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Budget cuts dismantle state fugitive team

A special team of state law enforcement agents that chased violent fugitives has been disbanded in budget-cutting at the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency.

The Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team was one of the special units that former ALE Director John Ledford created to expand the agency’s reach.

Ledford resigned as director in advance of the Republican takeover in January and made himself an agent, which led to his firing on the ground that it exceeded his authority. Ledford is contesting his firing. He has not yet been replaced.

Cutting the FAST unit is part of the $1.75 million hit ALE took in the state budget this year, which amounted to 20 percent of the money it receives from the state.

Two dozen law enforcement positions will be eliminated or shifted to other funding sources for the next fiscal year, after which the jobs will be abolished unless other funding is found, according to new report to legislators.

Agents who were assigned to FAST have returned to traditional assignments, according to the report by DPS Law Enforcement Commissioner Gregory Baker. The special unit was credited with catching more than 60 violent offenders during its first few months last year.

The budget cuts also will leave some management positions vacant, including that of assistant director. In all, the agency will have about 7 percent fewer sworn law enforcement officers to focus on alcohol, drugs and lottery violations.

McCrory signs five bills

Updated

Gov. Pat McCrory signed five bills into law on Friday:

HB484 – Establishes a permit program to place and operate wind energy plants. DENR will both help wind developers get started and deny permits when necessary.

“This is a great law because it shows that we are serious about our responsibility for balancing our environmental and economic interests, including North Carolina’s strong military presence,” DENR Secretary John Skvarla said in a statement the governor's office released. “We can and will protect the environment and our citizens, while also creating a clear regulatory path for the development of wind energy in North Carolina.”

HB149 – Titled “Caylee’s Law,” the bill makes it a crime to fail to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement. It also increases the penalty for concealing a child’s death, for making a false report to law enforcement to interfere with a missing-child investigation, and a misdemeanor for failing to report abuse, neglect or death of a juvenile due to maltreatment. The bill was inspired by the death of Caylee Anthony in Florida.

SB91 – Protects people whose criminal records have been expunged from having to disclose that information to employers, licensing boards and educational institutions.

HB706 – Exempts from landfill permit requirements the disposal of debris from decommissioned manufacturing buildings, including electric generating stations.

HB119 – Authorizes the state Utilities Commission to set rates for natural gas local distribution companies.

Democratic strategists Nation Hahn, wife Jamie stabbed; Jon Broyhill charged

Police have charged a man with stabbing and seriously wounding two well-known Democratic political strategists at their home in North Raleigh on Monday evening.

Jonathon Wayne Broyhill is accused of stabbing Nation Richard Hahn and his wife, Jameson Kirk Hahn, at 1705 Tealwood Place. Broyhill, 31, has been charged with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.

Police say Broyhill knew the Hahns but have not disclosed what led to the stabbing, except to say that investigators think “the events underlying the incident were not domestic in nature.” Broyhill was also injured and taken to the hospital.

Bill would have teenagers tried in adult court for the most serious crimes

Children 13 and older would have to be tried in adult court for the most serious crimes, under a bill pending in the state House.

Currently, only teenagers accused of first-degree murder automatically must have their cases heard in superior court, where proceedings are confidential and the punishment is generally less severe.

Judges already can transfer the most serious felonies to adult court if they find there is probable cause that the juvenile committed the crime. This bill would require them to transfer the cases if the prosecutor requests it.

Bills already being filed: No Medicaid expansion, no health exchange, western crime lab funding, unemployment insurance changes

The General Assembly convenes at noon Wednesday, but a handful of bills have already been filed. Topics include resisting the federal health insurance exchange, not expanding Medicaid coverage, unemployment insurance and funding a western state crime lab. Here's a look at what's been filed.

Additional bills cover temporary funding for group homes, right-to-work constitutional amendment, eugenics compensation and eminent domain.

Update: The crime lab bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, would allocate almost $18 million to build and staff a regional crime lab on the Western Justice Academy in Henderson County. Apodaca is one of the Republican leaders in the Senate, and so this bill can be considered a priority with the legislature.

1359559082 Bills already being filed: No Medicaid expansion, no health exchange, western crime lab funding, unemployment insurance changes The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ballad of the Shoe Man

In Forsyth County, they called him “Shoe Man.” Lawman Dan Ingle – former Town of Elon police chief, currently an Elon College investigator and a Republican state representative --  said he could hold the Shoe Man’s rap sheet out and it would reach the ground.

The Shoe Man specialized in – what else – stealing shoes from stores, all misdemeanor crimes. “This is the type of people this bill will cover,” Ingle said on the House floor today. “There’s a lot of them out there.”

Under a bill tentatively approved in the House today, the Shoe Man’s eighth misdemeanor larceny conviction would become a felony. The bill’s sponsor, Oxford Democratic Rep. James Crawford,  said there are crooks roaming the state stealing only enough merchandise to keep it a misdemeanor if they’re caught. “We had two with as many as 43 convictions, and several in the 30 range,” he said.

Crawford said he wanted to make it the fourth conviction, but the cost of prosecution and punishment would be too high. As it is, the bill would cost an estimated $14.2 million in its first year.

Cooper wants more DNA evidence

Attorney General Roy Cooper wants more information in the state's DNA database, and he wants it sooner.

Cooper said this morning that his office will push the General Assembly next session for laws that will allow police officers to collect DNA evidence using mouth swabs at the time of arrest. Under current law, the state only collects evidence once a person is convicted of a felony.

"I believe DNA is like a fingerprint," Cooper said. "It's information about a criminal that goes into a database that helps us keep the public safe."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation follows a similar procedure, taking mouth swabs at the time of arrest, and a number of states have followed their lead and enacted similar laws.

"We'd want to make sure we had safeguards that if a case is dropped or a person is found not guilty, he can have it removed from the database," Cooper said.

The ACLU of North Carolina said in other states, this has meant people had to ask for the sample to be removed, which puts requires extra work from the innocent.

"It puts the burden on the individual," said Sarah Preston, legislative council for the N.C. ACLU. "They are essentially guilty until proven innocent."

More after the jump.

Tangled up in blue (laws)

The legislature will consider whether to allow hunting and liquor sales on Sundays.

A bill, filed by Democratic Sen. Julia Boseman, would remove a prohibition set into law in the 19th century, presumably to keep the traditional Christian Sabbath holy. Another bill would allow alcohol sales.

As a Southern state within the Bible Belt, North Carolina has more than a few so-called blue laws that restrict activities on Sundays: 

ALCOHOL SALES: It is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages before noon, and counties may further restrict rural sales until 7 a.m. Monday.

ABC STORES: No state-run alcohol store can be open on Sunday, New Year's Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day.

COURT SUMMONS: Sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers may not deliver court summons on Sundays.

SCHOOL: No public school classes can be held on Sunday.

LOCAL OPTION: With proper public notice, local government can regulate or prohibit other types of business on Sundays.

In addition, the N.C. Department of Correction is required to offer religious services to prisoners on Sundays "and at such other times as may be deemed appropriate."

Cuts: Support Our Students program

After-school programs for middle-schoolers could lose funding.

Started in 1994, the Support Our Students program has provided grants to provide after-school programs to at-risk kids. It is currently administered by the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice.

The $5.9 million program is among 20 that Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed eliminating as part of her $21 billion budget.

During the 2007-08 fiscal year, the program served 14,333 youth in programs run in 92 counties by local schools and nonprofits. Programs include homework, conflict management skills and recreational activities such as basketball.

"We know the prime time for juvenile crime is between 3 and 6 o'clock, right after school," Juvenile Justice spokesman William Lassiter said.

An annual evaluation of the program conducted by an outside agency found that 86 percent of surveyed youths said it helped them do better in school and nearly half improved their math and language arts grades.

Only 1.3 percent were involved in the juvenile justice system at year's end. 

Victims' group hires new head

The N.C. Victim Assistance Network, a nonprofit that advocates for crime victims, has a new executive director — Thomas V. Bennett.

Bennett is a veteran of several advocacy groups, and most recently led the N.C. Association of County Directors of Social Services, Dan Kane reports.

He has also been the executive director of the N.C. Quality Leadership Foundation, N.C. Child Fatality Task Force and N.C. Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. He has a bachelor's degree in English from Maryville College and a master's degree in communication from the University of Tennessee.

"I'm honored to be with NCVAN," Bennett said in a statement. "The organization is approaching its twenty-fifth year of advocating for victims’ rights in a time when economic pressures put heavier burdens on crime victims; they will need our help more than ever."

NCVAN has worked to increase the number of victims' legal assistants in prosecutors' offices, provide more financial assistance to crime victims through the state's Victim Compensation Program and push for legislative changes such as amending the state constitution to include the Victims' Rights Declaration.

NCVAN President William P. Hart said Bennett "brings the leadership, fundraising and lobbying skills that will enable NCVAN to provide new levels of service to crime victims."

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