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Bob Geary via

North Carolina's NAACP leader has challenged new rules about public assembly in the state Legislative Building as part of protests targeting policies by the GOP-led Legislature.

About 75 people marched to the building with the Rev. William Barber on Wednesday for a demonstration as lawmakers reconvened this year's session.

After prayers and speeches, Barber asked the group to follow him in a lap around the Rotunda between chambers.

Angie Newsome via

The first work day at the General Assembly usually brings an early flurry of bills. Nearly 30 were filed by late Wednesday afternoon in the House and Senate. The bills include those that would:

— allow magistrates and workers under a county Register of Deeds to refuse to perform marriage duties because of strongly held religious objections. Chief sponsor: Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

— invite Gov. Pat McCrory to deliver his State of the State address Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. Chief sponsor: Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

AP Photo

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says moving closer to drilling offshore of the Carolinas is a step in the right direction.

The Obama administration on Tuesday included tracts off the coast in a draft proposal of areas that could be opened to drilling later this decade.

McCrory chairs the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition consisting of coastal state governors favoring offshore energy development.

AP/Gerry Broome

Gay marriage is front and center on this year's first real work day at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Senate leader Phil Berger filed a bill Wednesday that would allow magistrates to refuse to preside at same-sex weddings and assistant registers of deeds to not issue licenses based on religious convictions. But they wouldn't be involved in traditional marriages either.

Berger had said he'd file a recusal bill after judges last October struck down North Carolina's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

A top governor of North Carolina's public university system says it's a coincidence that rewriting rules for finding a new president got started more than a week before the sudden replacement of the current leader was announced.

Members of the University of North Carolina board met Tuesday as they start revamping the framework for replacing UNC system President Tom Ross next year. Rewriting the 18-year-old search guidelines was set in motion before the surprise announcement earlier this month that Ross was being forced out.

Angie Newsome via

The North Carolina legislature is back in town and ready to work for the year following a two-week break.

The House and Senate planned to reconvene the General Assembly session at midday Wednesday. Little debate was expected on the first day, but lawmakers were expected to file an early flurry of bills. Two chambers elected Republican favorites Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger to their leadership posts on Jan. 14, then went home.

Some lawmakers in the Carolinas say drilling for oil and natural gas offshore will be boost the states' economies and help the nation toward energy independence.

But conservation groups warn such drilling could endanger coastal tourism with the possibility of oil spills onCarolinas beaches.

The Obama administration on Tuesday included an area off the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia in its draft proposal of tracts on the Outer Continental Shelf that could be leased between 2017 and 2022.

A former legislator recently reassigned from a post in the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is returning to the General Assembly, this time on new House Speaker Tim Moore's staff.

Moore announced Friday he's hired Mitch Gillespie of Marion as a senior policy adviser. He's among a dozen people on Moore's staff at the start of his two-year term.

Momentum has slowed for a proposal to shift control of North Carolina's Medicaid program from the Department of Health and Human Services to a new eight-member panel of health experts.

The General Assembly's government watchdog oversight committee met Wednesday but didn't vote as previously expected on legislation recommended last week by one of its subcommittees.

North Carolina's new environmental secretary has replaced two assistant secretaries at the state agency.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart announced Tuesday that Division of Water Resources Director Tom Reeder has been named as the new assistant secretary for the environment. Reeder has helped head up the response to the Dan River coal ash spill.

He replaces Mitch Gillespie, who has been named director of western outreach in Asheville. A former state legislator, Gillespie is a Republican from nearby Marion.

Associated Press

Pat McCrory is on his first announced overseas trade mission as North Carolina's governor, visiting Britain on a short economic recruitment trip.

McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis confirmed the governor arrived there early Tuesday morning and would remain there until Thursday. Ellis says the governor's activities include meeting with executives of companies Ellis declined to name because they involved competitive economic development matters.

The North Carolina General Assembly is heading back to work with a new group of 170 legislators for the next two years.

The legislature scheduled its one-day organizational session to begin Wednesday morning.

Republicans who remain in charge of the House and Senate are expected to elect their favorites to run the chambers — Phil Berger of Eden as Senate leader and Tim Moore of Kings Mountain as House speaker. Lawmakers will go home until Jan. 28, when they'll begin in earnest to file bills and debate legislation.

Fans of the PBS series "Downton Abbey" can see costumes from the show at the Biltmore House in Asheville.

Biltmore House will host an exhibition titled, "Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times," Feb. 5-May 25. The show will include more than 40 costumes from the television series.

Biltmore House was built in the 1890s for the Vanderbilt family. The Downton costumes will be displayed in groupings themed on events from the fictional show, with connections made to real life at the Vanderbilt estate during the same early 20th century era.

Associated Press

Advocacy groups have filed ethics complaints against North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina over six-figure stock payouts they received while in office from an online mortgage broker.

Progress North Carolina Action filed a complaint Monday against McCrory with the North Carolina Ethics Commission. The complaint against Sanford was filed with the U.S. House Ethics Committee by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The House majority leader for the past two years is leaving the North Carolina General Assembly to take a job with the office of State Treasurer Janet Cowell.

Rep. Edgar Starnes says he'll resign his seat at noon Tuesday, the day before lawmakers return to Raleigh for a one-day housekeeping session. Starnes said Monday he'll become a senior policy adviser for Cowell and serve as her liaison to the Republican-led legislature.

The first snow of the season could fall this weekend in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for 11 counties from 8:00 Friday, Oct. 31 through Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8:00 p.m.

The watch is in effect in Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Graham, Haywood, northern Jackson, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Watauga and Yancey counties.

The weather service said up to 6 inches of snow could fall in the higher elevations, with up to 3 inches in the valleys.

Time for Early Voting!

Oct 23, 2014
Alan Cleaver / Flickr

Early voting for the upcoming Nov. 4 midterm elections began Thursday, Oct. 23 in all 100 North Carolina counties. The 10-day early voting period ends midday Saturday, Nov. 1.

Photo IDs are NOT required for voting this year. The voter ID law is set to take effect for the 2016 elections.

Voters this midterm election season are choosing legislators, judges and local leaders.

Here's a list of early voting locations in Western counties:

The Taliban has suspended talks over a possible exchange of Taliban and U.S. prisoners due to the "complexity" of the situation in Afghanistan, the militant group said on Sunday.

"Due to the political complexity of the current situation in the country, the leadership of the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend the issue for some time," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an email to media organizations, using the name the Taliban gave their 1996-2001 government.

A 55-year-old restaurant manager died and more than two dozen others were taken to hospitals Saturday after being overcome by carbon monoxide at a New York mall, police said.

Suffolk County police identified the man who died as Steven Nelson, a manager at the Legal Sea Foods restaurant at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station on Long Island.

Police said 28 others affected by carbon monoxide were taken to area hospitals.

The stakes were high and the vote was close as Boeing production workers agreed to concede some benefits in order to secure assembly of the new 777X airplane for the Puget Sound region.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Boeing hailed Friday's vote, which proponents said solidifies the aerospace giant's presence in the Seattle area.

"Tonight, Washington state secured its future as the aerospace capital of the world," Inslee declared.

Paul Walker, the star of the "Fast & Furious" movie series, died Saturday in a car crash that killed one other person north of Los Angeles, his publicist said. He was 40.

Walker died Saturday afternoon, Ame Van Iden told the Associated Press.

A statement on the actor's Facebook page said he was a passenger in a friend's car, and that Walker was in the area to attend a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide.

"We ... are stunned and saddened beyond belief by this news," the statement said.

Americans Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller won the Nobel prize for economics on Monday for developing new methods to study trends in asset markets.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the three had laid the foundation of the current understanding of asset prices.

While it's hard to predict whether stock or bond prices will go up or down in the short term, it's possible to foresee movements over periods of three years or longer, the academy said.