Protect the public, not polluters

By Corey Friedman

[Note: the following editorial was written for the June 26 edition of the Richmond County Daily Journal. It was read aloud on the N.C. Senate floor by Sen. Gene McLaurin, D-Richmond, the following day.]

Any farmer knows North Carolina’s cash crops need plenty of sunlight to grow. But some lawmakers prefer darkness when it comes to the agency that farmeditregulates our farms and ranches.

The state Senate’s agriculture committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would make investigations into suspected environmental violations on the farm a strictly clandestine enterprise. A farm pollution probe would be more secret than a homicide investigation under the proposed rules.

The N.C. Farm Act of 2014, a 16-page grab bag of agriculture-related legislation, seeks to exempt environmental investigations into farm operations from the state’s public records law. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources could keep its inquiries into alleged wrongdoing permanently under wraps unless a judge says the public has a right to know.

“Complaints of violations of this article relating to an agricultural operation and all other records accumulated in conjunction with the investigation of these complaints shall be considered confidential records,” the bill states, “and may be released only by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.”

We understand that regulators may need time to sort fact from fiction and ferret out the truth when someone accuses a farm of causing environmental damage. There’s a balance to be struck between total information blackouts and releasing details that could hamper an ongoing investigation.

This bill doesn’t seek balance. It seeks unparalleled and unprecedented government secrecy.
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When pleasure turns to pain

By Heather K. Millis

One evening I was indulging in another poor decision, sitting at the drive thru and noticed with perplexity after each sentence she uttered the phrase “my pleasure.” The 'Nanny State' of North Carolina

While I’m known for my eerie sense of perception it took me back. The fact is she indubitably takes no form of pleasure in including a sauce packet with my order.

Apparent as everything.

While I was driving home I couldn’t shake what had upset me most about the phrase and why it bothered me so.

Working what feels like a menial job is mentally taxing enough on its own but when a corporation dictates even the most elementary of sentence components I have qualms.
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N.C. develops plan to regulate drones, including photography limits

By Corey Friedman

If loose lips can sink ships, loose language can crash a statewide plan to regulate drones before the first unmanned flying machines even get off the ground.dronephoto

Lawmakers on a special state panel approved a working draft of guidelines for drone rules and regulations last week. State Rep. Joe Tolson said the House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ bill is “a good start,” but will need some tweaking as it advances to the full General Assembly.

The proposed rules have their strong points — civil liberties safeguards that would require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before conducting drone surveillance in most cases — but there also are some provisions that give us pause.

Drone operators would be required to get a person’s written consent before photographing him or her “for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph.” That conflicts with a robust body of case law establishing photography in public places as a First Amendment right.

The bill tries to carve out an exception for the news media, citizen journalists and others documenting important matters, but that provision, too, could prove problematic.

“This subdivision shall not apply to newsworthy events or events to which the public is invited,” a passage states.

Government shouldn’t get to define what is and isn’t “newsworthy.” If folks object to the news media and private citizens using drones to take pictures, it would presumably be a judge’s call whether the event had sufficient news value to qualify under the exemption.
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Onslow Sheriff’s shenanigans could cost his badge

By William R. Toler

Poor wording, Freudian slip or blatant declaration? Sheriff-Brown

A campaign ad for Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown contains a line that is disturbing to those who are conscious of the growing police state.

The controversial section reads:

“Those in the law enforcement profession have complete power over you, your life, your family, your loved ones, your rights, your freedom, your future and everything precious to life.”

The ad was apparently written by Brown and a disclaimer at the bottom states that he paid for it himself.

According to the Jacksonville Daily News, Brown released a statement saying this was taken out of context. To Brown it simply means that “covers and protects every part of a person’s life,” the paper reported. “Brown says he has ‘searched every imaginable thought’ to find an aspect of life to which law does not apply and said he could not.”

If that’s the case, then he should have worded that way other than saying that LEOs have “complete power over you…your rights…” However, Brown’s explanation doesn’t really cause any ease.

The fact that legislation, written by men claiming to represent the rest of the people in a given geographic area, is so invasive that it covers every aspect of life is a worrying thought in and of itself.

The JDN also reported that both of Brown’s opponents in the sheriff’s race were dismayed by the language in the ad.
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N.C. men fighting for patients’ rights to medical marijuana

By William R. Toler

Two men. Two cases. One plant. One cause.

Although separated by 140 miles, Todd Stimson and Robert Dorr are fighting the same fight in the courts: the right of all people to use cannabis as a medical alternative to pharmaceuticals.

Todd Stimson and Robert Dorr pose together after Dorr's court appearance April 28. (Contributed photo)

Todd Stimson and Robert Dorr pose together after Dorr’s court appearance April 28. (Contributed photo)

Stimon’s home was raided in mid-July 2013 for growing cannabis. Dorr, who attended a rally in support of Stimson the following August, actually called deputies to let them know that he was growing cannabis for his own medicinal use and was arrested in December.

“I chose to fight because I had no options besides attacking them so I could get a trial and then be able to grow without fear of my house being tore up in a raid,” said Dorr. “It was my fastest way to safety.”

Dorr, a veteran, said he decided to fight in the courts rather than waiting on the legislative process. “When I learned all the science it became a civic obligation to stand for others as well, so I went very public,” he said. “Preventable, quantifiable death and suffering at the hands of the state should never be tolerated.”

Stimson had been charged in 2004 and took a plea to drop the charges against the mother of his children and to keep the state from taking the children away. “True terrorism,” he says of those that threatened to tear apart his family.

In 2011, he began taking steps to “be as legal as possible.” He obtained an Art of Healing license and began purchasing marijuana tax stamps from the State of North Carolina. “Three different times our government has failed to help us,” he said. “That is strike three for them in my book.”
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State provides what the market demands

By Eli Harman

One recurrent (and basically valid) libertarian criticism of the state is that it offers a “bundle” of services, that you can only take, in toto, or leave, with great difficulty and expense, by moving thousands of miles cutting ties with friends and family, etc.

But when you tell non-libertarians that they could simply shop for these services individually, purchase defense from one source, arbitration and dispute resolution from another, roads from still another, etc. (and refrain entirely from purchasing services they don’t want) they gape in disbelief or recoil in horror.

This tells me that there is strong market demand for this bundling service (states.) It’s all simply more than most people want to sort out for themselves. Libertarians discount the transaction costs and information costs because we already have this abnormal compulsion to examine everything in insane detail. But they are real, and it’s not reasonable to expect normal people to be willing or able to do what we do.

This is actually good, because there are services (the provision of public goods) that people would free ride if not required to purchase. Bundling is one practical, historically proven method of accomplishing this.
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Chickens killed following chargeless cockfighting suspicion

By William R. Toler

Terril Byrd’s feathers are ruffled…and for good reason. byrd

Back in December, New Bern police seized nearly 60 chickens (hens and roosters) from Byrd’s property on suspicion of cockfighting, according to NewsChannel 12. The station reports officers also seized training muffs, a vest, syringes and antibiotics.

Byrd told the station in January that he hadn’t done anything wrong. “They’re show birds,” he said. “I show them at the fair.” He also explained that the muffs were used for breeding and the vest was actually a beer holder.

Earlier this month, the station reported that District Attorney Scott Thomas said there was not enough evidence to charge Byrd and he gave the go-ahead for the chickens to be returned, passing the buck to Animal control.

“They were my pets,” he said. “The birds mean everything to me.”

Before he could get them back, some of the birds allegedly contracted “a contagious disease.” Some died. The rest were killed by the county government.
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Amanda Billyrock takes a plea

By William R. Toler

The trial of Amanda Billyrock didn’t exactly go as planned Monday morning.ab

Instead of making the state prove her guilt in court, she decided it was in her best interest to take a deal and plead guilty to the charge of “disobeying” a law enforcement officer. The charges of having an open container and resisting arrest were dropped.

Billyrock, whose given name is Amanda Johnson, was originally charged with five “crimes” following a December traffic stop, which we were the first to report. In January, two of those charges were dropped.

When originally reached for comment Monday, Billyrock said she would explain everything in an upcoming video. Wednesday, she released a statement on her Facebook page explaining why she took the plea:
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N.C. town imposes yard sale restrictions

By William R. Toler

Yard sales are a common occurrence across the fruited plain, however one North Carolina town wants them to occur less commonly. newton

Earlier this month, the town of Newton decided to impose several restrictions regarding how and when people can sell their own belongings from their own yards, according to the Hickory Daily Record.

One restriction was to limit the number of yard sales/garage sales to four per year. Another stipulation constrains each event to a 36-hour time limit, with all items being removed after the event. As if the time limit isn’t enough, sales are also banned on Sundays.

The vote for the draconian amendment was approved after a tie-breaker by Mayor Anne Steadman. Steadman said changes had been considered for several months months but “It’s now time to get it done.” She pointed out that the amendment graciously (my sarcasm, not her word) increased the number of events from three to four.
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Student suspended for simple mistake

By William R. Toler

A Tennessee high school student has been suspended and faces criminal charges for a mistake made by his father. knifekid

David Duren-Sanner, a senior at Northeast High School in Clarksville, received a 10-day suspension after a knife was found in the car he drove to school. His father’s car…his father’s knife.

The car was randomly selected during a random vehicle check on campus. “I didn’t have anything to hide,” Duren-Sanner told WTVF. He says he told investigators they might find snuff in the car, since his dad dips tobacco.
Instead they found a knife his father uses in his job as a commercial fisherman.

Because of the zero-tolerance policy, the student faces a charge of having a weapon on school grounds, according to a petition set up on his behalf.

If the punishment is upheld, he will have to attend an alternative school for 90 days following the suspension. He will not be able to attend prom, the JROTC ball or graduation.
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Don’t play politics with the people’s records

By Corey Friedman

It’s not an choice between right or left, but a simple matter of right and wrong. ncpubrec

A showdown between Attorney General Roy Cooper — a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2016 — and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is making public records a political hot potato.

McCrory’s office charges fees of up to $54 an hour for copies of public records when records requests take the governor’s staff more than a half-hour to fulfill. The fees reimburse state government for the salary and benefits of the workers who make the copies.

Cooper, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, says the fees are flat-out wrong. He expressed serious concern last October after learning the town of Middlesex had authorized nearly identical service charges for records requests. In a letter to the governor a couple weeks ago, Cooper cautioned the governor that the fees might be unlawful.

“I believe these policies violate the spirit and perhaps the legislative intent of the North Carolina Public Records Act,” he wrote.

McCrory responded in a letter from Bob Stephens, his general counsel. The governor’s office believes state law allows the fees and wants Cooper to butt out. Stephens called the attorney general’s letter “unsolicited public policy advice.”

The dispute boils down to a difference in interpretation of state public records laws. McCrory and town officials in Middlesex say they’re just applying a special service charge the law allows for requests that require extensive use of labor or technical resources. Critics point to another passage that defines the costs government may charge and specifically excludes costs that would stay the same — like full-time workers’ salaries — if a records request hadn’t been made.

Cooper believes McCrory and Middlesex are making up the rules as they go along. Who says a half-hour of staff time is extensive? The 30-minute charge clock is arbitrary, and officials haven’t explained how or why they chose that length of time.
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Snow curfews an abuse of power

By Corey Friedman

[Note: This post was originally written as an editorial for The Wilson Times following the storm that blanketed eastern North Carolina with snow and ice the last week of January.]

Wilson County officials told residents to use their best judgment. But leaders in another eastern North Carolina county took that judgment away. Onslow_County,_North_Carolina_seal

As a Deep South snowstorm blasted eastern North Carolina, Onslow County ordered people indoors and told them to stay off the roads after dark on Tuesday and Wednesday. The county commissioners’ chairman set a nighttime curfew for residents of Onslow’s unincorporated areas in a Tuesday proclamation.

Residents were confined to private property from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday and from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday. Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Buchanan called the curfew “a matter of public safety.”

“It is essential for the citizens to be off the roads in order for the sheriff and deputies to be able to respond to calls for assistance and for overall safety,” Buchanan said in a statement. “The curfew will also prevent crimes of opportunity while our citizens are safe in their homes. Our emergency responders will be able to react and respond safely to minimize loss and maintain security and safety measures.”

Under state law, curfew violators are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Penalties can range from a few days of community punishment to 60 days in jail depending on a convict’s past criminal record.

Concern for residents’ safety is understandable in a coastal North Carolina county more accustomed to tropical storms than snowstorms. But officials could have relied on education rather than intimidation.
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Store owner speaks about January raid

By William R. Toler

“Bullies. Complete bullies.” VideoSweepstakes

That’s how Mahmoud Salameh describes the law enforcement officers that raided his business last month to local televison station WCTI-12.

Salameh’s store, KP Mini Mart, was one of 22 businesses in Pitt County targeted for a multi-jursidictional crackdown on “illegal” gambling machines Jan. 7 in “Operation Pot of Gold.”

“I felt like I was in Iraq,” said Salemeh. “Literally, like, you walk in here, you have police officers with…AR-15s and pistols, with six or seven clips on their chest. It’s a ridiculous experience.”

But the machines weren’t the only thing taken from Salemeh that day.

“I tried to pull out my cellphone to record them, what was goin’ on,” he said. “They took my phone, deleted the footage.”
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Cash, property taken from Pitt County businesses in raid

By William R. Toler

Earlier this month, heavily-armed gangs stormed nearly 30 Pitt County businesses in a calculated heist, stealing more than $30,000 in cash and otherVideoSweepstakes property.

Sounds horrible, right?

Mainstream news accounts read something more like this: Police and deputies seized numerous illegal gambling machines from businesses across Pitt County in a morning raid called “Operation Pot of Gold.”

That makes it all better, right? Not for the business owners.

The people calling themselves the State of North Carolina have taken it upon themselves, allegedly at the will of the people, to declare certain types of machines “illegal.” Therefore, those sworn to uphold the law, took it upon themselves to rid the county of the scourge of gambling.

Unless, of course, that gambling pertains to the state-sanctioned “Education” Lottery.

Local media outlets had a frontrow seat for this show of force against these brazen store owners who dared to try and fill a void in the market by providing a service that customers wanted as they were on a ride-along, capturing the confiscation on video.
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Two out of five ain’t bad: Some charges dropped in Billyrock case

By William R. Toler

Two of the five charges against Amanda Billyrock have been dropped, according to the “adorable anarchist” herself.billyrock_new

Friday afternoon, she posted an update on her Facebook page “on the false crusade against me by a few individuals who call themselves ‘the state of New Hampshire.’” The two accusations no longer being levied are the charges of possession of a controlled substance and driving under the influence.

It is unclear at the time of this writing if her state permission to drive (license) has been reinstated.

Three more allegations remain: open container, disobeying an officer and resisting arrest. (The latter two can be combined to make “contempt of cop.”)

Since her December arrest in Laconia, N.H., Billyrock has released several video statements. She had initially posted the video of the arrest after being released from a night in a cage, but promptly removed it. In one video, she addressed the charges individually.

Her most recent statement, posted Jan. 2, Billyrock talked about the night in a bit more detail. In reference to the “violent tendencies” of arresting officer Michael Armstrong, she says: “He threatened to smash in my car window within 60 seconds of approaching my car.” A caption also flashes on the screen stating that Armstrong failed to inform her why she was pulled over in the first place…which is still unclear.
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