A three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court heard arguments in a case challenging North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law. Under the current law, felons who are released from incarceration can vote, but not until they have completed all requirements of parole or probation. Plaintiffs argued that this process, which can sometimes take years, disproportionately impacts persons of color. If the court rules in their favor and restores voting rights immediately upon release from prison, approximately 56,000 people would regain the right to vote.
The NC legislature has begun the process of redistricting, using 2020 census data to draw new state and federal voting maps. Based on the results of the 2020 census, North Carolina’s population is both bigger and more diverse, and more people now live within cities and suburbs than in small towns. These shifts have implications for the political future of the state.. Democrats are calling for transparency as the legislature’s redistricting committees discuss when and how to conduct public hearings. A special report from NC Policy Watch, “Demystifying the redistricting process,” provides an overview of what we can expect in the coming months.
A bill that would require certain nonprofit organizations to get written permission from a donor before making the donor’s identity public passed the NC House on a party-line vote. Supporters insist the intent of the bill is to protect privacy, but opponents of SB 636 fear the law would make it harder to trace special interest and “dark-money” contributions to political advertising. If the NC Senate agrees to minor changes made by the House, the bill will go to Gov. Cooper, who can sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.
The Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee voted to confirm Elizabeth Biser for secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality. If, as expected, the full Senate approves her nomination this week, Ms. Biser will become the first woman to lead the department.
Health Care Policy
On Friday, Governor Cooper signed a bill that will allow pharmacists to administer some injectable drugs without a prescription. They will also have expanded authority to dispense certain treatments that still require a prescription. HB 96 also clarifies that until the COVID-19 vaccine gets final US FDA approval, written parental consent is required for children under age 18 to receive the vaccine. The new law will be in place when and if an existing federal emergency order giving pharmacists expanded vaccination authority ends.
Gun Violence Prevention
A bill that would repeal North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law passed the NC Senate without any Democratic support. HB 398 had already passed the NC House and will now go to Governor Cooper. The Governor has vetoed all past attempts to relax state gun laws.
A bill banning 14- and 15-year-olds from marrying in North Carolina will go to Governor Cooper for his signature. The final version of the bill, which had already passed the House, passed the NC Senate unanimously.
With near unanimous agreement, the NC House passed a bill that would raise the minimum age for juvenile prosecutions so that 6- and 7-year-olds could no longer be charged with a crime. SB 207 passed after lawmakers in the House made changes to the Senate bill, which had raised the minimum age for criminal prosecution to 10 years. The bill will go back to the Senate, which may decide to accept the change or require further negotiations.
The NC House approved a criminal justice reform bill that originated in the NC Senate last May. Among its many changes, SB 300 requires that police officers intervene and report if they see a colleague using excessive force, creates non-public databases to track problem officers, and requires the State Board of Investigation to investigate deaths in prisons and jails as well as those involving police officers when requested by the Governor or selected other government officials. The bill also changes the access to officers’ body-worn and dashboard cameras, making it easier for family members to request the footage. The bill was changed to remove a section dealing with punishments for rioting. That issue is now part of a separate bill, HB 805, sponsored by House Speaker Tim Moore. This bill has drawn the ire of critics who believe it is a direct response to “Black and brown people taking to the streets” and would have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights.