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While North Carolina awaits a federal judge’s signal that same-sex couples can marry, county registers of deeds don’t know when they’ll get the necessary forms from the state health agency to marry those couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to not take up cases about same-sex marriage paved the way for gay couples to marry in North Carolina, after a federal judge found a state ban on the marriages unconstitutional.

A federal judge lifted a stay late Wednesday, an indication that an order declaring North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional will be forthcoming.

Once that happens, county register of deeds can immediately start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has yet to respond to requests from county-level registers of deeds for a gender-neutral application form for marriage licenses, as was first reported Tuesday by Q-Notes, a Charlotte-based LGBT publication. Several registers of deeds have said the state have already developed a form.

In the meantime, registers of deed will simply cross out terms like “bride” and “groom,” said Crystal Crump, the register of deeds for Union County and past president of the state association for register of deeds.

“We hate crossing through” on the forms, Crump said, but would prefer that to having to delay issuing marriage licenses.

DHHS said it is aware of the impending changes after the Supreme Court decision, but does not have the authority to release a gender-neutral form until the actual law is changed.

“At this time, N.C. DHHS is bound by existing state law and has no legal authority to issue a gender-neutral form in the absence of a court order or a statutory change,” DHHS spokeswoman Alexandra Lefebvre wrote in a written statement. “N.C. DHHS is aware of the Supreme Court decision and is closely monitoring how it may be applied in several pending cases that involve North Carolina’s marriage law.”

Note: This post changed from the original to include the correct spelling of DHHS spokeswoman Alexandra Lefebvre’s name.

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An environmental law firm says the state agency tasked with protecting natural resources downplayed the dangers of toxic coal-ash storage ponds in Wilmington by ranking dams there a “low hazard.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center sent a letter Thursday to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources refuting the state agency’s 2013 assessment that dams holding coal ash storage ponds at Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton Plant in Wilmington posed little risk to the environment or human health.

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

The dams hold back the toxic byproducts of coal-fired power plants from Lake Sutton, a popular public recreational lake often used for boating and fishing.

The letter sent last week (scroll down to read) from the Chapel Hill-based environmental group asks DENR to reassess the hazard level. A DENR spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the situation.

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N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory might be getting tired of answering reporters’ questions.

The governor joked that the state already has enough journalists, in comments he made yesterday at a press conference for an effort to evaluate what skills North Carolina employers need in future workers, according to this account from the Triad Business Journal.

McCrory — who, like almost all politicians, ever, has had a testy relationship with the press — was making a point that the state’s workforce needed more people trained for trade professions, like truck drivers.

“We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists. With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many,” McCrory said to laughter from the audience.

He said we have too many lawyers too, adding that some mechanics are making more than lawyers.

“And journalists, did I say journalists?” he said for emphasis.

Click here to read the entire story.

Mark Binker, of WRAL, sidestepped the slight about reporters and vetted McCrory’s claim today about North Carolina had enough psychologists. Turns out North Carolina is one of many states with a shortage of mental health workers, including psychologists.

Journalism is far from a growing profession, of course. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the total number of reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts at 57,600 in 2012 across the nation, and predicts those numbers will contract even more in coming decades.

And more than a few people hold the profession in low regard. More than a quarter of Americans think journalists contribute nothing or very little to society, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center.

 

 

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The Associated Press published this disturbing report this afternoon about the release of an autopsy of a mentally ill prison inmate who died of thirst.

Anthony Michael Kerr, 53, died when he was found unresponsive in March while being transported from a state prison in Taylorsville to Central Prison in Raleigh.

The article (by AP’s Michael Biesecker) also reported a state pathologist couldn’t determine if the death was of natural, accidental, or homicidal causes. The pathologist wasn’t given information by prison staff about when Kerr last ate or was given something to drink.
From the AP article.

In the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report, pathologist Dr. Lauren Scott says a senior prison official allowed a “witnessed review” of an internal review into Kerr’s death, though the medical examiner’s office was not permitted to keep a copy. Scott wrote that the report left unanswered key details about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.

Because of the lack of information, the pathologist wrote that she was unable to make a determination about whether Kerr’s death should be classified as natural, accidental or homicide.

“Mr. Kerr’s psychiatric history was significant for schizoaffective disorder for which he was not receiving any treatment at the time of his death,” Scott wrote. “It was not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the inmate’s nutrition and fluid intake, and whether or not his mental health and/or external factors played a role in the dehydration.”

Scott noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices.”

You can read the entire article here.

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A nearly-dormant N.C. Courts Commission came back to life at the state legislative building Tuesday, with hopes from commission members that it will be tapped once again to advise the legislature on the statewide judicial systems’ needs and problems.

Less than a dozen of the 28-member commission attended Tuesday’s meeting, chaired by state Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Mt. Airy Republican and an attorney herself.

Stevens said the commission’s work had been negligible in recent years, and some in the legislature floated the idea of getting rid of the commission. N.C. Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey wrote about the potential demise of the courts commission in 2013.

On Tuesday, Stevens said the request to revive the courts commission came from the governor’s office.

“This is one that Gov. McCrory really wanted to save,” she said.

So, just how long has it been since the N.C. Courts Commission has done substantial amounts of work?

More than 15 years, James Drennan of the University of North Carolina’s School of Government told the commission’s newest panel of members, many of whom are in elected position in courts around the state.

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