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: A farm in Lee County
Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr

North Carolina’s economy could gain more from off-shore gas and oil drilling than from drilling on land, and the financial cost of drilling on land could outweigh the benefit, according to a report state lawmakers received on Tuesday.

Off-shore drilling could represent $1.9 billion in economic activity in the state per year for 30 years, according to a report from N.C. State University, which looked at economic benefits like jobs created and drawbacks like environmental risks.  

Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon
City of Charlotte via Flickr

When the mayor of Charlotte, Patrick Cannon, was arrested this week on charges that he took bribes from undercover FBI agents, we wanted to know how the governor and state politicians reacted to the news.

The FBI's complaint, which said Cannon accepted $48,500 in cash and luxury expenses "in exchange for the use of his official position," quoted him saying he had direct access to Gov. Pat McCrory, who was mayor of Charlotte for 14 years, and Bob Rucho, a state senator from Charlotte.

Photo: Highway construction in Central North Carolina
Adam Prince via Flickr

Gov. Pat McCrory and his transportation secretary told members of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce that the state is at risk of stalling 108 road and bridge construction projects this year if Congress doesn’t pass legislation to help pay for it.

The state Department of Transportation would stop issuing checks by August if congress doesn’t renew a 2012 law that pays for part of highway construction projects across the country, McCrory said. The bill would represent $1.1 billion to North Carolina to widen roads or repair or replace outdated bridges.

A Suncor Energy oil rig in the North Sea's Buzzard field, between England and Norway.
Suncor Energy via Flickr

A member of the council that’s been appointed to advise Gov. Pat McCrory on energy production wants North Carolina’s 20 coastal counties to be guaranteed a direct cut of royalties from off-shore gas drilling.

Photo: Death row inmates are housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. No executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

The North Carolina Court of Appeals sent back to a lower court on Tuesday a case over who decides how death row prisoners are executed.  The court says the case has changed too much for it to make an   opinion.  It started out with four death-row inmates who said the state’s method of execution was cruel and unusual.

Durham Police
Durham Police Department

Durham city officials are looking into a complaint that police made inappropriate payments to drug informants.

An advocacy group says police paid informants and didn’t disclose it, which is required by law.

Attorneys from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice also say police unfairly target black and Hispanic people. The department denies any wrongdoing.

Durham Police
Durham Police Department

An advocacy group says the Durham Police Department has been paying bonuses to crime informants for help in the conviction of suspects.

Attorneys from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice have obtained police records that they say show nine people were convicted in drug cases where an informant was paid for his testimony.

Photo: The Goodwin House
North Carolina Democratic Party

The new executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party is looking to revamp how the party raises money -- as it faces more than a year of leadership turnover, fundraising troubles and distancing from the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

Photos: Francis DeLuca (left), Gene Nichol
LinkedIn, UNC School of Law

Officials at the University of North Carolina have given a conservative think-tank hundreds of emails from a professor who has been an outspoken critic of the state’s Republican governor and statehouse leaders.

Photo: A rig and gas well operation on the Marcellus Shale in Scott Township, Pennsylvania.
WCN247 via Flickr

North Carolina lawmakers are beginning to look at how they would tax the shale gas drilling companies for extracting gas from the ground in the state.

Members of the legislative commission that handles laws on energy heard Tuesday afternoon about how states that allow fracking charge companies for removing gas from the ground.

Photo: The old Jackson County Courthouse in Sylva, N.C.
Jimmy Emmerson via Flickr

North Carolina will move one step closer today to allowing people accused of a crime to waive the right to a trial by a jury of peers and instead choose to be tried by a judge.

A proposed constitutional amendment, which is scheduled for a public hearing March 17 in Raleigh, would allow any criminal defendant except for someone facing the possibility of death the right to waive a jury trial.

Photo: The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / Public Doman

Prosecutors in Wake County are selecting a jury in a first-degree murder trial this week. It is the fifth case in North Carolina this year where a defendant could face capital punishment. But a series of lawsuits have blocked the death penalty for years in this state. And now, a little-known drug could become another obstacle.

Photo: Apples in a farmer's market
Amber Carnes via Flickr

North Carolina lawmakers are looking for ways they can help get fresh fruits and vegetables to corners of the state -- urban and rural -- where they’re difficult to access.

Non-profit organizations and local governments across the country have for years identified areas known as “food deserts” across the country, but the House Committee on Food Desert Zones is the first effort by state lawmakers to address the issue.

Duke Energy

On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 3, a security guard at a Duke Energy plant near the North Carolina-Virginia border noticed the water level in a reservoir pond was dropping quickly.

He told facility managers, and what ensued was a chain of relayed messages: First to environmental professionals working for Duke; then local authorities in nearby Eden, N.C., Rockingham County, N.C., and Danville, Va.; the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management; and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Jamie O'Briant of Durham takes a break from his four-wheeler near a pile-up.
Jorge Valencia

“Ready?”

That’s 25-year-old Jamie O’Briant. On Thursday, he turns on the engine to his 1997 Yamaha four-wheeler with a churn and sets out to deliver medicine to a friend nearby. Snow plows only carved a small channel up Woodcroft Parkway, so he’s driving on the side of the road to let cars pass. That’s when a guy trying to push a black Lexus asks him if he has a shovel.

 “I don’t,” O’Briant says. “But I’ll be happy to help.”

O’Briant gets off his four-wheeler. He leans up against the car. He pushes.

Thousands marched to the North Carolina State Capitol building on Saturday.
James Willamor via Flickr

Organizers of Saturday’s moral march on Raleigh plan to use the event’s momentum to mobilize voters, they say. The event follows last year’s weekly Moral Monday rallies that criticized laws passed by North Carolina’s Republican-led government.  The new focus is on the fall elections.

Stephen D. Melkisethian via Flickr

Among the thousands of people who marched to the North Carolina State Capitol building and filled five city blocks in front of it, there was no singular cause for gathering. But written on the signs and banners people carried were a handful issues that seemed to repeat themselves every 20 feet in the crowd.

Protesters crowd the capitol for a Moral Mondays protest.
Matthew Lenard

Thousands of people are expected to march in downtown Raleigh on Saturday, some coming in buses from other states, to call on North Carolina legislators to reverse laws they’ve signed over the last year including requiring voters to show IDs in polling stations, reducing unemployment benefits and blocking Medicaid expansion.

Durham County Courthouse
North Carolina Court System

The Durham district attorney says he will not criminally charge a police officer who fatally shot a knife-wielding stabbing suspect last year.

District Attorney Leon Stanback said on Thursday that his office found no probable cause for criminal charges in the death of Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo after reviewing records that included a medical autopsy and police car videos and interviewing officers, witnesses and first responders.

Photo: A rig and gas well operation on the Marcellus Shale in Scott Township, Pennsylvania.
WCN247 via Flickr

The head of the commission appointed to write North Carolina’s rules for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas asked lawmakers Tuesday to halve the area for which drilling companies would be responsible in case of water contamination.

James Womack, chairman of the state’s Energy and Mining Commission, asked that drilling companies be held liable for contamination up to 2,500 feet from excavation sites. Under Senate Law 143, which was signed in 2012, mining companies are liable up to 5,000 ft.

Richard Lindenmuth began work in his position of interim CEO of the Economic Development Partnership in early January.
NC Department of Commerce

Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan to move parts of the state’s business recruiting functions to a private nonprofit have been delayed, as the new organization’s managers are setting up a plan for the transition and finding costs to cut, officials said Tuesday.

Parts of the state Commerce Department will be transferred to the Economic Development Partnership no sooner than July this year, according to a department letter given to legislators Tuesday. Two of the department’s divisions had been scheduled to be moved by June and three more by December.

Calabash is a small fishing town in Brunswick County, North Carolina
Town of Calabash

Aaah, the coast. Those salt breezes. The tasty fresh seafood. The high insurance rates? Not if some mayors and business owners across North Carolina's coastal region have their say. The groups are banding together to contest a proposal to increase home insurance rates in counties that line the coast of North Carolina.

The industry group for insurance companies in North Carolina has requested the state's permission to increase rates up to 35 percent in coastal counties. In other parts of the state, the rise in rates would average 25 percent.

Photo: Central Prison in Raleigh
Ted Buckner via Flickr

Members of the North Carolina Court of Appeals appeared to show Tuesday that they wanted to return to a lower court a seven-year-old case over the lethal injection chemicals the state uses in executions.

A three-judge panel heard arguments on whether the state Department of Public Safety should have followed a public rule-making process when it switched its execution procedures from a three-drug chemical mixture to a single-drug injection.

Photo: Death row inmates are housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. No executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

The North Carolina Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday morning on whether the state must follow a public rule-making process when changing its procedures for executing death row prisoners.

Arguments center on the Department of Public Safety switching its protocol for executions from a lethal injection of a three-drug mixture to a single-drug solution. (The change happened last fall.)

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed Biotechnology and Simulation Center on the Rocky Mount campus of Edgecombe Community College.
Edgecombe Community College

The city of Rocky Mount will get help with projects to stimulate job growth, revitalize blighted neighborhoods, and move grocery stores to areas that don’t have any from a team of federal experts that will work with the city for at least a year.

City administrators will get full-time help from two employees of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and from a team of outside consultants who are experts in subjects such as economic development, local and federal officials said Thursday.

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