Latest North Carolina news, sports, business and entertainment at 6:20 a.m. EDT
Jury to weigh ex-school head’s lawsuit against writer Sparks
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A jury will decide whether the former head of a private Christian school that novelist Nicholas Sparks founded in his North Carolina hometown was unjustly fired, then defamed when the author said the educator suffered from mental illness.
Attorneys are expected to summarize their evidence Wednesday before jurors begin deliberating whether Saul Hillel Benjamin resigned or was pushed out. Jurors also will decide whether Sparks, his foundation and Epiphany School of Global Studies owe Benjamin money.
Sparks and the school are based in New Bern, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) east of Raleigh, where the federal trial is being held.
Sparks says Benjamin lied about his experience and job performance and also caused a series of campus conflicts that justified his firing. Sparks says Benjamin accepted $150,000 to resign instead.
SMOKABLE HEMP BAN
Difference on smokable hemp ban date threatens bill passage
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A one-month difference over when to ban smokable hemp in North Carolina risks scuttling final passage this year of broader legislation designed to regulate the rapidly expanding hemp industry.
The full House scheduled debate for Wednesday on the legislature’s annual farm bill, which has worked its way through several Senate and House committees this year.
Only hemp that lacks the concentration of the compound that gives marijuana its high can be produced, for industrial and health benefits. But law enforcement also wants smokable hemp banned because it looks and smells like marijuana – making it otherwise impossible to differentiate.
While the House legislation would ban smokable hemp next May 1, the Senate’s leading bill backer wants it delayed until June 1, giving lawmakers more time to intervene if needed.
DUKE ENERGY-BIG SOLAR
North Carolina regulators let big users install solar power
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Big institutions including universities and retail chains can now start moving into getting more of their power from the sun.
Duke Energy said Wednesday that it’s moving ahead with plans allowed under a 2017 law to let large energy users select and negotiate prices and terms with renewable energy installers of their choice. Walmart stores are among the big users interested, and it last week negotiated a way to handle billing for solar power.
Companies must apply for the limited amount of solar power permitted under the state law. Applications open in October. More than half of the limit is reserved for military bases and University of North Carolina campuses.
ELECTION 2019-CONGRESS-EARLY VOTING
Early in-person voting begins for 2 congressional seats
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Early in-person voting is starting for two special congressional elections in North Carolina.
Early-voting sites open Wednesday in 17 counties composing the eastern 3rd Congressional District and eight counties that fill the south-central 9th District. Early in-person voting continues through Sept. 6, in advance of election day on Sept. 10.
The winner of the 3rd District race will succeed the late Rep. Walter Jones Jr., who died in February. The State Board of Elections ordered a new election in the 9th District after an investigation into absentee ballot fraud during last November’s election.
Candidates on the 3rd District ballot include Democrat Allen Thomas and Republican Greg Murphy. The 9th District candidates include Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop.
Seeking to end NC budget impasse, Cooper talks to teachers
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper says Republican lawmakers need to meet with him to end a budget stalemate and give North Carolina public school teachers and staff better raises than what the GOP offered in the spending bill he vetoed.
Cooper met with some teachers, a principal and other education workers during a roundtable discussion at the Executive Mansion on Tuesday. It was the latest event Cooper has held to try to persuade GOP lawmakers to negotiate a final two-year budget. Several previous roundtables have emphasized Cooper’s support for expanding Medicaid, which Republican legislative leaders oppose.
Cooper talked up his salary offer, which would more than double the average 3.8% raises for teachers that the GOP proposal included. Cooper is unhappy Republican leaders haven’t made a counteroffer to his July proposal.
NORTH CAROLINA-DISPUTED ELECTION
Dem House candidate joins GOP rival in helping super PACs
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The Democrat in the last undecided U.S. House race publicly decries dark money in politics but is joining his Republican rival in making it easier for untraceable political spending groups to help out.
A four-minute silent video of North Carolina’s Dan McCready was uploaded to YouTube last week. That’s seen as inviting super PACs to use the footage in 9th Congressional District ads even though they can’t legally coordinate with McCready’s campaign.
His GOP opponent, state Sen. Dan Bishop, posted silent video in May.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
McCready has said dark money has no place in U.S. politics and vowed to reject donations from corporate sources. McCready’s campaign noted he’s pledged to reduce big-money influence if elected.
This story has been corrected to delete reference that Super PACs are not required to disclose donors.
Telemarketer sentenced in sweepstakes scheme
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – A telemarketer has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for his role in a $10 million telemarketing scheme.
U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, of the western district of North Carolina, sentenced Carlin Woods, of Merrillville, Indiana, to 63 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
Prosecutors say the scheme defrauded primarily elderly victims in the United States from call centers in Costa Rica.
Woods pleaded guilty in May 2017 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one court of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In a plea agreement, Woods admitted to working with co-conspirators who falsely posed as employees of U.S. government agencies. They contacted victims to tell them they had won a substantial “sweepstakes” prize.
DUKE ENERGY-GRID COSTS
Duke Energy push to set NC prices for multiple years stalls
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The country’s largest electric company faces a setback as it pushes North Carolina for the chance to line up profitable infrastructure projects years into the future and bypass lengthy regulatory battles.
The state House amended legislation Tuesday that represents one of Duke Energy Corp.’s chief goals this year. The bill allowing multi-year rates now says the issue should be studied until next spring.
The idea of multi-year rate-setting comes after state utilities regulators last year wouldn’t approve a $13 billion, 10-year Duke Energy proposal on electricity grip updates with profit margins tacked on. The Charlotte-based company also projects charging consumers up to $10 billion for coal-ash cleanup lasting a decade or more.
The bill now returns to the Senate, which can agree with the changes or force further negotiations.