow the prosecutor to say no on these facts we want to go in front fo a jury,” said Bolitho.

Any non-capital felony case that is now heard in North Carolina courts from this day forward can be requested to be a bench trial.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight Dec. 3: House Minority Leader Larry Hall

On Capital Tonight: House Minority Leader Larry Hall joins Tim Boyum to discuss his priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Our Advocates Kevin Rogers and Mitch Kokai debate if the changes to the election law had an effect on the midterm election. Watch the program here.

Gov. McCrory Shuffles NC Business, Environment Heads

RALEIGH—RALEIGH—Gov. Pat McCrory is shuffling the heads of two state agencies that report to him.

The governor was emotional as he announced that his Secretary of Commerce, Sharon Decker, will be stepping down at the end of the month.

Decker is being replaced by John Skvarla, who has headed the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the first two years of McCrory’s four-year term.

Gov. McCrory said he sees this as a logical transition and movement within his cabinet.

“I did make sure when I put our team together that the members of the team would be interchangeable. And as I look for John’s replacement I will be looking for talent that is also interchangeable and are natural leaders in moving policy, operations and strategy,” said McCrory.

While speaking to the media Tuesday morning, Gov. McCrory pointed to accomplishments such as lowered unemployment rates, rural development, and the private economic partnership organization as steps forward under Decker’s watch.

Decker and Gov. McCrory are long time friends and are both former Duke Energy executives. She said she is taking a new job with a media company based near her western North Carolina home.

Skvarla is a Raleigh businessman who described the environment agency’s role as being a “partner” to those it regulates, which he described as “customers”.

Gov. McCrory said he’s looking at internal and outside candidates to become the new head of DENR.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight Dec. 1: Wake County DA Ned Mangum

On Capital Tonight: We talk with Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum about a new law that makes it a felony to give a prison inmate a cell phone. Erik Spanberg and Patrick Gannon join our Reporter Roundtable. Watch the program here.

NC Economic Development Group Gets New CEO

CARY, N.C. — North Carolina’s newly formed public-private partnership formed to lead the state’s corporate recruitment efforts has a new leader.

Christopher Chung was named Monday as the chief executive officer of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which began operations in October. The partnership was created by Gov. Pat McCrory and state lawmakers to take over corporate recruitment efforts previously housed in the N.C. Department of Commerce.

The 38-year-old Chung previously launched the Missouri Partnership, a similar public-private entity. He will replace interim CEO Richard Lindenmuth, who will still work for the North Carolina partnership as a consultant.

The non-profit partnership is set to receive about $17.5 million a year in state funding. Chung will be paid an annual salary of $225,000, of which $120,000 will come from public funds.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

– Associated Press

New Rules for NC Abortion Clinics Unveiled

RALEIGH—North Carolina government health officials have developed new rules for the state’s abortion clinics more than a year after the legislature demanded upgrades so that they would be treated like outpatient surgery centers while still preserving access.

A committee has been working on new rules and regulations to comply with that directive for the past year and a half. On Monday, it released its proposals.

Draft measures:

• Improve post operative care and ensure patients are discharged in stable conditions
• Increased quality assurance measures to monitor patient care
• Requirements to have aed devices on site at clinics
• Increases in privacy protocals for patients

When lawmakers first proposed the legislation requiring the changes, it created a firestorm. Protesters swarmed the Legislative Building outraged that this would limit access to abortions in North Carolina.

Health officials say they don’t believe the proposal does.

In a statement from Drexdal Pratt, the Director of DHHS’ Division of Health Service Regulations, she said:

DHHS thoroughly worked through the normal rulemaking process in revising the rules pertaining to abortion clinics. The proposed rules meet constitutional requirements and comply with Senate Bill 353 by improving patient safety and privacy while preserving access to services.

Planned Parenthood, which, among other things, provides education, advocacy, and care for unplanned pregnancies, said it appears the proposals are not too burdensome.

“At our first glance, there is nothing in the proposed regulations that would cause a planned parenthood center to close down,” says Melissa Reed with Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood said they are pleased they were able to have a voice in the rule-making process, and say for now, their concerns are calmed about the potential to restrict abortions.

“Certainly the legislation that was passed allowed an enormous amount of flexibility for DHHS to come up with regulations. And again at first blush, these look like very commonsense measures,” said Reed.

The Department will receive public comments on the proposed rules and fiscal note from December 1, 2014 – January 30, 2015.

All comments are considered prior to the Department adopting the proposed rules and submitting to the Rule Review Commission for further consideration.

PUBLIC HEARING INFO:

• December 19, 2014, at 9:00 a.m.
• Room 104, Brown Building,
801 Biggs Drive
Raleigh, NC 27603

• The building is located on the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Laws on Venus Flytraps, BB Guns Take Effect

RALEIGH—Nine new state laws are set to take effect Monday.

The laws include felonies for poaching Venus fly traps and for giving a prison inmate a cell phone, or for an inmate to posses a cell phone.

Earlier this year, an inmate was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of the father of the Wake County assistant district attorney who prosecuted him.

New laws forbid drones from being used to interfere with hunters, being used to spot wildlife, and from interfering with planes or taking invasive photos.