NC retiree health insurance case left unsettled by top court
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A legal fight over whether retired government workers were wronged when North Carolina stopped offering them a more generous level of premium-free health insurance is still unsettled despite a state Supreme Court ruling. A majority of justices agreed Friday that former state employees and teachers had a “constitutionally protected vested right” to keep a specific government insurance offering in which the retirees paid no premium. But the court said a trial judge now must weigh whether that right has been impaired to the point that monetary damages are necessary. The case involves more than 200,000 retirees. Friday’s decision also overturned a Court of Appeals ruling favoring the state.
BRADFORD PEAR TREE-BOUNTY PROGRAM
‘Bounty’ offered on invasive Bradford pear trees in NC
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A new program in North Carolina is placing a “bounty” on invasive Bradford pear trees as they spread through forests in the state. North Carolina State University says the initiative is set to start with an April 23 event in Greensboro and could expand to more locations in the fall. It will allow people to get up to five new native trees for their yards in exchange for cutting down the same number of Bradford pears. Forestry professor Kelly Oten says the white-flowered tree with a distinctive smell can breed with other types of pear trees and spread in forests to replace native trees and create food deserts for birds.
Cooper grants clemency to 3 who offended as teenagers
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has granted clemency to three prisoners who had pleaded guilty to murders committed while in their teens. The sentence commutations announced on Thursday for April Leigh Barber, Joshua Chase McKay and Anthony Kasheen Willis came from the recommendations of a special review board that the governor created last year in an executive order. The commutations are effective March 24. The board reviews petitions from people who were tried and sentenced in adult criminal court for acts committed before turning 18, and who have served at least 15 or 20 years behind bars.
NC legislature finally ends annual session that began in ’21
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina legislature is finally ending an annual session that actually began 14 months ago. The General Assembly essentially concluded its work Thursday when the House finalized a budget clean-up bill and backed a resolution supporting Ukraine. The Senate completed its final votes on Wednesday. The annual work period that began in early 2021 kept getting extended because of COVID-19, budget negotiations and redistricting. Data shows that by one measurement this marks the longest session that began in an odd-numbered year since at least 1965 when adjournment takes effect Friday. A budget-adjustment session now begins May 18, but lawmakers have options to return earlier if needed.
Conservation group buys unlogged North Carolina forest land
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A nonprofit land conservation group has purchased more than 57 acres in western North Carolina to ensure that forest land that has never been harvested will remain intact. The Asheville Citizen Times reports Conserving Carolina has announced the purchase of an area known as Chestnut Hills. The group, which made the purchase on March 2, plans to put the land into a conservation easement and manage it as a nature preserve. The move would sustain the biodiversity and scenery for hikers using Wildcat Rock. The gorge is about 20 miles southeast of Asheville.
FURNITURE STORE -SHOOTING
North Carolina furniture maker faces wrongful death lawsuit
HICKORY, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina furniture manufacturer has been sued by the family of a woman who was shot and killed while on the job. The Hickory Daily Record reports attorney Lyndon Helton says Justin Marlow, the husband of shooting victim Michele Marlow, filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against TCS Designs. The company’s president, plant manager and a third person who was a company manager at the time of the shooting are also named in the suit. Hickory police said in January 2021 that Michele Marlow was shot in the head and killed as workers at the furniture store ran after hearing the first of two gunshots.
CIRCUS RAIL CARS-FIRE
Old Ringling Bros. rail cars catch fire in North Carolina
SPRING HOPE, N.C. (AP) — Officials in North Carolina say nine railroad cars once owned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and had been slated to be refurbished for passenger train service caught fire. The Nash County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that the decommissioned cars were just outside the town of Spring Hope. WITN reported four of the nine cars were destroyed. The N.C. Department of Transportation says it bought the train cars in 2017 to refurbish them to use in the state’s passenger train fleet. But after it won federal grants to purchase new cars, the state chose to auction off the old circus cars.
FEDERAL OFFICER ASSAULTED
North Carolina inmate pleads guilty to assaulting officer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal prosecutor says an Arizona man being held at a federal prison in North Carolina has pleaded guilty to charges that he assaulted an officer at a medical center. U.S. Attorney Michael Easley says court documents show 47-year-old Michael Anthony Mata, an inmate at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, struck the law enforcement officer in the face after the officer told him he was in an unauthorized area and asked him to return to his assigned housing unit. The officer suffered a fracture to his left orbital wall. Mata is scheduled to be sentenced in June.