Jessica Jones

Reporter

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.

Ways to Connect

Photo: The North Carolina General Assembly's Legislative Building
Jorge Valencia

The state legislature was busy yesterday, with Moral Monday protesters staging a sit-in and discussions over tax code changes and e-cigarettes.

Moral Monday protesters decided to come to the legislature yesterday even though it was Tuesday, the day after the Memorial Day holiday. They gathered on the back lawn and then began lobbying inside the building. They ended up staging a sit-in in and outside House Speaker Thom Tillis' office.

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

Lawmakers had a slower start to the week today because of the Memorial Day holiday. This morning, in the House education committee, lawmakers discussed ways to make school bus operations more efficient.

Around lunchtime, Moral Monday protesters gathered behind the building to hear speeches from North Carolina NAACP President William Barber and others. They plan to lobby every member of the General Assembly to reverse some of the laws passed last year. Earlier this afternoon, some protesters were going door to door to individual lawmakers.

Concertina wire surrounding a prison
Kate Ter Harr / Flickr Creative Commons

Yesterday, in the state House, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors to be referred to the juvenile justice system, rather than trying them as adults. The measure has been a long time coming.

The so-called “Raise the Age” bill passed 77 to 39 with broad bipartisan support. Republican representative Marilyn Avila of Wake County is the bill’s main sponsor.

North Carolina House of Representatives, North Carolina General Assembly
www.ncleg.net

State lawmakers in the House have passed a bill that would raise the age at which North Carolina teens can be charged as adults. North Carolina is one of only two states that still treat 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults. Republican representative Marilyn Avila is a sponsor of the bill.

"This bill is one that I feel like North Carolina needs to consider because we’re one of only two states who do not have our 16 and 17-year-old juvenile delinquents placed in the juvenile justice system. They go into the adult system," said Avila.

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

State lawmakers in the House have tentatively passed a broad tax bill that would limit the power of local governments to tax businesses.The bill would also tax electronic cigarettes.

The bill limits the authority of cities and towns to levy privilege taxes on businesses. Critics say the taxes are unwieldy and should be streamlined, but many municipal officials aren't happy about the measure, saying they earn significant revenues from those taxes. They would be capped at a hundred dollars per year.

Vaccine, shot,
Wake Med

State health officials have approved a measure that would require rising 7th graders to receive the meningitis vaccine.

One more administrative step is required before the vaccination would become mandatory. The vaccine is for meningitis and other meningococcal diseases. Bacterial meningitis is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 21, but only about half of thi state's teenagers currently receive the vaccination.
 

NC General Assembly; State Legislature.
Dave Crosby / Flickr Share-Alike

State legislators have redefined the rules laying out how people may gather in protest at the General Assembly.

They were approved by the Legislative Services Commission on Thursday. The measures are a rewrite of rules last changed in 1987. The updates prohibit activities that cause an "imminent disturbance," and they more clearly define what kinds of signs can be used.

Republican Tim Moore chairs the committee:

Governor Pat McCrory
Jessica Jones

Governor Pat McCrory released his budget proposal yesterday, on the first day of the General Assembly’s short session. The $21 billion proposal includes raises for teachers and state employees as well new positions and equipment designed to oversee coal ash disposal. But it cuts about $49 million that would go to the University of North Carolina system.

As legislators walked into the General Assembly for the first day of this year’s short session, protesters- including a group of women called the Raging Grannies- were ready to greet them.

North Carolina legislative building
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Governor McCrory has unveiled a $21 billion budget proposal that includes raises for teachers and state employees, promotes more oversight of coal ash ponds, and adds $50 million to the state's rainy day fund. But it also includes a $49 million cut to the University of North Carolina system.

"We’ve had to make some very very difficult decisions. Which we think will have a positive impact on the future. This budget proposal has already been shared with top budget legislators in the House and the Senate, and therefore nothing should come as a surprise," says McCrory.

Former state Commerce secretary Keith Crisco has died. The Democrat faced American Idol contestant Clay Aiken in the Second Congressional District.  

Last week, Crisco said in a statement that he was waiting to see final vote tallies in the primary. It wasn't clear then  whether the race was close enough for him to request a recount or whether there would be a runoff.

Crisco was behind Aiken by a few hundred votes, according to unofficial totals. A Democratic strategist says Crisco was planning to concede the race to Aiken today.

Image of NC General Assembly where lawmakers are considering two controversial bills.
Credit NC General Assembly

State lawmakers will return to Raleigh Thursday for the six-week short session at the General Assembly.

The short session's main purpose is to make adjustments to the state's budget, which operates on a biennial budget cycle.

But in this midterm election year, the General Assembly will be in the national spotlight. Republican Speaker of the House Thom Tillis is running against Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan. And observers will be watching what he does.

State Senator Phil Berger
Dave DeWitt

The head of North Carolina's state Senate, Phil Berger, says he's looking forward to beginning this year's six-week legislative session.

What's known as the short session is intended primarily to make budget adjustments to the state's two-year budget cycle. Berger says that is the main focus of the session, which starts next Wednesday.

"This session we intend to continue the work that we've engaged in over the past three years and we intend to pursue further those policies that have proved successful over the past three years," says Berger.

A picture of Greg Brannon.
Jessica Jones

State House Speaker Thom Tillis defeated a crowded field of candidates in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate last night. Tillis received about 46 percent of the vote  thereby avoiding the possibility of a runoff. 

The mood was joyful last night at Thom Tillis’s victory party in Charlotte.  Tillis smiled from ear to ear as he addressed his supporters with his wife, Susan, nearby:

"It’s unbelievable. Susan and I have been excited about the results we’ve seen coming across North Carolina. Y’all excited?"

Vote Graffiti
Kodak Views / Flickr/Creative Commons

Members of North Carolina Independents, a non-partisan association of unaffiliated voters, plan to picket in downtown Greensboro Tuesday to protest barriers to access for independent candidates and voters. UNC Greensboro professor Omar Ali is a founder of the group.

"Elections should be public affairs, but what has happened is that the political parties which are private organizations have control over the process, and create laws to make it very difficult for the outsiders, the unaffiliated voters, to get in," says Ali. 

A new study on campaign spending shows that special interest groups have paid for 90 percent of television ads aired in the U.S. Senate race in this state.
 

A Wesleyan Media Project analysis in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that North Carolina has the highest number of ads in the country paid for by special interest groups. Almost 15,000 TV spots have aired at a cost of 6.36 million dollars in the race for the U.S. Senate, which has a competitive Republican primary.

Governor Pat McCrory, Thom Tillis
Jessica Jones

Governor Pat McCrory has endorsed state House speaker Thom Tillis in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. He spoke earlier today in an appearance with Tillis at a sheet metal company in Raleigh.

"The more you get to know Thom Tillis, the more you realize he is a natural leader and he is a natural problem solver. That's nothing to say bad about the other candidates because they've shown some tremendous skills and attributes also. But Thom Tillis has more than passed the audition- he's the best person with the qualifications needed in Washington, D.C.," said the governor.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates
Jessica Jones

The primary race between Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate was center stage last night. In a debate held by UNC-TV, Baptist pastor Mark Harris and obstetrician Greg Brannon sharpened their attacks against state House speaker Thom Tillis.

Baptist pastor Mark Harris took aim at Tillis just a few minutes into the debate. He started by raising the Republican fear that it could be difficult to dislodge the Democratic incumbent, Senator Kay Hagan.

Vote
Theresa Thompson / Creative Commons/Flickr

Tonight, four of the candidates running in the Republican U.S. Senate primary will take part in their last televised debate.
 

Obstetrician Greg Brannon, Army veteran Heather Grant, Baptist pastor Mark Harris, and state House speaker Thom Tillis will take part in their final scheduled debate this evening on UNC-TV.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As the conflict in Syria rages, a pianist named Malek Jandali has turned to composing to express his sorrow. He was one of the first Syrian artists living abroad to openly criticize the Assad regime, not long after an uprising swept across his homeland. Jessica Jones from North Carolina Public Radio shares how he found his voice through music.

Vote
Theresa Thompson / Creative Commons/Flickr

Early voting begins today for the May primary election.

Today is the first day North Carolinians can cast their votes in this year's primary election. 289 sites across the state will be open for residents to come to the polls. That's 77 more locations than in 2010.

GOP Senate Primary Debate hosted by WRAL 4.23.14
screenshot of web video / WRAL

Four of the candidates vying to win the state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary appeared in their second debate last night. In the half-hour forum, aired live on WRAL-TV, state house speaker Thom Tillis, Army veteran Heather Grant, Baptist pastor Mark Harris and ob-gyn Greg Brannon touched on a variety of issues, from immigration to the Affordable Care Act. But the candidates seemed to agree on most of the issues.
 

>> Watch the debate here.

This evening, four of the Republican candidates in the U.s. Senate race will square off in their first televised debate, held at Davidson College just outside Charlotte. They are:

  • state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis,
  • Baptist Pastor Mark Harris
  • Tea Party-backed obstetrician, Greg Brannon
  • Army veteran Heather Grant.

The crowded field in this race could make for a complicated election.

Image of NC General Assembly where lawmakers are considering two controversial bills.
Credit NC General Assembly

Officials with the state Department of Health and Human Services say they still expect a Medicaid shortfall of between $120- and $140-million this year. They spoke before state lawmakers today in a committee meeting at the General Assembly.

They first predicted a shortfall of this size about three weeks ago, and it's less than budget overruns of previous years. Republican Representative Nelson Dollar of Cary says that's good news.

Katie Short (far left in purple), mother Mary next to her.
Jessica Jones

Every month, state lawmakers on the General Assembly’s Health and Human Services Oversight Committee hold meetings to talk about health policy in North Carolina. Legislators sit at the front of the room to discuss their agenda, as staff members, reporters, and lobbyists listen. But in the back of the room, a mother and daughter, Mary and Katie Short, who attend every single meeting keep their eye on things too.

Gov. Pat McCrory
NC Governor's Office

Governor Pat McCrory held a press conference today to celebrate a new report suggesting the state's economy is benefiting from tax cuts enacted last year.

The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council's "Rich States, Poor States" report ranks North Carolina sixth in the nation for its economic outlook.

McCrory says lowering corporate income taxes in particular has encouraged companies to move to the state.

Picture of gavel
Flickr.com

Monday afternoon, the state Supreme Court heard the cases of four former death row prisoners whose sentences were commuted to life in prison under the Racial Justice Act.

State lawmakers repealed the Racial Justice Act last year. That act allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences. The cases heard today are still pending.

Attorney Danielle Elder represented the state in court this morning. She and other prosecutors argue that a previous ruling was based on jury selection statistics that were too broad.

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

This morning, the state supreme court will hear the cases of four defendants who were removed from death row under the state's racial justice act. The court will review whether the now repealed-act should apply to these defendants.
 

State lawmakers repealed the Racial Justice Act last year. It allowed death row inmates to receive life imprisonment if they could show that racial bias contributed to their sentences.

Shana Carignan (left) and Megan Parker with Jax
North Carolina ACLU

The national and state ACLU have filed lawsuits in federal district court in Greensboro, asking a judge to block the state's marriage amendment.
 

The ACLU has asked for a preliminary injunction to prevent Amendment One from remaining in effect for one of the families in a pre-existing lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage. It's also filing a separate lawsuit on behalf of three other same-sex couples in the state. Chris Brook is the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina.

Libertarians in the state are holding a candidate forum this afternoon featuring two contenders for the party's U.S. Senate nomination.

This is only the second time in state history that Libertarians have an official presence on the primary ballot. Tim D'Annunzio and Sean Haugh are the party's primary contenders in the U.S. Senate race.

Brian Irving is the communications director for the state Libertarian party. He says the candidate forum and this weekend's annual state convention will help prepare other Libertarians who're also on the ballot.

voting pins and buttons
YardsaleDan on Flickr

State elections officials say they're investigating 765 cases of voters who could have gone to the polls in two states, including North Carolina. The numbers come from a national crosscheck of voters that compares records in 28 states. State lawmakers mandated participation in the program last year. Kim Strach is the executive director of the state Board of Elections.

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