State health plan director retiring: Jack Walker, who took over the N.C. State Health Plan in 2008 after legislative leaders fired his predecessor, plans to retire Feb. 4. Walker is completing his second stint as executive administrator of a health plan that covers 665,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents.
His departure comes at a time when state employees, and their health plan, face the prospect of severe budget cuts as legislators seek to plug a projected $3.7 billion budget shortfall. (N&O)
Criminal justice reforms: The Council of State Governments is almost ready to roll out a robust legislative package aimed at reforming the state's criminal justice system, according to officials. Robert Coombs, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit group, which has collaborated with senior state officials and elected leaders to strengthen the criminal sentencing system and rein in corrections spending, said lawmakers could have the package of new policy options in hand by late January. (AP)
Report backs up SBI ballistics: An outside expert has backed the ballistics analysis of two bullet fragments by a State Bureau of Investigation lab technician in a hotly contested Pitt County shooting, according to a report released Thursday.
But SBI ballistics analyst Beth Desmond went beyond the finding of her lab report when she testified under oath that she was certain the bullets were fired from the same make of gun. The report's findings undermined the certainty of her testimony.
The new report, released Thursday but dated Dec. 8, came from a case highlighted in August by The News & Observer, which ran a photograph of the two bullet fragments prominently on the front page. (N&O)
SBI backlog: The Durham Police Department plans to build its own firearm ballistics lab to analyze that evidence because of a backlog at the State Bureau of Investigation. (N&O)
Water proposals upset cities: Cities are fighting proposed state water standards that they say would show no benefits while costing up to $6 billion to meet.
State regulators must review water-quality rules every three years to ensure that they provide as much protection as national standards. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended lower levels of heavy metals such as zinc, copper and chromium in treated sewage to help protect shellfish and other aquatic life. (N&O)
Counting calories when eating out: Chain restaurants and vending machines nationwide will need to begin posting calorie information, a requirement included in the federal health insurance law passed this year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to release proposed menu labeling rules by March, with implementation sometime after that. Some local chains are already posting the information, anticipating the new rules. (N&O)