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Law enforcement groups oppose new gun bill

Two major law enforcement agencies oppose a sweeping gun bill approved by the Senate. The N.C. Sheriff's Association and N.C. Association of Police Chiefs are concerned about a measure -- House Bill 937 -- that would loosen gun controls, by repealing the requirement for a permit to buy a handgun and allowing guns in bars and on school property.

House lawmakers declined to concur to the Senate changes this week, sending it to the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The chiefs association board listed three major problems with the bill. It opposes allowing concealed weapon permit holders to take firearms into places that serve alcohol; firearms on schools and college campuses; and the elimination of the pistol permit. Regarding the latter, the police chiefs said "elimination of this important background investigation prior to issuance of a pistol permit is detrimental to public safety."

Sheriffs want data on prescription drugs

THE PILLS HAVE EYES? Sheriffs in North Carolina want access to state computer records identifying anyone with prescriptions for powerful painkillers and other controlled substances. Opponents say such a move would threaten the privacy of thousands who are in pain and under a doctors care. (N&O)

LIMITS OF POWER: Attorneys used pails of cash and paper cups as visual aids for the N.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday as the justices weighed whether the governor has power under the state constitution to shift money between government funds and agencies to balance the budget or whether the legislature must sign off first. (AP)

SBI INFO TODAY: North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is planning to talk about problems with the SBI crime lab at a news conference today. (AP)

INMATE SETTLED: An N.C. prison inmate has won a $10,000 settlement from the state after filing a lawsuit alleging he was repeatedly pepper-sprayed by corrections officers - twice while he was naked. (Charlotte Observer)

Prison smoking, cell phone ban passes

A bill that would ban the possession and use of tobacco products and cell phones in state prisons received final legislative approval today and is on its way to the governor's desk.

The prison smoking ban comes at the request of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association, which asked that a statewide smoking ban in some public areas be extended to prisons.

The cell phone component grew out of a story in The News & Observer that highlighted problems that have occurred in North Carolina and other states when inmates have used cell phones to set up attacks on each other, coordinate escapes and continue to run illegal enterprises outside of prison.

The ban passed the House on Wednesday despite objections that it was another blow to the tobacco industry, which has taken major hits this year with the statewide ban in bars and restaurants and a tax increase in the state budget.

Price: Immigration reform necessary

U.S. Rep. David Price told the N.C. Sheriffs' Association on Monday that comprehensive immigration reform is on the horizon.

He said Congress could see a bill as early as September that will get the ball rolling on reforming immigration.

"It is a debate that is not yet resolved at the local level," Price said. "We simply need to have, I believe, comprehensive immigration reform at the national level."

Price listed off increases in crime prevention funding that he has helped direct as chairman of the subcommittee on homeland security appropriations, several of which have focused on immigration.

But he said no matter how much money is devoted to immigration enforcement, there is a larger problem that needs to be tackled.

"We are not going to spend our way out of the enforcement problem," he said. "And we are not going to enforce our way out of comprehensive reform either."

He said people need to realize the different roles of local and national government in the debate. Local governments, he said, should focus on crime prevention, while the national government works on reform.

"This is a big challenge, and we need to get it right," he said.

Hagan: stimulus, health reform coming

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said Congress is working as quickly as possible to dispense stimulus money and reform the health care system.

Speaking to the N.C. Sheriffs' Association on Monday, Hagan touted the $6.3 billion coming to the state from the federal stimulus package, including money for preventing crime, helping victims and violence against women.

"I hear all the time that it needs to start working faster," Hagan said. "Well, we're working on it."

She also spent a few minutes talking about the status of health care reform, which she has played a significant role in crafting.

The Senate committee on health, education, labor and pensions, of which Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr are members, has passed a health care reform bill and is now waiting for the finance committee to figure out how the program will be funded.

She said President Barack Obama's visit to the state Wednesday shows North Carolina's importance in the debate. She said she did not know what Obama will say, but she hopes it moves the debate forward.

"We need to wait and listen to him," she said.

Hagan was joined by U.S. Reps. Bob Etheridge, Brad Miller and David Price, as well as several members of the Council of State.

One female sheriff among N.C. 100

North Carolina has only one female sheriff.

First elected in 2000, Currituck County Susan Johnson is the only woman of the state's 100 sheriffs, though she used to have more company.

As recently as 2006, there were three women, including Sheriff Barbara Pickens of Lincoln County and an appointee in Washington County.

Pickens was the state's first female sheriff when she was elected in 1994. She was re-elected to two more terms, retiring in 2006 after losing a bid for another term.

Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association, said he did not know why there were not more women in the role.

"The decision about who to elect rests with the qualified voters of the individual counties," he said.

Though women were elected to a number of offices for the first time this year, several top positions in law enforcement remain nearly all male.

Deportations, by county

According to the N.C. Sheriffs' Association, seven counties have flagged some 3,182 people who are now in deportation proceedings.

The counties are participating in the 287(g) program, which gives local authorities some ability to enforce federal immigration law.

Mecklenburg County found some 1,693 people in its jail who are now in deportation proceedings or have been deported. Wake County, which joined the program this year, found 485.

Cumberland and Henderson also joined the program this year.

Those interviewed were in the county jail. According to the sheriffs' association, those facing deportation were charged with 3,654 offenses. Here's how those break down:

— 1,600 (44 percent) criminal violations ranging from murder to tresspassing

— 849 (23 percent) impaired driving

— 1,215 (33 percent) traffic violations


Sheriffs flag 3,100 for removal

Seven counties participating in a program designed to flag illegal immigrants in county jails have flagged for deportation proceedings more than 3,100 people since January.

That figure represents 70 percent of the 4,500 prisoners interviewed in the seven jails that are participating in a federal program designed to allow county and local officials to help enforce federal immigration laws, said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association.

Caldwell's gave the figures for the seven counties as part of a presentation to a legislative oversight committee on crime and corrections.

Under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996, local law enforcement agencies can be granted authority to handle immigration. The seven counties participating in the program are Alamance, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg and Wake.

On Jan. 1, a law went into effect requiring jail operators to try to determine the residency status of anyone arrested for impaired driving or a felony. But the counties participaing in the federal partnership have much greater access to federal immigration resources.

More after the jump.

Correction: Post and headline have been updated to reflect that it's the federal partnership, not the state law, that most directly led to the removal proceedings.

Claims Dept: Hagan on 287(g)

State Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, said she supports a program that helps sheriff's deputies work on immigration, but criticized the cost to the state at a debate today.

What she said: "The 287(g) program is an unfunded federal mandate. Immigration is a federal issue. It is not a state issue."

The background: Since 1996, the federal government has offered a pilot program for sheriff’s deputies to investigate illegal immigration.

Though immigration enforcement is typically handled by the federal government, the goal of the 287(g) program is to start deportation proceedings on illegal immigrants who are arrested for crimes like drunk driving and other non-immigration related offenses.

In North Carolina, a handful of local sheriff's offices, including Wake County, have signed up for the program, which has been promoted by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

The federal government pays for the cost of training deputies in immigration enforcement and grants sheriff's offices access to immigration records.

In 2007, the state legislature gave the N.C. Sheriffs' Association $750,000 to pay for additional support for the 287(g) program. Hagan, as a leader on the Senate budget committee, was instrumental in getting that funding in the state budget, according to her campaign.

This year's proposed state budget includes an increase to $1 million, although the association did not spend its entire allocation last year.

The Sheriffs' Association is a private professional organization that provides training and support services and lobbies on behalf of the state's 100 sheriffs.

Although Hagan supports enrolling all 100 North Carolina counties in the 287(g) program, her campaign argued that the federal government should pay for immigration enforcement, not the states.

"Immigration is a federal issue — the onus is on the federal government to find a solution that will be implemented across all 50 states instead of a few select counties," Hagan spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said in an e-mail.

Is the claim true? No. The 287(g) program is voluntary, so it is not a federal mandate.

Dole on The Morning Beat

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole will be on The Morning Beat Thursday.

The Salisbury Republican will talk with host Curtis Wright starting at 8:45 a.m. on the show, which is on 93.7/106.3 FM in Wilmington.

The topic will be Dole's support for a 287(g) program to give local sheriffs the power to handle illegal immigration cases.

Normally, immigration is left to the federal government, while sheriff's deputies handle only crime.

Dole recently appeared with the N.C. Sheriffs' Association to promote the program, and state Sen. Fred Smith is campaigning for all sheriffs to participate.

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