Latest North Carolina news, sports, business and entertainment at 6:20 a.m. EDT
NICHOLAS SPARKS-LAWSUIT-THE LATEST
The Latest: Jury backs writer Sparks in employment lawsuit
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A federal jury has sided with novelist Nicholas Sparks and the private Christian school he founded in his North Carolina hometown, dismissing claims by the school’s former headmaster that he was unjustly fired, then slandered by the author.
Jurors spent about three hours Wednesday before deciding that Sparks, his foundation and Epiphany School of Global Studies didn’t injure Saul Hillel Benjamin.
Benjamin sued in 2014, contending he was fired without cause, then defamed when Sparks told a job recruiter and others that Benjamin suffered mental illness.
Sparks says the jury rejected efforts by Benjamin and his lawyers to discredit him.
Sparks and the school are based in New Bern, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) east of Raleigh, where the trial was held.
Attorneys to argue new evidence in NC innocence claim
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Attorneys will argue before a judge that new evidence shows a man serving a life sentence for murder didn’t commit the crime 25 years ago.
A hearing will be held Thursday in Pitt County for Dontae Sharpe, who was convicted of the 1994 murder of 33-year-old George Radcliffe during a drug buy. Sharpe has maintained his innocence, and supporters say he rejected offers of a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
This evidentiary hearing follows an earlier one in May. No physical evidence linked Sharpe to the crime, and a teenage eyewitness recanted her testimony just months after the trial.
The NAACP has supported the 44-year-old Sharpe throughout and will hold a community gathering on Friday at Philippi Church of Christ in Greenville.
North Carolina governor quickly vetoes immigration bill
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has quickly vetoed legislation requiring North Carolina sheriffs to recognize requests by federal immigration agents to hold jail inmates believed to be in the country illegally.
Cooper vetoed the measure Wednesday, a day after the GOP-controlled General Assembly gave it final approval.
The bill responds to several recently elected Democratic sheriffs who are refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, particularly as it relates to detainers. The documents aren’t arrest warrants but ask that a suspect be held another 48 hours for pickup.
Cooper says the bill is unconstitutional and all about Republicans “scoring partisan political points.”
The legislature could try to override the veto. Republicans would need support from several Democrats, but not a single Democrat voted for the bill.
North Carolina Republicans unveil tax refund bill
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina Republicans say they want to return to taxpayers much of the largest state government revenue surplus in over a decade.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger say their chambers will advance a bill that would give refunds to more than 5 million taxpayers.
Refunds would range from up to $125 of the taxes that individual filers paid this year to up to $250 for couples. Most checks would be sent in mid-December.
The state collected $897 million more than anticipated in the year ending June 30. About $660 million would be sent out, if the bill becomes law.
The announcement also signaled a new method by which Republicans will address spending and taxes as they remain in a budget standoff with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Pfizer expands N Carolina gene therapy plant, adds 300 jobs
SANFORD, N.C. (AP) – Drug giant Pfizer is expanding its North Carolina manufacturing plant for gene-therapy medicines to treat rare diseases, adding about 300 jobs.
The New York City-based company said Wednesday it plans to spend about $500 million to expand its plant in Sanford to improve production of the highly specialized drugs to treat diseases caused by genetic mutation. The plant’s 650 employees now also produce components for Pfizer’s vaccines.
North Carolina business recruiters said when Pfizer announced a 2017 expansion that the Sanford plant was building on gene-therapy technology first developed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. State officials said Pfizer bought a Chapel Hill biotechnology company developing gene therapies for patients with rare diseases related to neuromuscular and central nervous system conditions.
NO VAPING SIGNS
North Carolina schools add e-cigs to ‘no smoking’ signs
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina public schools have added a picture of an electronic cigarette to their “no smoking” signs.
News outlets report all public schools in the state are required to have a sign posted stating they’re a tobacco-free zone, but this year a symbol has been added to also ban e-cigarette use, also called vaping.
Pitt County Health Department Coordinator Tiffany Thigpen told WNCT the state received money to add the symbol to the signs ahead of the new school year.
The addition comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigates 94 possible cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping reported across 14 states this summer.
Pitt County Public Health Director John Silvernail says three of those cases were reported in North Carolina.
SMOKABLE HEMP BAN
NC farm bill containing smokable hemp ban OK’d by House
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Legislation that prohibits North Carolina production and possession of smokable hemp next year while laying regulatory groundwork to expand the state’s industrial and medicinal hemp industry has cleared a second legislative chamber.
The House voted 63-48 on Wednesday for the General Assembly’s annual farm bill.
Smokable hemp lacks the concentration of the compound that gives marijuana its high. But law enforcement wants smokable hemp banned because it looks and smells the same- making it otherwise impossible to differentiate during police stops.
House members defeated an amendment to delete the proposed May 1 smokable hemp ban. Hemp growers say smokable hemp is an emerging moneymaker for them.
The bill now returns to the Senate, where a version already passed but the measure’s top backer wants the ban delayed until next June.
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.