Dozens of new laws go into effect this holiday season

Laws with effective dates in December and January address drug crisis, elections

Eamon Queeney | The North State Journal
North Carolina House of Representatives members work in the opening of a special session of the General Assembly in the House Chambers of the Legislative Building in Raleigh

RALEIGH — As North Carolinians begin their holiday season, dozens of new laws will go into effect across the state on topics ranging from opioids and protecting first responders to election laws. When a law is passed, it is often effective immediately, but many others are given an effective date on which the passed bill will become enforceable.

Because the end and the beginning of the year are common times to make a law effective, the holiday season often sees a flood of new laws that were passed months, or even years, prior. Some of these laws have only one or two sections that are now becoming effective, while others go into effect in their entirety.

Due to the deadly and ongoing opioid crisis, laws continue to be passed aimed at reversing recent trends. Senate Bill 151, Break or Enter Pharmacy/Increase Penalty, makes it a Class E felony “to break or enter into a pharmacy with the intent to commit a larceny of a controlled substance,” and a Class F felony “to receive or possess a controlled substance knowing or having reason to believe the controlled substance to be stolen from a pharmacy.”

House Bill 474, Death by Distribution, creates a new charge, a Class C felony, for distributing drugs, including opioids, methamphetamines or cocaine, that cause someone’s death. A more serious charge of Aggravated Death by Distribution is a Class B2 felony, carrying a possible sentence of 94-484 months of jail time. Both H.B. 474 and S.B. 151 were effective as of Dec. 1, 2019.

Other criminal laws changing include the “Raise the Age” legislation that moves the age for juvenile jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds, except in felony cases. Most states no longer automatically prosecute older juveniles as adults, and as of Dec. 1, neither will North Carolina.

Multiple sections of a sex trafficking law, House Bill 198, become effective on Dec. 1 as well. The bill increases penalties to a Class G felony for those trafficking others for illegal sex acts and involving people in “sexual servitude.” In addition, it creates a civil cause of action that victims can use against their traffickers.

Senate Bill 199 aims to protect citizens from sexual abuse as well, extending the statute of limitations on child sex crimes and tightening reporting requirements for those aware of abuse. The bill also eliminated what some had called a “rape loophole” that prevented victims from removing consent during a sex act that they had entered willingly.

For those enforcing the laws and responding to emergencies, more protections are on the way as well. Conner’s Law, House Bill 283, honors N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Conner, who was killed in the line of duty, by increasing the penalty for assaulting first responders. The bill includes a new death benefit of $100,000 to the family of a law enforcement officer who was “murdered in the line of duty.” The benefit is retroactive to July 1, 2017, well before Conner’s death in October 2018.

Senate Bill 29 is intended to protect law enforcement by increasing penalties on motorists who do not move over when first responders are using flashing lights and sirens. It creates a Class F felony “if the violation results in serious injury or death to a law enforcement officer or emergency response person.”

This bill was passed in honor of Lumberton Officer Jason Quick. Quick was killed by an oncoming vehicle in December 2018 while investigating an accident on I-95.

There are also some election law changes coming. Senate Bill 683, Combat Absentee Ballot Fraud, was a bipartisan bill intended to avoid the kind of problems with mail-in voting that invalidated the results of N.C.’s 9th U.S. congressional race in 2018.

Mail-in ballot requests will now need to be completely filled out by the voter themselves and either a photo ID or an affidavit will have to be provided. There will now be a new criminal offense created for “selling completed request forms or voted ballots or receiving payment based on a number of returned requests.” The law also restores the final Saturday of early voting and is effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Another election-related bill, Senate Bill 220, Removal of Political Signs by Citizens, seeks to put an end to a perennial election-year annoyance — political signs left by the side of road months after a campaign. S.B. 220 says that “any political sign remaining in the right-of-way of the State highway system more than 30 days after the end of the period prescribed in this subsection shall be deemed unlawfully placed and abandoned property, and a person may remove and dispose of such political sign without penalty.”