Possum Drop could return
The North Carolina Possum Drop tradition — which had comedian John Oliver in fits of laughter during his visit to Durham in December — might be returning this year.
A proposal making its way through the legislature would allow a live animal to be part of the Brasstown Possum Drop.
The 21-year-old tradition involves dropping a live opossum in an opaque box, similar to the ball drop in New York City.
House Bill 574 would lift state wildlife laws from applying to opossums from Dec. 29 to Jan. 2, allowing the drop to continue — despite a continued outcry from animal rights groups and various challenges in court.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has tried to stop the drop for years — with Clay Logan, the event’s organizer, fighting back the whole way.
This year, Logan dropped a stuffed opossum because of a lawsuit from PETA, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Education schools debated
UNC-system schools would be able to propose a redesign of their teacher education programs and be rewarded for doing so under House Bill 918.
As part of the pilot program, the state Board of Education would submit requests to the system’s 15 schools of education for proposals for a redesign, asking for a detailed plan of how the institution will structure its revamped program.
Proposals would have to be submitted by Oct. 15 of this year. One institution would be awarded $300,000 a year to fund the redesign for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years.
The schools’ plans would have to include recruitment strategies, revamped admissions criteria, revisions to education curricula and redesigns of classroom experiences for prospective teachers.
If school officials submit a redesign, they would have to commit to implementing the changes starting in the 2016-17 year.
Price of driver's ed may rise
More students across the state will have to pay for driver’s education next year, after lawmakers voted to eliminate its funding — but some lawmakers are hoping to reverse that decision.
House Bill 919, introduced Thursday, has sponsors from both parties and would restore funding to driver’s education. Otherwise, school districts would have to redirect money from other priorities or charge students’ parents the full amount, which is between $300 and $400.
According to the bill, driver’s education would receive $28 million in unclaimed lottery winnings in 2015-16.
Driver’s ed had been free for students until 2010, when a law passed allowing districts to charge up to $45 per student to offset the costs. That fee maximum rose to $65, but the new legislation would cut it back to $45.
Teenagers can also wait instead until they turn 18 to drive, when they can get a license without taking a course.
Hiking taxes on e-cigarettes
The popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping has surged among teenagers and young adults — and a new bill would address this trend with a higher tax on vapor products.
House Bill 939 restores funding to the Department of Health and Human Services for initiatives combating tobacco use among youth in North Carolina. These efforts will be paid for with a 12.8 percent tax on e-cigarettes.
Currently, the state’s tax on vapor products is far less than the tax on tobacco — just five cents per milliliter of product. The tax per pack of cigarettes is 45 cents, which is one of the lowest in the nation.
E-cigarette use jumped by 352 percent in N.C. high schools from 2011 to 2013, and overall tobacco use increased as well.
DHHS will have to provide an annual report each November on how it spends funds from the e-cigarette tax to reduce youth smoking in the state.
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