WUNC News

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff.  Also, features  and commentary not by any one reporter.

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Prison cell
DOliphant via Flickr

This November voters in North Carolina will decide whether people accused of felonies should have the opportunity to decide whether they want a judge or jury to decide their case. Jeff Welty, an associate professor in the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, has been studying the potential implications this constitutional amendment may have on the state.  He talked with Phoebe Judge.

Conversation highlights:

Why has it taken North Carolina so long to address the issue?

Chapel Hill Car Accident
Triplezero / Flikr

AAA Carolinas has labeled rural North Carolina the "killing grounds" for drivers in accidents.

More than 1,100 people died in traffic accidents in North Carolina last year, though the number is lower than in years prior. A new report from AAA Carolinas shows the continuing trend of fewer fatalities on the road since 2010. The number is dropping, but slowly.

Elderly senior citizen hand on cane
Meena Kadri, Flickr, Creative Commons

Researchers are raising questions about malnutrition among North Carolina's senior citizens. Doctors at UNC Hospitals report, over a two month period, more than half of patients ages 65 or older who came to the emergency department were either malnourished or a risk of malnutrition.

The study looked at about 140 older patients and saw no notable difference in the nutrition of rural versus urban seniors. There was also no noticeable difference between genders. The greater discrepancy came with access to proper food.

A busy Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill.
Town of Chapel Hill

Forestry experts and urban designers are gathering in Raleigh this week to discuss the effects of climate change on the urban landscape. The North Carolina Urban Forestry Conference is centered on how to design city spaces to cope with and help prevent rising temperatures.

It's not just about finding more places for shade trees (though that's something forestry types would certainly applaud). Scientists are also considering how to combat an increase in pests that prey on trees not suited for greater temperatures.

Laptop computer
Ian Usher / Flickr

Universities across the country have made it clear that providing health coverage for temporary employees -- like adjunct professors and grad students -- is prohibitively expensive.

Early Voting
Leoneda Inge

Opponents of the state's new voting law are planning their next steps after a judge refused to put the law on hold for the November election. A district judge on Friday denied a preliminary injunction for a law limiting the number of early voting days and getting rid of same-day registration at the polls.

Advocates will decide this week whether or not to appeal the decision. Either way, leaders say they are directing their attention to boots-on-the-ground efforts.

Pigs on a Farm
Eric Mennel / WUNC

Last year, according the State Department of Agriculture, North Carolina exported about $3.7 million in meat products to Russia. So far this year, that number has increased ten-fold, to $40 million. Now that Russia has banned the import of American beef, pork, and poultry products, that surge will come to a halt.

A grand jury in Orange County has indicted two men in the robbery and death of a UNC Chapel Hill professor. 

Troy Arrington of Chapel Hill, and Derick Davis II of Durham are both charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in the incident that led to Feng Liu's death. 

The News and Observer reports that evidence is still being gathered in the case according to Orange County D. A. Jim Woodall. 

Photo: The Daily Show
Comedy Central

As North Carolina lawmakers are wrapping their “short” legislative session, which dragged on more than a month longer than they’d originally anticipated, they struck a deal on a plan to raise public school teacher pay. They also agreed to replace the state’s expiring credits for movie and television companies with a more modest grant package.

Anne Firor Scott
Les Todd / Duke Photography

Earlier this week, President Obama awarded Chapel Hill historian Anne Firor Scott the National Humanities Medal.

She was honored "for pioneering the study of southern women. Through groundbreaking research spanning ideology, race, and class, Dr. Scott’s uncharted exploration into the lives of southern women has established women’s history as vital to our understanding of the American South."

Diane Rehm awarded National Humanities Medal
Jocelyn Augustino / NEH

Diane Rehm was awarded the 2013 National Humanities Medal Monday. The awards recognize  "outstanding achievements in history, cultural studies, filmmaking, cultural commentary, and historic preservation."

Recipients are selected by the President of the United States in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Humanities:

photo of NC Legislature
creative commons

    

Senate and House leaders have announced the framework of their $21 billion dollar state budget deal. One of the biggest sticking points was over teacher pay; the compromise offers public school teachers an average seven percent raise. Senate leader Phil Berger touted the plan at a press conference earlier today.

"The $282 million dollars invested in teacher pay with this budget will be the largest teacher pay increase in state history, moving North Carolina from 46th in the nation to 32nd in the nation in national teacher pay rankings," Berger said.

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

Some are saying it could be a matter of weeks before North Carolina's ban on same sex marriage is overturned. A ruling in the 4th Circuit court in Richmond Monday declared Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. That ruling is binding on the entire 4th circuit, which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland.

Neil Siegel is a professor of law at Duke University. He says assuming the case is not retried, the outlook for North Carolina's ban is rather clear:

Professor Fend Liu Photo
UNC

Update 7/25/14 3:30 p.m.:

The Chapel Hill Police Department has charged the two suspects, Derick Davis II and Troy Arrington Jr., with First Degree Murder in the death of UNC Professor Feng Liu.  The two are being held in the Orange County Jail without bond.

Original story:

A DNA rendering
YNSE / Flickr

An international team of researchers has made landmark progress on the study of Schizophrenia.

A consortium co-founded by the University of North Carolina's Patrick Sullivan reports that it's identified 108 points of genetic variation in people with the illness.

Ken Bosma / Flickr/Creative Commons

Last week voters in North Carolina chose Baptist minister Mark Walker over Phil Berger Jr. in the 6th District Republican primary runoff.  Walker was arguably the more conservative of the two candidates.   A new study in the Journal of Politics finds that political moderates are less likely to run for Congress. The study looked at state legislatures around the country.

North Carolina is now tracking babies born with alcohol or drug dependencies.
Tulane Publications / Flickr, Creative Commons

North Carolinians are waiting to hear what happens next after a pair of contradictory rulings on the Affordable Care Act.

A three judge panel in Washington shot down the law's subsidies for state's where people are enrolled in the federal exchange, not a state-run exchange. This includes North Carolina. A separate panel ruled just the opposite just hours later, saying the subsidies were, in fact, lawful.

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

Governor Pat McCrory met with Senate Republicans Tuesday to try to narrow their differences over budget adjustments meant to be in place three weeks ago. McCrory's office and a top budget negotiator confirmed the 90-minute visit.

But, Senator Harry Brown says McCrory and senators did not have a breakthrough in the closed-door gathering. The Jacksonville Republican says the governor and lawmakers proposed potential compromises to end the delays preventing the budget's completion.

A picture of a woman photographing a beach house on stilts.
Eric Mennel / WUNC

The panel responsible for studying sea-level rise along North Carolina's coast met Monday in New Bern. It was the first meeting under a new mandate to look at the forecast for sea-level rise for a shorter time period.

Four years ago the Coastal Resources Commission's science panel issued a dire report saying oceans could rise 39 inches by the year 2100. The state then issued a moratorium on using that prediction for policy purposes. The new guidelines for the science panel call for a 30-year prediction.

Chapel Hill bus
bendertj / Flickr/Creative Commons (Image cropped)

There are two informal gatherings this week in which the public is invited to share ideas about the future of downtown Chapel Hill, including the development of Rosemary and Franklin streets. The project is called Chapel Hill Downtown Imagined:

A screenshot captured Saturday at Mirlo Beach near Rodanthe shows the surf advancing on Highway 12.
NCDOT / facebook.com

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $20.3 million contract for beach re-nourishment just north of Rodanthe. The contract is going to the same Illinois dredging company that re-nourished the beach in Nags Head just before Hurricane Irene hit the area in 2011, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, of Illinois.

Duke University Hospital
Duke Medecine

Researchers at Duke University will become part of a national network focusing on undiagnosed diseases.

The National Institutes of Health have granted $7.2 million for geneticists at Duke to look at the rarest diseases in the world, affecting fewer than 50 patients each.

Doctor David Goldstein is one of the principle investigators for the project. He says a team at Duke has spent four years taking what used to be a purely clinical investigation and moving it into the world of genetics.

Duke Health's Raleigh Hospital
Duke Medicine

  State lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow the use of a marijuana oil to help treat childhood seizures.

Researchers say the hemp oil extract, known as cannabidiol (CBD), is not psychoactive and would be used to treat only debilitating seizure disorders.

Several lawmakers, like Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford), showed their support for the bill by relating their experiences of having family members with epilepsy.

Medical student studying the structure of a pelvis.
University of Nottingham Medical School

A new study from Duke University suggests a chemical found in many plastics can make breast cancer cells resistant to treatment.

The report discusses the effects of BPA on Inflammatory Breast Cancer cells. It's a type of cancer found in 1-5 percent of breast cancer cases. Researchers suggest that the chemical neutralizes the effects of prescription drugs meant to keep the cancerous cell from growing.

Co-author Scott Sauer says it was important to look at the drug resistance factor, not just how the BPA interacted with the cancer itself.

Downtown Raleigh Skyline
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsolson / flickr

Tech start-ups in the Triangle received welcome news this week. Durham-based Bull City Venture Partners plans to invest some $26 million in projects throughout the mid-Atlantic.

The group began raising funds more than a year ago and has already invested in one Raleigh-based digital media initiative. Co-founder David Jones says the mid-Atlantic is an area ripe with innovation, but investors often need convincing.

Police Training
Nashville.gov

The Wake County Public School System has proposed a new agreement with local law enforcement regarding the use of police inside the schools.

School Resource Officers are local law enforcement patrolling the county's 26 high schools and 33 middle schools, one to each school.

The school board discussed publicly for the first time Tuesday night a new "Memorandum of Understanding" -- or MOU -- that would require specialized training for officers who will work with public school children. The agreement also requires more rigorous reporting of SOR-student interactions.

Beginning Monday June 2, North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC's daily program "The State of Things" will be heard on WCQS, Western North Carolina Public Radio.

A Duke Blue Devil guarding the net in a lacrosse game against Virginia.
Duke Photography

Duke Lacrosse has had to come a long way since the national attention brought on by false rape allegations in 2006. The tactic that's likely been most effective in changing the public face of the program could be considered the most difficult, but the Blue Devils have made it look easy: Winning.

The team took home their third national championship on Monday (2010, 2013, 2014) holding off Notre Dame 11-9 in Baltimore.

A vacation home on the Outer Banks after super-storm Sandy.
Don McCullough, via Flickr, Creative Commons

The group that implements rules along the North Carolina coast has decided to shrink the scope of a study on sea level rise.

The Coastal Resources Commission had been considering a  study of the effects of sea level rise over the next 100 years. At their meeting Thursday they decided to limit that study to just 30 years, along with  updates every five years.

The commission thought the study would have more weight if it were more limited.

Durham County Jail
Laura Candler

  *Updated 10:11am to reflect Sheriffs Association comments.

A new report from the ACLU of North Carolina suggests many of the state's county jails are not compliant with sexual assault prevention measures. The group says of the state's 100 counties, 58 responded to requests regarding the measures jails take to prevent the assault of prisoners. None of those 58 were in full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 federal law.

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