Jorge Valencia

Capitol Reporter

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.

Ways to Connect

Photo: Venus Flytrap
Flickr user Mark Freeth

Nine North Carolina state laws are set to go into effect today, including criminal defendants' ability to waive their right to a jury trial and a law that makes it a felony to poach the carnivorous Venus Flytrap plant.

Criminal Jury Trials

Photo: Justice Cheri Beasley
Justice Cheri Beasley Committee

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley has won a re-count to keep her seat against  Winston-Salem attorney Mike Robinson, according to certified State Board of Elections results.

Beasley, endorsed by Democrats in the non-partisan race for the state’s highest court, gained a net of 17 votes in the re-count, keeping a narrow lead of 0.22 percent of ballots cast, the unofficial results show.

Photo: Rep. Tim Moore and NC House GOP Leadership
Jorge Valencia

North Carolina Republicans have nominated a new State House Speaker to succeed U.S. Senator-elect Thom Tillis. Tim Moore is an attorney and small business owner from Kings Mountain, a small town about 30 miles west of Charlotte. He's been in the House for six terms.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives chose Moore in a closed-door meeting. They locked themselves in a conference room at Randolph Community College. Moore needed at least half the votes plus one to win, and that was exactly what he got.

Rep. Tim Moore is the GOP's choice for Speaker of the House
NC General Assembly

North Carolina House Republicans selected Cleveland County Rep. Tim Moore as their choice for Speaker of the House of Representatives, making him the almost-certain successor to U.S. Senator-elect Thom Tillis in one of the state's three most powerful public offices.

Moore, 44, an attorney in rural King's Mountain and seven-term representative, received 37 votes in the first-round of voting - likely a comfortable victory in a race against five other candidates.

Photo of Republican John Alexander and Democrat Tom Bradshaw
Alexander for NC Senate, Tom Bradshaw for NC Senate

Wednesday afternoon former Raleigh Mayor Tom Bradshaw congratulated  opponent John Alexander on winning their race for the North Carolina Senate, after Wake County Board of Elections officials gave the final results of a re-count.

Bradshaw and Alexander’s race to represent a portion of northern Wake County -- the only one in the General Assembly to go to a re-count after this month’s election -- came down to 701 votes, or about .86 percent of the turn-out. The contest was one of a mere dozen or so that were competitive in the 170-seat body.

Sharing economy illustration
North Carolina General Assembly

North Carolina lawmakers are taking their first look at how to regulate networks of individuals who buy and sell services between each other, a billion-dollar global industry that already operates in dozens of cities across the state.

One of the peer-to-peer economy’s biggest exponents, Airbnb, accounts for about 2,700 residential rental listings across North Carolina, and drivers who pick up passengers with their personal cars using the application Uber operate in ten cities here.

Photo of Republican John Alexander and Democrat Tom Bradshaw
Alexander for NC Senate, Tom Bradshaw for NC Senate

Former Raleigh Mayor Tom Bradshaw requested a recount on Monday afternoon in his race for the North Carolina Senate against Republican John Alexander, with 701 votes separating them in the closest General Assembly contest this year.

Alexander led Bradshaw by .86 percent in a race with a turn-out of about 82,000 voters, according to certified Wake County Board of Elections results.
 

Pat McCrory
Dave DeWitt

Governor Pat McCrory has filed a suit against House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger, saying he's trying to stop them from usurping executive powers.

The lawsuit, filed in Wake County Superior Court, alleges violations of the separation of powers, executive power, and appointments provisions of the state Constitution, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. Former governors Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican, joined McCrory in the filing.

Unemployment lines
Wikimedia

The U.S. Department of Labor has waived an anticipated federal unemployment tax increase on North Carolina businesses, as the state continues to pay millions it borrowed from the federal government to pay for state insurance benefits. 

The waiver reduces employers’ tax hike for the 2014 tax year up to $65 per employee, or about $180 million collectively for employers across the state, officials said.

This is a story about two new Americans: Webton Webley, a 26-year-old active service member of the U.S. Army, and his wife 23-year-old Sherell Perry-Webley, an U.S. Army reservist.

Sherell's and Webton's lives in the U.S. have been closely intertwined. They went to the same high school in Jamaica, and Sherell eventually got a green card through her mom, who was living in Fort Lauderdale. Webton arrived to Florida on a visa to study at Miami-Dade College. Webton says that's actually the first place they spoke.

Central Prison
Dept. of Public Safety

Staff from North Carolina prisons frequently use solitary confinement to discipline inmates, even though it’s costly and ineffective at decreasing violence, according to a new study from the UNC School of Law.

About nine percent of state inmates were being held in long-term solitary confinement on multiple dates between 2012 and 2014. That's higher than the rate of six percent in Texas and the federal prison system and the rate of eight percent in New York before a court ordered the state review its practices, the study found.

Flickr user Jeffrey Cohen

More North Carolina voters cast their ballots early this year than did in the last mid-term elections, according to State Board of Elections figures released Sunday. A new election law limited the number of early voting days but increased the total hours.

Roughly 1.1 million people voted by mail or in person at polling stations by the end of early voting on Saturday, up 20 percent from 961,000 in 2010, the board of elections said.

Here are three possible causes for the increased turn-out:
 

Photo: A Massachusetts voting station sign
Katri Niemi / Flickr

A conservative activist known for making undercover videos of what he says is illegal or unethical political conduct says he’s found campaign volunteers at six local North Carolina campaigns giving inaccurate information about voting eligibility.
 

Photo of Republican John Alexander and Democrat Tom Bradshaw
Alexander for NC Senate, Tom Bradshaw for NC Senate

The friendship between Tom Bradshaw and John Alexander has lasted more than 40 years, and has revolved around YMCA gymnasiums.

Bradshaw has been dedicated to the Y since he went to youth camps growing up. And Alexander, whose father got involved decades ago, has spent much of his life at the YMCA.  

They’re both on the executive board of the YMCA of the Triangle and on other community boards.

This year they both want to be the state senator for the northern part of Wake County.

The Rev. John L. Saxon presided over the marriage of Lynn Gaskins, 31, left, and Christy Alston, 34, outside of the Wake County Justice Center
Jorge Valencia

Dozens of same-sex couples have been rushing to county courthouses throughout the state to get married.

While many say they're full of excitement, there are also some nerves: Questions about what it means to get married, and what their family will legally look like.

Some who oppose gay marriage are also making their voices heard.

Lynn Gaskins and Christy Alston got married in Raleigh on Monday. Even after the ceremony, Alston was edgy.

"I'm nervous. Still nervous. It's a big responsibility. I can't believe I'm married now. Wow."

Photo: 'Vote Here' sign in English and Spanish
Flickr user Erik Hersman

Friday was the deadline to register to vote in North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the state's new voting law to be in place, eliminating same-day registration in the days before the election. In response, some groups increased their voter registration efforts. The Durham Board of Elections has been getting so many registrations that they doubled their staff from six to 12.

Judy Harwood usually works at the front desk, but the other day she was typing up names and addresses in an overflow room in the back of the building.

Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick after announcing to Chris Creech (left), 46, and Chad Biggs, 35, the first couple who would be getting a license there.
Jorge Valencia

Same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina. This comes after a two-year battle in the courts and one week of high anticipation. Late on Friday afternoon, a federal judge in Asheville declared the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage illegal.

Chad Biggs and Chris Creech got married at 6:02 p.m. in front of the bright lights of television and still cameras.

It wasn't the kind of intimacy they'd once imagined, but it was in Wake County and close to home -- unlike the time they flew to another state to try to legally marry.

Chantelle and Marcie Fisher-Borne and family
Jorge Valencia

Craig Johnson and Shawn Long are being cautious. The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal on Monday to hear five pending same-sex marriage cases could possibly lead to gay marriage in North Carolina -- if a federal judge in Greensboro issues an order for it.

Still, Johnson and Long are making plans. If they are allowed to marry, they plan to do it quickly, and not waste time making elaborate plans.

Photo: The U.S. Supreme Court building
Sno Shuu / Flickr Creative Commons

A federal judge in Greensboro could clear the way for gay marriage in North Carolina, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal on Monday to hear five pending same-sex marriage cases.

Middle District Court Judge William Osteen, who has the authority to order North Carolina to allow same-sex unions, said on Monday that he wanted to hear from both parties in a case challenging the state’s constitutional Amendment One, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Photo: Rosanell Eaton and Mary E. Perry
Jorge Valencia

A federal appeals court has suspended parts of North Carolina’s new voting law, saying it may disproportionately affect black voters. State lawmakers are already asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision.

The ruling will allow voters to register on the same day they cast a ballot during early voting, and to vote outside of their assigned precinct.

Photo: A camera attached to a remote control airplane
Chris Goldberg / Flickr/Creative Commons

A series of laws passed by the General Assembly this summer will go into effect today, affecting areas of construction, pollution and privacy. The variety in legislation reflects the broad reach of the state House and Senate this year.

Coal Ash

Photo: Justice Robin Hudson (center) and Judge Eric Levinson spoke with at a Supreme Court candidate forum
Jorge Valencia

With five weeks to go before Election Day, candidates for the state’s highest court are trying to get some attention. And they’re spending more time raising campaign funds because the legislature eliminated state funding for judicial races last year.

Campaign ads for the Supreme Court are usually pretty civil. They're kind of like one from Justice Bob Hunter, in which a narrator says: "In the North Carolina Legal system, one quality must stand out: Fairness." In the video, three young people hold a sign that says "fairness" and a then flip it over to say, "Bob Hunter!"

A woman is arrested at the state capitol as a part of a Moral Mondays protest.
NAACP

In the above interview, host Catherine Brand speaks with Capitol Reporter Jorge Valencia about Raleigh's top prosecutor's decision to dismiss hundreds of cases against people who were arrested for protesting at the state Capitol last year.

In talking about the decision, District Attorney Ned Mangum referenced a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts law limiting protests outside abortion clinics. He says the District and Superior courts in Wake County have cited the case to dismiss some protest cases here.

Photo: Sign that says 'You Must Be 21 Years Old To Enter'
Flickr user Steve Mclaughlin

The North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is preparing an advertising campaign against underage drinking.

According to an ABC survey, up to 40 percent of children in North Carolina have consumed alcohol before they get to the ninth grade.

ABC Chairman Jim Gardner says part of the motivation behind the campaign is another, more stark, statistic.

A state police car stopping a motorist
Cindy Cornett Seigle / Flickr/Creative Commons

On Thursday, the Durham City Manager will present the City Council with a recommendation that police officers be required to get consent in writing before searching a vehicle. This is part of a response to months of debate over reports of racial bias in the Durham police department.

Durham Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith would have to implement such a process. Smith recently presented to the city council two examples of how a consent form works now and how a search would work if an officer were required to get consent in writing. 

Screen shot: Senator Phil Berger 'Protect Voter ID'
Sen. Phil Berger

The North Carolina NAACP is calling on state Senate Leader Phil Berger to stop broadcasting an ad about a new voting law. The civil rights organization says the ad is misleading and could keep some from voting.

It's a political campaign spot airing on TV stations in the Triad. And it gives Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) credit for a 2013 law that changed many rules about voting in North Carolina.

"Now," the narrator says, "thanks to Phil Berger, voters must show a valid ID to vote."

Medicaid illustration: A Caduceus symbol and a dollar sign
Neff Conner / Flickr

North Carolina health officials say the state Medicaid program has a positive cash balance for the first time in years.

For years, the state health insurance for people who are poor or disabled has cost tax payers more than expected. We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars.

But that wasn't the case last year. Aldona Wos, the state secretary for Health and Human Services, says the Medicaid budget was in the black.

On February 2, between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of ash pond water waste were released at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station (pictured above) north of Eden, N.C.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Governor Pat McCrory says he'll allow a coal ash management plan to become law without his signature.

The governor says Duke Energy needs to take action as soon as possible. It needs to take care of the coal ash that's in ponds across the state. But that doesn't mean the governor is happy with the plan.

"I am letting the bill become law without signing it because there are major deficiencies that need to be corrected," he said in a recorded statement.

Photo: Durham Police headquarters
Durham Police

Members of the Durham City Council are trying to address concerns that police officers disproportionately stop and search black men. Four of the seven members gave their support on Thursday afternoon for requiring officers to get a driver's written consent before searching his vehicle.
 

City manager Tom Bonfield has suggested officers should be required to get consent in some recorded form - either video, audio or writing - but Mayor Bill Bell says that overcomplicates things.

Aerial photo: Duke Energy's coal burning facility near Salisbury, N.C.
Waterkeeper Alliance

Officials at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources have filed suits and threatened to fine Duke over coal ash contamination.

Attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center are focusing on plants in Chatham, Rowan and Wayne counties. Attorney Frank Holloman says the toxic hexavalent chromium has been seeping from the Buck Steam station in Rowan County.

"All of these are substances you do not want in these quantities, in your drinking water, in your body, in what your children eat or drink, or for that matter in your fish and wildlife."

Pages