by YES! Staff

Developments across the Triad and beyond, compiled by Y!W staff Unemployment rate surgesUnemployment rates increased statewidein February, and Piedmont Triad job seekerswere not spared the pain of the currentrecession, according to a report issued by theNC Employment Security Commission onApril 1. Winston-Salem’s unemployment rateincreased from 9.2 percent to 10.4 percentin February, while Forsyth County’s rateincreased from 8.8 percent 10 percent. TheGreensboro-High Point area’s unemploymentrate increased from 10.6 percent in Januaryto 11.6 percent in February, while GuilfordCounty’s rate increased from 9.9 percentto 11.0 percent. Steve Gupton, assistantmanager of the Forsyth County agency,said case managers are beginning to seeapplicants who have exhausted all theirregular benefits, as well as their extensionbenefits. Last week, the Forsyth agencybegan distributing a $25 bonus to applicantsas part of the economic recovery packagepassed by Congress. The length of the linesof applicants at the agency has decreased inthe past month, but that can be deceiving.Only 30 local employers have signed up forthe 2009 Employment Fair to be held at JoelColiseum on April 14. “In the past, we’ve had100 employers. This month it started off with20 employers, now it’s up to 30. That will tellyou a lot right there,” Gupton said. “But thegood news is there are employers lookingfor workers.” The unemployment numbersfor the area have probably not yet bottomedout. “The trend is the unemployment rate willincrease for the next several months,” Guptonsaid.— KTB Health secretary: No tolerance forabuses of psychiatric patients Addressing mental health providers andadvocates in Greensboro on April 3, NCSecretary of Health and Human ServicesSecretary Lanier Cansler pledged an endto abuses against patients at state runpsychiatric hospitals, and said he would bewilling to consider granting waivers for localgovernment to administer some programswhen private providers are not able to doso. “I did adopt a no-tolerance policy whenit comes to abuse and neglect of patients,”he said of Broughton Hospital in Morgantonand Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, two staterunpsychiatric facilities. “I wanted to send astrong message that we will not condone anyabuse and neglect of our patients, and senda strong message that we’re going to focuson quality of care and safety of our patients.”Beginning in 2007, local management entitieswere forced to privatize mental healthservices, with mixed results. “The legislationthat was passed back in 2001 — the mentalhealth reform legislation — while it calls forthe LMEs not to be in the service business, italso allows the secretary to sign a waiver thatwill allow the LMEs to develop and provideservices if no other services are available,”Cansler said. “That waiver is one that has notbeen used; I don’t know if it’s ever been used.It quite honestly should have been used sowe did not have divestment of services priorto other services being available. I am willingto sign this waiver to allow LMEs to providethese services.” He also said he would reversea plan to transfer children from Dorothea DixHospital in Raleigh to Umstead in Butner.“The previous administration was workingon ideas of how to close Dorothea Dix, buildthe new hospital and put the children into theold Umstead Hospital,” the secretary said. “Iam evaluating that, and I do not plan to putchildren in the old hospital; I have other planswhich I will announce briefly about how we’regoing to deal with that. I’ve decided to utilizethe new facility for children and retain someuse of Dorothea Dix for some patients there.”— JG NC House passes smoking banfor restaurants, workplaces The NC House passed a statewide smokingban on businesses and restaurants thatemploy or serve minors by a margin of72 to 45 on April 2. The bill, a scaled backversion of a measure that would haveimposed a comprehensive smoking ban inall workplaces, now goes to the Senate forapproval. Forsyth County Health DirectorTim Monroe said the amendment to thesmoking ban that essentially exempts barsis problematic. “That says if you’re over 18,you can’t be expected to be protected fromcarcinogens,” Monroe said. “I hope there willbe opportunities in the Senate to removethat particular amendment. It’s importantto understand that there’s no other situationwhere an employee goes to work, and theemployer says, ‘If you go to work here, you’llbe exposed to carcinogens. If you don’twant to be exposed to carcinogens, youshouldn’t work here.” The House delegationfrom Forsyth County, home to ReynoldsAmerican, the second largest cigarettemanufacturer in the nation, was divided onthe issue. Democrats Earline Parmon andLarry Womble voted in favor of the bill, whileRepublicans Dale Folwell, Bill McGee andLarry Brown voted against the measure. Thebill cites a 2006 US Surgeon General’s reportstating there is no risk-free level of exposureto secondhand smoke. The measure exemptsfraternal and veterans clubs, but gives localgovernments the power to implement tighterrestrictions on smoking in their communities.— KTB NC congressional delegationdivided on tobacco bill Congress approved a bill that would givethe Food and Drug Administration theauthority to regulate tobacco products by avote of 298-112 on April 2. The North Carolinadelegation split its votes on the issue. Rep.Brad Miller, the Democrat who representsthe 13th Congressional District, voted infavor of the Family Smoking Preventionand Tobacco Control Act, as did Rep. MelWatt, the Democrat who represents the 12thCongressional District. Republicans VirginiaFoxx, who represents the 5th CongressionalDistrict, and Howard Coble, who representsthe 6th Congressional District, voted againstthe bill. Despite his affirmative vote, Millersaid he is not comfortable giving the FDAregulatory authority over tobacco. “Tobaccois going to have to be regulated, he said. “Idon’t have any doubt about that. But the FDAis not the right agency.” Miller voted for anunsuccessful amendment to the bill that wasco-sponsored by Rep. Mike McIntyre, a fellowDemocrat who represents CongressionalDistrict 7, that would have instead created aTobacco Harm Reduction Center under theDepartment of Health and Human Services.The Family Smoking Prevention and TobaccoControl Act gives the FDA the authority toapprove or disapprove new products andprevent tobacco companies from addingflavors to cigarettes aimed at attracting youngsmokers.—KTB Action Greensboro contributionSimkins PAC illegal The NC Board of Elections determinedthat the George C. Simkins Jr. MemorialPAC violated state law in accepting a $5,000contribution from Action Greensboro duringthe 2008 election. The Simkins PAC, whichdistributes its endorsements to African-American households, endorsed all fourbonds on the ballot in the general election.Action Greensboro also heavily supportedthe bonds, contributing a total of $64,500to the Citizens Committee for Greensboro,which handled campaign spending for thefour bonds. In contrast to the 2008 generalelection, the Simkins PAC recommendedagainst all but one bond issue on ballots forvoters across Guilford County. “In the courseof our investigation, this office contactedthe treasurer and other committee officialsregarding the contribution from ActionGreensboro,” compliance specialist AdamRagan wrote in an April 1 letter to KeithBrown, the High Point resident whosecomplaint against the Simkins PAC promptedthe investigation. “The committee concludedthat the contribution was considered aprohibited receipt and would need to forfeitthe contribution to the North Carolina CivilPenalty & Forfeiture Fund. On March 6,2009 this office received a check from theGeorge C. Simkins Jr. Memorial PAC for$5,000 designated for the North Carolina CivilPenalty & Forfeiture Fund.” The letter wascarbon copied to Skip Alston, treasurer forthe Simkins PAC. As chairman of the GuilfordCounty Commission, Alston is the county’shighest ranking elected official.— JG GPD promotions given The Greensboro Police Department haspromoted 14 police officers to the rankof sergeant, and one officer to the rank oflieutenant. JP Lowdermilk, a 16-year veteranwith the department, was promoted tolieutenant. New sergeants include SF Barnes,AJ Barwick, CB Isom, SP Gladieux, AHHollis, DW Knott, TA Long, A. Moos, MERakes, CM Schultheis, JW Thompson, AJRickett, MG Terry and DC Webb. A policedepartment press release stated that thepromotions were “the result of vacanciescreated over the past 18 months andrecommendations from the 2008 Burackerreport.— JG