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

In 2011, employees of the group Mercy for Animals made secret recordings at a Buterball facility in Hoke County, resulting in the animal cruelty conviction of five employees for kicking and beating live birds.
Mercy For Animals

Animal rights activists and journalists would be prohibited from going undercover into private businesses and secretly taking pictures and recordings of illegal activity, under a bill approved by a North Carolina legislative panel on Tuesday.

Photo: A Duke Energy coal-fired plant in Arden, N.C.
Michael Phillips via Creative Commons

The North Carolina House of Representatives has approved a plan to comply with proposed federal requirements to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from power plants.

House Bill 571 would create an advisory board comprised of energy companies and environmental advocates to advise the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The bill, approved in an 84-33 vote, now goes before the Senate.

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

From gay marriage to puppy mills, North Carolina state legislators have filed more than 1,600 bills this legislative session and they are not even halfway done.

Many bills will not make it through the General Assembly, but some are still causing a stir.

Photo: Billy Graham and his son Franklin
Paul M. Walsh via Creative Commons

The state House of Representatives voted on Thursday afternoon to send a statue of evangelist Billy Graham to the U.S. Capitol, over objections from Democrats who complained that Republicans refused to consider memorializing any other North Carolinian.

Photo: Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan)
Jorge Valencia

Members of a North Carolina legislative panel approved a plan on Wednesday to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a restricted driver’s license if they pass a criminal background check and meet several other requirements.
 

For sponsors of the bill, the plan is a way to help police enforce local laws when they interact with people who are living in the country illegally. Local charities in Winston-Salem and Greensboro and authorities in Charlotte either issue or are looking for ways to issue identification cards, said Rep. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury).

Ballot Box
Wikipedia

North Carolina Republicans want to continue tweaking voters' experience at the ballot by allowing candidates for the Supreme Court and local school boards to publicly run with the support of their political party. 

A state legislative committee on Tuesday gave the first nod to two proposals that would make partisan the races for the state’s two highest courts—the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals—and the state’s 115 school districts.

While Democratic resisted a bill making judicial races partisan, it was the plan for local school board races that split Republicans.

Illustration: Cadeceus
Flickr user takomabibelot

North Carolina lawmakers got the first granular look at the state’s Medicaid program in 20 years, showing the program’s improving financial condition but continuing major debts to medical providers.

The audit found the Medicaid fund balance was $350 million in the red for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014—almost $59 million better than a year earlier.
 

Photo: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on stage in Raleigh
Jorge Valencia

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke to a cheering and applauding crowd in Raleigh on Monday, largely criticizing the foreign policy record of newly announced Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
 

Cruz, in his first appearance in North Carolina since announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, sought to blur distinctions between Clinton and the President, taking apart events during and after Clinton’s tenure as President Obama's first Secretary of State.

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

North Carolina lawmakers are back in session today following their spring recess.

One question this week is whether the Senate will take up the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

Bills like this one have sent political tidal waves across the country. Critics say they would allow businesses to discriminate against certain groups, such as gay people.

Photo: A camera pinned on a police uniform
cops.usdoj.gov

A bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers is proposing that some of the state’s largest police departments and sheriffs’ offices be required to have their officers wear body cameras while they’re on patrol.

The bill—which would impact law enforcement agencies serving roughly 60 percent of the state’s population, including in Raleigh, Charlotte, Wilmington and Asheville—would set aside $10 million over two years to help agencies pay for the cost of equipment and storing thousands of hours of video.

Flickr user Ben Re

Almost one out of every 10 people in the United States has a firearm at home and has shown a propensity for impulsive angry behavior, according to an academic analysis led by a Duke University professor and published this month.
 

The analysis, which relied on an early 2000s in-person interviews with more than 5,000 people across the country, concludes that individuals showing impulsive angry behavior are more likely than people diagnosed with a mental illness to engage in gun violence.

Photo: Firearms
Jorge Valencia

The suspect in this year’s murder of three young people in a Chapel Hill apartment is scheduled for his second court appearance today.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged in the fatal shooting of three young people in the apartment next to his in the Finley Forest neighborhood of Chapel Hill. According to search warrants, authorities found three airsoft guns and 11 firearms in his home, including pistols shotguns and one AR-15 assault rifle with a fully-loaded magazine.

Gov. Pat McCrory
Governor's Office

Gov. Pat McCrory said on Monday that he won’t sign a state Senate plan to allow court officials who oppose gay marriage for religious reasons to recuse themselves from officiating at weddings.
 

McCrory will not sign Senate Bill 2, which would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from officiating at any wedding, if it's approved by the House of Representatives, because it would conflict with federal court rulings that in October struck down North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, he said.

North Carolina legislative building
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

The first law Gov. Pat McCrory signs this year could be an agreement between the House and Senate to slowly drop North Carolina's tax on gas.
 

Under a plan approved by top members of each chamber last week, the gas tax would fall on Wednesday to 36 cents from 37.5 cents, then to 35 cents in January and to 34 cents in July 2016.

The measure would eliminate a plan previously approved by lawmakers that, according to legislative analysis, would've cut the gas tax significantly more, potentially costing dozens of jobs at the state Department of Transportation.

Photo: Income taxes
Flickr user Laura Gilmore

Top North Carolina Republicans say they want to cut personal and corporate income tax rates, continuing to lower rates after a round of breaks in 2013.
 

Three powerful members of the Senate rolled out a plan this week that they say will cut personal and corporate income taxes by $1 billion dollars each year. The plan would:

Photo: marijuana plants
Flickr user Coleen Whitfiled

A North Carolina legislative committee turned down on  a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes Wednesday afternoon, marking the most progress a legalization bill has made in the state.

Twenty people addressed the House Judiciary Committee over an emotional hour-long meeting in which relatives of injured military veterans said marijuana can be used to treat chronic pain, while speakers from Christian organizations refuted its medical benefits. For advocates, the debate itself should be considered a victory, said bill cosponsor Rep. Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg).

Photo: Woman at a cash register
MIKI Yoshito via Flickr

Powerful members of the North Carolina Senate say they want to revamp how the state distributes sales taxes revenue to better favor economically struggling rural areas.

Local sales tax revenue would be distributed to counties across the state based on their population. Currently, 75 percent of local sales taxes stay in the county where they’re collected, and the remaining 25 percent is distributed statewide based on population.
 

Photo: Lot in Northeast Raleigh
Courtesy Michi Njeri

Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives are scheduled to vote Monday night on a contentious bill that would curtail home owners’ ability to block certain type of construction in their neighborhood.

Under the proposal, lawmakers would eliminate from state law “protest petitions,” a nearly century-old procedure that property owners can use to force a three-fourths vote from their city council to change the zoning classification of an adjoining property.

Photo: Flu vaccine
Flickr user Daniel Paquet

A bipartisan group of North Carolina senators are worried about a rise in contagious diseases, and they want to eliminate the state’s exemption of childhood vaccination requirements for parents who object for religious reasons.

The senators, under a bill they filed on Thursday, are proposing to change the vaccination schedule for children who attend public schools.

Flickr user Josh Mazgelis

A bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers is proposing a measure to get more fruits and vegetables to urban and rural areas devoid of grocery stores or healthful food options.

The plan, filed in separate bills in the House and Senate on Tuesday, would set aside $1 million for produce refrigerators and training for store owners in areas known as food deserts. There are more than 340 food deserts across 80 counties in the state, advocacy groups say.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory
wikipedia

Leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly violated the separation of powers among the three branches of government when they created three commissions in which lawmakers appoint the majority of the members, a judicial panel said on Monday. 

A crude oil mining site in Oxnard, Calif.
Faces of Fracking

The North Carolina House of Representatives approved a controversial measure that could exempt the state from creating its own air-quality standards for fracking.

Republican supporters say the plan will take a burden off state regulators while Democratic opponents complain existing federal regulations alone are insufficient.

A crude oil mining site in Oxnard, Calif.
Faces of Fracking

State environmental officials might not have to adopt air quality standards for fracking. A controversial measure that would passed a key committee in the legislature yesterday.

Rep. Mike Hagar (R-Rutherford), who sponsored the measure, says there are already federal rules governing air quality at fracking sites.

"We're not going to re-write rules that are already out there," he says. "That's inefficient. That costs the taxpayers money for people to go work doing stuff they don't need to do."

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

Corrections officers from North Carolina prisons could carry concealed firearms while off duty without a permit under a legislative proposal that seeks to help them protect themselves from a growing number of threats from prison gangs.

Durham County prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Craig Stephen Hicks if he is convicted of the fatal shooting of three young Muslim Americans in Chapel Hill last month.

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols filed a notice of intent last week in Durham County Superior Court, saying he would pursue the charges at a preliminary hearing to be scheduled for the week of April 6th.

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