By Theresa Opeka
Twenty-six new laws are now on the books in North Carolina.
Among those that took effect on Dec. 1 was H.B. 40, Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder, which makes rioting a felony if it resulted in over $2,500 worth of property damage, involved dangerous weapons or substances, or resulted in someone’s death. It would also make assaulting a police officer or emergency personnel a felony.
The law was modified in S.B. 626, Modify Human Trafficking and Rioting Laws, to increase penalties for inciting a riot. The previous version of the bill was met with strong opposition from Democrats and social justice advocates, who called it racist and intended to muzzle the exercise of First Amendment rights.
Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper allowed the bill to become law without his signature in March.
“I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year,” he said in a press release in March.. “Property damage and violence are already illegal, and my continuing concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impacts on communities of color will prevent me from signing this legislation.”
NONDISCRIMINATION & DIGNITY IN STATE WORK
Cooper vetoed S.B. 364, Nondiscrimination & Dignity in State Work, in June, but both the Senate and the House overrode it a few weeks later.
Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, said the bill was about making sure that there is no discrimination based on politics in hiring state government employees.
“It prohibits state government from compelling a job applicant to say anything,” he said on the House floor in June. “That’s what the First Amendment is all about. Making sure that government doesn’t prohibit speech, but they also don’t compel citizens to say things no matter what their beliefs are.”
GUARANTEE 2ND AMEND FREEDOM AND PROTECTIONS
Changes to purchasing and carrying a handgun became law with S.B. 41, Guarantee 2nd Amend Freedom and Protections, another bill vetoed by Cooper in March but quickly overridden in the same month. It allows concealed carry in houses of worship, even if the facility is a school on other days of the week. It also ends a requirement for getting a separate permit to buy a handgun. Cooper vetoed the law claiming it “eliminated” background checks, but federal law already requires background checks for pistols purchased through licensed dealers.
“Eliminating strong background checks will allow more domestic abusers and other dangerous people to own handguns and reduces law enforcement’s ability to stop them from committing violent crimes,” Cooper, a Democrat, said in a press release after he vetoed the bill in March. “Second Amendment supporting, responsible gun owners know this will put families and communities at risk.”
A North Carolina Law Review study reported that “the permit system’s intention was to keep minorities from possessing handguns.” North Carolina was the only state in the South that still had the Jim Crowe-era law.
CARE FOR WOMEN, CHILDREN, AND FAMILIES ACT
While much of S.B. 20, Care for Women, Children, and Families Act, which restricted abortions after 12 weeks, with exceptions, was effective July 1, a portion of it went into effect on Dec. 1. Starting this month, parents would not be prosecuted for surrendering a baby if the infant is less than 30 days old, unless the infant shows signs of abuse or neglect. Under the previous “safe surrender” law, the infant would have to be under 7 days old or parents could face charges.
ELECTION LAW CHANGES
A few sections of S.B. 747, Election Law Changes, went into effect on Dec. 1. Among them, a measure that makes it a misdemeanor to impersonate an election official in the registration of voters or in conducting an election. It also makes it a misdemeanor for anyone other than an election official to put an identifier or tracking number on any absentee ballot request form. In addition, anyone who has access to an official voted ballot or voting record could be charged with a misdemeanor if they disclose how an individual voted.
Cooper also vetoed this bill, primarily for the sections that set election day as the deadline for absentee votes, and banned private groups from covering some elections’ administrative costs. The General Assembly overrode his veto in October.
Section 3 of S.B. 49, Parents’ Bill of Rights, became effective on Dec. 1. The section requires healthcare providers and facilities to get parental consent for the medical treatment of minors. Under the new law, a health care practitioner can’t provide, solicit, or arrange treatment for a minor child without written consent from the child’s parent unless they have a court order. Breaking that law could mean the provider losing their license or certification and a fine of up to $5,000.
The remainder of S.B. 49 became law in August when the legislature overrode Cooper’s veto of the bill.
Other bills that became law December 1 include:
S.B. 58 – Protect Critical Infrastructure, which increases punishment for property crimes committed against utilities. The bill was passed after the attack on the Moore County electric substations. S.B. 206 – Control Substances/ Opioid/Vaccine/At Home Omnibus. H.B. 87 – Probation Modifications/Sheriff Authority. S.B 582 – North Carolina Farm Act of 2023. H.B. 34 – Protect Those Who Serve and Protect. S.B. 135 – Registered Veterinary Technician Modification. S.B. 246 – Property Owners Protection Act. S.B. 91 – Amend Rule 4/Acceptance of Service. H.B. 193 – AOC Court Changes/Amend Expunction. H.B. 186 – Juvenile Justice Modifications/ DOI Expenses/Technical Changes. H.B. 447 – Clarify Motor Vehicle Dealer Laws. S.B. 492 – Adult Correction/Law Enforcement Changes. S.B. 189 – Fentanyl Drug Offenses and Related Changes. S.B. 579 – Prevent Harm to Children. H.B. 142 – Protect Our Students Act. H.B. 125 – NC Health & Human Services Workforce Act. S.B. 452 – DOI & Insurance Law Amendments/Revise HS Athletics. H.B. 600 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2023. S.B. 409 – Various Changes to Criminal and Civil Laws.