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NC Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey has our  must read story of the day. She previews the case of Joseph Sledge, who has spent half of his life behind bars for a double murder in Bladen County that he maintains he never committed.

DNA testing ruled out Sledge as the murderer in 2012, and this week the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence is in court working to have Sledge exonerated.

What makes the case even more extraordinary is that Sledge, if cleared, would not be not alone in this wrongful conviction. Here’s an excerpt from McCloskey’s story:

Should he prevail there (and in a later court review), the now 69-year-old Sledge will be the fourth innocent person cleared this year in North Carolina — joining Henry McCollum, Leon Brown, and Willie Womble, who were exonerated earlier this year.

Together they have more than 100 years in time spent behind bars – certainly more than a measure of any life.

Read the full story – Wrong place, wrong time, wrong conviction – on the main NC Policy Watch website.  And click below to hear a portion of Policy Watch’s recent radio interview with Christine Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence.

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Energy Exploration – Senator Bob Rucho and Representative Mike Hager co-chair Tuesday’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy. The meeting includes discussion of oil and gas rulemaking and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

drillFor those who have been curious about the push behind plans to drill offshore, don’t miss our radio interview with reporter Nicholas Kusnetz with The Center for Public Integrity. The Center recently wrote a must-read piece about how the oil and gas industry are the driving force behind a coalition of governors (including Governor Pat McCrory) advocating for drilling in the Atlantic.

If you’re concerned about the next steps in allowing fracking in North Carolina, you’ll also want to keep an eye on Friday’s meeting of the full Mining and Energy Commission. You’ll find an agenda for that meeting here.  For more on the fracking rules, read Ned Barnett’s latest piece in the News & Observer.

Charter Schools – The state Board of Education holds its final monthly meeting for the year this Wednesday and Thursday. Members are expected to give final approval to as many as 11 charter school proposals for the 2015 school year.

If you missed it over the weekend, the staff of the Wilmington Star News recently published this editorial about the need for North Carolina’s charter schools to be held accountable for their use of  our tax dollars.

And the charter schools up for final approval this week include:

1. Charlotte Lab School
2. Excelsior Classical Academy
3. Ignite Innovation Academy – Pitt
4. KIPP Durham College Preparatory
5. Patriot Charter Academy — this applicant has requested to change its name to Winterville Charter Academy due to their proposed location.
6. PAVE Southeast Raleigh Charter School
7. Piedmont Classical High School
8. Queen City STEM School
9. Shining Rock Classical Academy: CFA
10. VERITAS Community School
11. Youngsville Academy

Fast Food workers rally for better pay – For the past two years fast food workers across the country have Fast food workers 2been fighting to change the $200 billion dollar fast food industry. What started off with a few hundred workers in New York City is now a movement of thousands of fast food workers across the country highlighting the struggles of trying to survive on $7.25 an hour.

The fight continues this week with three rallies set for Thursday:
• 6:00 a.m. Greenville 3602 Charles Blvd Greenville, NC
• 6:00 a.m.Durham 3558 Hillsborough Durham, NC
• 11:30 a.m. Greensboro 2700 Vanstory Street (Four Seasons Station Parking Lot)

Bad Bridges – Members of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee meet Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. where they will get an update on North Carolina’s structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. Legislators will also review a draft of the 2016 -2025 State Transportation Improvement Program. An agenda for the meeting can be found here.XMASTOWN

Board of Governors – The UNC Board of Governors will hold their final meeting of the year on Friday. N.C. State University and UNC-Wilmington are among the schools seeking the board’s permission to raise tuition and fees next year.

Best place to see Christmas Lights – McAdenville, North Carolina becomes Christmastown USA starting today. The small Gaston County town is expecting more than 600,000 visitors to travel through the town this holiday season for a glimpse of their iconic light display.

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Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, has issued a statement on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the non-indictment of the police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, in Ferguson on August 9th.

Read the full statement here and click below to hear an excerpt of Barber’s remarks at a prayer and protest vigil at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

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Ferguson demonstration in the Triangle. Image: WRAL.com

In cities across North Carolina, thousands of people gathered Tuesday evening to voice their feelings about the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo. not to indict a white policeman for the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

Here’s a sampling of those remarks:

As reported by WBTV in Charlotte:

“Until we have a true system where people actually feel that they’re apart of it, we’re going to continue to have things like we did last night, unfortunately,” Bree Newsome said.

“I’m not going to go blow up cars, I’m not going to go to set things on fire, I’m going to my elected officials. I’m going straight to Pennsylvania avenue,” said Chandler Sanders, a local minister who says change starts with them.

From the Asheville Citizen Times:

“I came because I wanted to support my people,” said Nicholas Burton, 32, who wears long dreadlocks and a nose ring. “Black Americans are facing genocide. Privilege is something that isn’t given to all Americans, especially people of color. Events like this help white people see that black lives matter.”

From the Winston Salem Journal:

Student Charity Timberlake said that blacks need to convince white society of their humanity.

“I feel that it is up to us to redefine our perception within American culture,” she said. “I think the reason behind everything is we are not viewed as people, so it is OK to kill us, and that is why he (the Ferguson officer) got off … We have to make it a point to put that
in their face that we are people and do deserve respect.”

John Roach, a white man, said he was saddened by talk from demonstrators that they were going to “shut down” Ferguson.

“It is sad that they (the protesters) can’t see the lack of value in violence and that it is no way to a peaceful end,” he said. “What good does that do?”

And from WTVD in Durham:

“We hope that the community will take pause and reflect on what has happened in this case and realize that situations like this will continue to be a part of our everyday lives until we become more active in letting our voices be heard. Marching and protests are good. When they are over, what is the next step?” Fayetteville NAACP President James Buxton Jr. said.

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employmentState officials report that North Carolina gained of 17,200 jobs in October, dropping the state’s overall jobless rate to 6.3 percent.

Governor Pat McCrory issued a statement Friday saying with those gains North Carolina has now recovered all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Economists acknowledge that the number of payroll jobs are above pre-recession level, but that’s only half of the story.

According to analyst John Quinterno of South By North Strategies, while North Carolina now has slightly more jobs than it did in December 2007 when the recession began, the state also has 28.4 percent more unemployed residents than it did almost seven years ago.

Here’s how Quinterno’s group explains the data:

Note that the return of North Carolina’s payroll size to the pre-recession level does not mean that the state’s labor market has recovered. Over the past 6.75 years, North Carolina has needed not only to replace the jobs lost during the recession, but also to add jobs to keep pace with the growth of the working-age population.

By one estimate, North Carolina still is 441,000 payroll jobs short of the number it should have added since late 2007 to accommodate the 11 percent rate of population growth that has occurred since then. At the current pace of net job growth, it would take another 72 months to fill that gap, holding all else equal.

“Although North Carolina has experienced job growth in 2014, the pace of growth has been modest,” noted Quinterno. “Over the first 10 months of the year, payroll employment in North Carolina expanded by 1.9 percent. The comparable rate in 2013 was 2 percent, and in 2012, the comparable rate was 1.6 percent. These rates are consistent with a sluggish recovery.”

In contrast to the payroll data, the household data recorded October pointed to a labor market that has yet to recover the ground lost during the recession. Last month, the statewide unemployment rate dipped to 6.3 percent from 6.7 percent, while the number of unemployed individuals fell by 16,685 (-5.4 percent). At the same time, the number of employed North Carolinians rose (+17,508, +0.4 percent). And the size of the labor force essentially held steady at 4.6 million persons.

Over the year, the statewide unemployment rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, dropping to 6.7 percent from 7.5 percent, with the number of unemployed North Carolinians decreasing by 54,551 persons (-15.7 percent). However, 47.8 percent of the decline was attributable to people who left the labor force entirely rather than to those who became employed. If those 26,104 leavers from the labor force were added back and considered unemployed, the statewide unemployment rate in October would have equaled 6.8 percent. Even if 50 percent of those individuals were added back to the labor force and considered unemployed, the statewide unemployment rate would have equaled 6.6 percent.