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Stimulus goes to research

Triangle area researchers won a massive infusion of $145 million in federal stimulus money Wednesday for scientific projects large and small — including an ambitious effort to seek cancer treatments by unraveling the complex genetics of tumors.

Of the 521 grants awarded to the state, 415 are in Rep. David Price's 4th Congressional District, which includes the Triangle. The big winners were UNC-Chapel Hill, with 186 grants worth more than $60 million, and Duke University, with 181 grants totaling more than $75 million.

The stimulus bill enacted this year included $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which opened the financial spigot to projects that might have otherwise taken years to fund.

In addition to creating high-paying jobs in scientific fields, the money will spur the pace of discovery into conditions that affect millions, including heart disease, autism, Alzheimer's and breast cancer.

"What it should do is help to extend existing research programs but also help to create new research programs into the future that will be very competitive with respect to obtaining other funding," said Wayne Holden, an executive vice president with RTI International, a think tank in Research Triangle Park that received 10 grants. (N&O)

Turbine cost could go to consumers

Duke Energy is offering to pay for the wind turbines planned as part of the alternative-energy demonstration project in Pamlico Sound, but the state will let the company make the money back by passing along the cost to customers.

The state and the University of North Carolina are working on a contract that would have Duke Energy build up to 3 windmills, at a cost of about $12 million each, while allowing the university to study the operation, Lynn Bonner reports.

The budget bill sets out $300,000 in federal stimulus money for the study, and says the contract must be finished by Oct. 1.

The budget bill says the state Utilities Commission must establish an annual rider for the company to recover its costs when the company applies for it.

The boogeyman for conservatives

Booo. Halloween comes early this week for conservatives and Rob Christensen counts the ways it will be scary.

Strobe Talbott, the president of the liberal Brookings Institution, and President Bill Clinton's former Deputy Secretary of State will be in Chapel Hill on Thursday to discuss "Obama and the World."

Talbott will be speaking at the Fedex Global Education Center, Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the University of North Carolina at 5:30 p.m.

Talbott has been a friend of Clinton since they were Rhodes Scholars together at Oxford and worked in the George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972. Talbott had a distinguished career for Time magazine before becoming a diplomat.

Board to admit illegal immigrants

Illegal immigrants will be allowed back into the state's community colleges.

All but one member of the the State Board of Community Colleges voted to allow them in at out-of-state tuition rates, Kristin Collins reports.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, a Democrat, was the only board member to vote no on the matter.

Other board members said the policy puts them in line with the UNC system policy.

"The whole economic prosperity of the United States depends on the education of the next generation," said State Treasurer Janet Cowell.

A committee of the State Board of Community Colleges recommended Thursday that undocumented students be admitted to degree programs, but they would have to pay out-of-state tuition, be denied financial aid, and be enrolled in classes only after legal students are given slots.

The full board vote today caps nearly two years of controversy over whether to allow illegal immigrants to enroll in degree programs at the state's 58 community college campuses.

Universities cut 430 Triangle jobs

* Public universities in the Triangle will eliminate about 430 positions this year as part of a massive UNC system budget cut.

N.C. State University is eliminating 205 administrative jobs, and UNC-Chapel Hill is cutting 202 positions, according to a report released Thursday that gave the most detail to date on how the system will slash its operating budget 10 percent. N.C. Central University in Durham is cutting 21.5, including four at its law school.

UNC system President Erskine Bowles had said he expected administrative positions to account for 75 to 80 percent of the cuts. That number has subsequently risen to 96 percent, officials now say — an acknowledgment that administrative job growth swelled out of control over the last several years. Few cuts have been made to academics. (N&O)

* A law recently signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue imposes new regulations on the industry that provides human-resources services to businesses -- in exchange for the repeal of a controversial ban.

The new statute allows the few professional employer organizations that self-insure the employee health insurance plans they provide to businesses to continue to do so; other licensed PEOs can establish self-funded plans until Oct. 1. Previously, a law prohibiting self-insured health plans was scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.

State regulators requested the additional oversight on self-insured health plans. (N&O)

UNC students need to wash more

* The state's universities and colleges are being hit hard with cases of flu, most likely of the H1N1 variety.

A type of influenza easily passed among young people, H1N1 is circulating so commonly that health officials don't even test for it specifically. They simply say students have "influenza-like illness" and assume the strain is H1N1.

The largest numbers are at UNC-Chapel Hill, which through last week had nearly 700 cases. That's more than twice the 309 cases reported by N.C. State over essentially the same period, and NCSU is a larger institution.

Most other universities report far lower numbers. Wake Forest has seen about 200 cases, and Duke has had about 170. At Peace, the small women's college in Raleigh, Murray is one of 13 students to get it.

The totals are likely higher. These numbers represent only students who seek help from a campus health office. The cases are mild and so far have not led to mass absences.

More hand washing could help slow the virus spread. One professor says students need to hear how unpleasant the illness is to get them to wash up. (N&O)

* A program set up last year to help North Carolina homeowners with subprime loans avoid foreclosure has been expanded to include those with traditional mortgages.

The State Home Foreclosure Prevention Project lets homeowners call a toll-free number and receive counseling and legal advice through a network of state and local government agencies and nonprofit agencies.

Mark Pearce, state chief deputy commissioner of banks, said Tuesday that North Carolina's foreclosure crisis has spread far beyond people who took on mortgages at high interest rates. Foreclosure filings over the first eight months of the year totaled just under 40,000 and are up 7 percent over the same period last year. Pearce said 60 percent of the foreclosure filings in the state now involve prime loans. (N&O)

* A North Carolina safety panel adopted emergency changes to its gas guidelines on Tuesday, three months after an explosion at a Slim Jim factory killed three people.

The N.C. Building Code Council to require that workers who are purging indoor gas lines to vent the pipes outside of the building. New guidelines demand that workers take proper precautions if venting is not possible, including the evacuation of those not directly working on the gas lines. (AP)

Bowles believes he has work left

UNC President Erskine Bowles turns 65 next August, but he was vague about exactly when he would step down. UNC presidents have traditionally retired at 65.

Bowles says he's not focused on retirement. Not that he's in love with the job right now, he told editors, reporters and editorial writers today at The News & Observer, Jane Stancill reports.

"All things being equal, I want to go home. God knows I love Chapel Hill, but living in that great big museum by myself, eating Chick-Fil-A twice a day, that is my life."

But, he said, there are big issues to contend with, including the fallout from Mary Easley's hiring at N.C. State University and the elimination of costly layers of campus middle managers. He also says he'll demand more accountability from the UNC campuses on their performance of graduating and preparing students.

"We have some issues we need to deal with and I think the buck stops with me," he said.

Felon has right to a gun

Advocates and lawyers were trying to understand the impact of a state Superme Court decision, which found that a Garner man, who was convicted of a long-ago felony, had a right to own a gun.

The opinion applied only to Barney Britt, who was convicted of a drug crime in 1979, and it didn't have an immediate effect on the thousands of other felons in the state.

Criminal defense lawyers who practice in federal courts said they don't know what effect, if any, the opinion will have on federal rules, which prevent felons from buying and owning weapons except when a state has restored that right.

The ruling authored by Justice Edward Thomas Brady held that Britt should be able to own guns and that the state unfairly took away his right to own a firearm with a 2004 law that barred felons from owning firearms. Britt was convicted in 1979 of selling Quaalude pills, but he didn't have any further tangles with the law.

Though the opinion focused just on Britt's case, both sides of the gun control issue saw the ruling as significant because the state's highest court found that Britt had a right to bear arms that trumped the state's ability to restrict him from owning any weapons. (N&O)

* The 16-campus UNC system expects to eliminate about 900 administrative positions this year, an acknowledgement by university leaders of job growth gone wild.

Those 900 positions and other administrative costs could account for 75 percent or more of cuts that public university campuses will be asked to make this year as the system pares $171 million from its budget, UNC system officials say.

In cutting so heavily into administrative costs, UNC system President Erskine Bowles and others say they hope to protect academics. (N&O)

* All the clamor over health-care reform doesn't seem to bother freshman U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell.

"I remind people I taught high school," he said last week. "Loud and unruly people we call the fourth period."

But the Montgomery County Democrat is toeing a careful line on health care, balancing his own caution against the interests of his party and district just as he has on other issues during his first eight months in office. (Char-O)

Perdue has six bills left

Gov. Beverly Perdue signed another batch of bills Friday afternoon leaving five remaining unsigned bills on her desk.

The six remaining are:

HB 104: Clarifies which documents produced by lawmakers are exempt from the public records law. Would make requests by lawmakers sent to state agencies exempt from the public records law.

HB 945: The Studies Act of 2009 catalogues a host of items and issues to be studied while the legislature is out of session.

HB 1166: Insurance Law Changes. Makes several changes including a new requirement that to get a license, insurance agents must submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.

SB 947: Provides more opportunity for a homeowner to halt foreclosure if he or she can demonstrate they can pay what is owed.

HB 836: Makes technical corrections to the state budget.

HB 1329: Consolidates various state stautes regulating criminal record expunctions. 

Among the 40-plus Perdue signed Friday are:

SB 167: Prohibits tobacco products and cell phones in prisons. Makes it a crime to provide tobacco or cell phones to inmates.

HB 667: Allows wineries to sell wine during business hours.

SB 138: Bans the recreational use of salvia divinorum, an hallucinogenic herb. Still allows the mint-like plant to be used in landscaping.

SB 786: Authorizes capital projects on University of North Carolina system campuses. The projects have a funding stream to repay debt for the projects. List includes $21.8 million for a parking deck at N.C. State University, a $10 million renovation of the Carolina Inn at UNC-Chapel Hill, $35 million for a Partnership, Outreach and Research for Accelerated Learning Building at UNC-Charlotte.

SB 464: Requires statistics on race to be kept to help identify and prevent racial profiling by law enforcement. Also requires that a law enforcement officer ensure a child is in safe hands if the child's parent gets arrested. The last provision would have prevented a case last year in which three children were stranded on Interstate 85 in the middle of the night for eight hours when a sheriff's deputy arrested the children's mother, an illegal immigrant.

Correction: Perdue had six bills to sign, not five as we previously reported. Dome regrets the oversight. 

Soles' lawyer: shooting was self-defense

* The man shot Sunday by state Sen. R.C. Soles Jr. had been to the elected official's Tabor City home before.

Thomas Kyle Blackburn, 22, was arrested last year and charged with trespassing and attempted breaking and entering at the senator's house, according to police records. Those charges were later dropped.

An attorney for Soles said Monday the senator was acting in self-defense when he shot Blackburn in the leg with a handgun. Blackburn was released Monday from a hospital across the state line in Loris, S.C. He could not be reached for comment.

B.J. Wright, 23, was also at Soles' house when the shooting occurred, according to police. Wright told a Wilmington television station that Blackburn had been drinking and Soles asked the men to leave numerous times.

The SBI is investigating the case. (N&O)

* A tuition break for out-of-state athletes at University of North Carolina schools gives booster clubs a $10 million annual subsidy, but it also has a less-publicized impact: The lion's share of student body growth at UNC-Chapel Hill is going to students from outside the state.

Here's why: Under the law, hundreds of out-of-state athletes and scholars are counted as in-state students, so they take up spots that could have been allocated to North Carolinians.

Chapel Hill's incoming freshman class has grown by 200 compared with 2005 — 20 North Carolinians and 180 out-of-state students. (N&O)

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