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.

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Photo: The 11 protesters who were cited for trespassing in the Old North Carolina State Capitol building on Monday.
Jorge Valencia

Eleven protesters who said they wanted to personally ask Gov. Pat McCrory to overturn Republican government policies received trespassing citations for refusing to leave the Old North Carolina State Capitol building after it closed on Monday afternoon.

Photo: The old North Carolina State Capitol building.
Bill Dickinson via Flickr

The North Carolina legislature is set this week to begin the third step in preparing adjustments for the state's annual budget. Members of the House of Representatives are expected to prepare their proposal in subcommittees, members of the full Appropriations Committee may then go over it next week, and the full chamber may vote on it also next week, Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) told WRAL-TV.

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly sent Gov. Pat McCrory a bill on Thursday night that would allow the state to issue permits for hydraulic fracturing as early as May 2015, effectively lifting the state’s de-facto moratorium on the controversial shale gas drilling method.

McCrory is a long-time supporter of hydraulic fracturing and is likely to sign the bill into law.

State Senate chamber
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

North Carolina lawmakers continued moving quickly through their short legislative session on Wednesday. A brief summary on teacher pay, fracking and taxes:
 
Republican Senate leaders came out with a plan to raise teacher pay. On average, they want to offer an 11 percent raise. But teachers would only be eligible if they give up their tenure. Senators say the state would spend close to half a billion dollars, and are expected to elaborate today on where that money will come from.
 

The scene in House Speaker Thom Thillis' office in the middle of the night.
Jorge Valencia

Fourteen people were arrested overnight at the General Assembly after sitting in and demanding to speak with House Speaker Thom Tillis. They were there lobbying for more than 10 hours with organizers of the Moral Monday protests.
 

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

The biggest piece of legislation expected when North Carolina law makers return from the Memorial Day weekend is the Senate’s budget proposal for the fiscal year, which starts July 1. The office of Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville) said on Friday that a budget could be made public this week, and the office of Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger Jr. (R-Eden) similarly said a budget will be released “in the coming days.”

Photo: A farm in Lee County
Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr

The North Carolina Senate has tentatively approved legislation that would lift the state’s de-facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing next year, but will likely be challenged by the House of Representatives and Governor Pat McCrory.

The bill, known as the Energy Modernization Act, calls for the state to start issuing permits for drilling companies to extract natural gas through the controversial drilling method known as fracking on July 1, 2015.

Photo: A pond in Lee County
Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr

Two North Carolina legislative committees recommended on Tuesday that the state begin issuing permits in July next year for mining companies to extract natural gas in the state using a controversial drilling method known as fracking.

State lawmakers looked at different types of fracking legislation in 2012 and 2013. On Tuesday, the senate’s commerce and finance committees sent the bill to the senate floor for a vote. Sen. Buck Newton (R-Wilson) is one of the sponsors.

Photo: Rev. William Barber (center) is the lead organizer of the Moral Monday movement.
Jorge Valencia

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the Legislative Building Monday afternoon. It was the beginning of what they say is a second year of rallies in response to laws passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature.

Like many of last year’s Moral Monday rallies, this one started like a party. But it wasn’t exactly a celebration. People protested new laws affecting education, Medicaid and voting.

A Carlie C's grocery store parking lot
Charlie C's

Some North Carolina lawmakers want to limit a tax cities can charge local businesses.

State lawmakers have been trying to resolve this for more than 10 years: A tax that businesses have to pay cities to set up shop there.

On Thursday, a committee sent a bill to the House of Representatives limiting the tax to $100.

But some cities say that cuts an important source of revenue. Charlotte, for instance, would lose more than $8 million.

The cleanup for the 2008 Tennessee coal ash disaster. Image taken March 2012.
Appalachian Voices / via Creative Commons/Flickr

The first piece of legislation leaders of the North Carolina Senate introduced in this summer’s legislative session looks at Duke Energy’s 33 coal ash ponds across the state.

That means that on Wednesday, their first day in session this year, the senate’s Republican leadership sent a clear signal that it’s a priority for them to resolve the state’s issue of toxic coal ash dumps. What they didn't send was a clear picture of how they want to resolve it.

Photo: The Raging Grannies
Jessica Jones

Dozens of demonstrators clinked and banged pots, pans and spoons outside of the North Carolina General Assembly’s offices in Raleigh on Wednesday morning, protesting recent state laws, as senators and representatives met for their first day in session this year.

The demonstration, in which people held signs protesting issues such as a Voter ID law passed last year, low teacher pay, and low unemployment benefits, served as a prelude for a series of demonstrations set for Mondays while lawmakers are in session.

Clay Aiken, the former American Idol singer, secured the Democratic nomination for North Carolina’s second congressional district Tuesday, officially receiving enough votes to avert a runoff in his party’s primary elections.

Aiken received 40.9% of the vote, over his closest opponent, former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, who got 39.4% of the vote, according to the State Board of Election’s official results released today.

A photo of a rig and gas well operation in the Marcellus Shale in Jackson Township, Pa.
WCN 24-7 via flickr

North Carolina lawmakers approved on Thursday the draft of a bill that outlines how drilling companies may be able to conduct a controversial type of natural gas extraction in the state.

The bill, which the General Assembly will deliberate when it convenes for session this month, includes provisions on the chemicals used for gas extraction, the possibility of water contamination, and local government ordinances.

Photos: Eric Levinson, Jeanette Doran, Robin Hudson
Campaign photos

Two experienced judges won the right to run for North Carolina’s Supreme Court on Tuesday night.

Incumbent Justice Robin Hudson got 43 percent of the vote and Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson got 37 percent to Raleigh attorney Jeanette Doran's 21 percent, according to the State Board of Elections.

Judicial races are usually sedate, but this one is getting attention because out-of-state funders spent more than half a million dollars in negative advertising against Hudson.

At least four North Carolina lawmakers were unseated in Tuesday night’s primary elections.

Representative Robert Brawley, a Republican from Mooresville, was defeated by a business owner and political newcomer. Last year, Brawley publicly criticized state House Speaker Thom Tillis and his bid for the GOP nomination for senate.

Brawley was connected to the Tea Party while his opponent John Fraley describes himself as a business conservative.

The contest for the Democratic nomination to North Carolina’s second congressional district was still too narrow today for either of the leading candidates, former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken and local businessman Keith Crisco, to declare victory.

The outcome of the race could be more than a week, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

Photos: Eric Levinson, Jeanette Doran, Robin Hudson
Campaign photos

North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race isn’t the only one attracting lots of campaign money ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson is facing two challengers. She also faces more than a half-million dollars in negative advertisements from out-of-state funders.

Some say money is changing the non-partisan tone of court races in North Carolina. In this race, people are talking about one particular television ad that concludes with:  

“Justice Robin Hudson. Not tough on child molesters. Not fair to victims.”

Cumberland County Government

The May 6 primary election is a week from today, and television air waves are crowded with ads for North Carolina’s US Senate seat. But some campaigns for the state General Assembly aren’t being advertised at all.

That’s because there is no challenger in about a third of the districts represented in the assembly.

In Central North Carolina, Representative John Szoka likes visiting elementary schools in his district.

“Now,” Szoka says, “we have a lot of state symbols, right? What’s the state bird? What’s the state tree?”

A map of Duke Energy's 14 coal ash sites and their operational status in 14 energy plants across the state.
Duke Energy

Duke Energy told North Carolina law makers Tuesday that it would cost up to $10 billion and could take 30 years to remove all the company’s coal ash from areas near rivers and lakes across the state.  

In a hearing called specifically to address the coal ash basins, Duke’s North Carolina President Paul Newton told law makers the company needed flexibility to find faster and less costlier alternatives to ensure its ash won’t contaminate bodies of water.

A shopper examines produce at Deep Roots grocery.
Deep Roots Coop

A committee from the North Carolina House of Representatives spent four months looking into how to address food deserts across the state.  Monday afternoon they made their proposals: to expand education about healthy eating and exercising habits across the state and to start a joint committee with members of the senate to continue looking at how to address the problem.

Photo: A drilling site in northeastern Louisiana.
Daniel Foster via Flickr

The commission that’s been writing North Carolina’s policies on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas rushed on Wednesday to complete a set of rules that are necessary for drilling to start in the state next year.

The state commission overseeing plans to treat pollution in Jordan Lake did not make any recommendations during its last meeting.
JT Taylor / Flickr/Creative Commons

The state commission that’s been looking at ways to treat pollution in Jordan Lake did not make any recommendations during its last hearing on Wednesday.

Government and business leaders from towns that use the lake for drinking water urged the committee to reinstate regulations on the water that is poured into the lake.

The state has suspended some requirements until 2016. They would require costly improvements to storm water drainage in in areas including Greensboro and Burlington.

Photo: A drilling site in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, CO.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr

The commission that’s writing North Carolina’s rules on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, is getting ready to present its recommendations to the General Assembly. The Mining and Energy Commission has been working since Sept. 2012, and today will debate the last eight rules it is preparing.

A few people like Sharon Garbutt have been following the Mining and Energy Commission. Garbutt has been volunteering to take children on field trips to the Haw River for 20 years. Most of the time, the kids love it.

The FBI says a North Carolina man who was rescued from kidnappers on Wednesday might have been targeted because of his daughter’s work as a prosecutor in Wake County.

Frank Janssen was missing from his home in Wake Forest for five days before an FBI team found and rescued him in Atlanta.

Investigators say Janssen’s captors were communicating via cell phone with a man whom Janssen’s daughter, a prosecutor who focuses on drug and gang cases, put in prison for life.

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