Cooper issues 96th veto on ‘Raise the Age’ modifications bill

Bill sponsor "looks forward" to overriding governor's veto

Gov. Roy Cooper is pictured in a file photos from Wednesday, February 14, 2018 in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — Roy Cooper issued the 96th veto of his two terms as governor on a bill modifying the state’s “Raise the Age” law.

House Bill 834 modified the law by altering the definition of juvenile delinquent and requiring 16- and 17-year-olds who commit certain serious felonies to be sent automatically to Superior Court instead of juvenile court.

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“Most violent crimes, even when committed by teenagers, should be handled in adult court. However, there are cases where sentences would be more effective and appropriate to the severity of the crime for teenagers if they were handled in juvenile court, making communities safer,” Cooper wrote in his veto message. “This bill makes this important option highly unlikely and begins to erode our bipartisan ‘Raise the Age’ law we agreed to four years ago.

“While a number of Senators worked to make this legislation better than the original bill, I remain concerned that this new law would keep some children from getting treatment they need while making communities less safe. Instead, the legislature should invest significantly more in our juvenile justice system to ensure resources are available to help prevent crimes and appropriately deal with children who break the law. Therefore, I veto the bill.”

One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Randolph), reacted to the veto and signaled a veto override would be coming.

“I was disappointed to hear of Gov. Cooper’s veto, which sadly shows once again his disregard for the safety of the citizens of N.C.,” Jackson said in a statement to North State Journal. “This is good legislation that would have eased the strain on the juvenile justice system. I look forward to voting to override his veto.”

An override attempt is likely to succeed given Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly along with the bill having received bipartisan support for passage in both the House and Senate.

On May 15, the measure passed the Senate 41-4. The only members voting against passage were Democrats; Mary Wills Bode (Wake), Lisa Grafstein (Wake), Natalie Murdock (Durham) and Gladys Robinson (Guilford).

The bill passed the House on June 5 by a vote of 70-34, again with bipartisan support. Seven Democrats voted to pass the measure; Ashton Clemmons (Guilford), Brandon Lofton (Mecklenburg), Carolyn Logan (Mecklenburg), Nasif Majeed (Mecklenburg), Caleb Rudow (Buncombe), Charles Smith (Cumberland) and Shelly Willingham (Edgecombe).

As previously reported by North State Journal, the most recent crime statistics from 2022 issued by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation show that among violent crimes committed by juveniles, murder arrests went from 46 in 2021 to 60 in 2022, a 30% increase. Adults arrested for murder during the same two years dropped 21%.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety numbers for 2023 showed juveniles between the ages of 16 and 17 had been charged with murder in 66 cases, and there were 28 murder case charges for those aged 13 to 15 years old.

Additionally, there have been at least 14 juveniles being charged or sought for murder or attempted murder between January and May of this year. Most of those charged were either 16 or 17 years old, however, several 15-year-olds and one 14-year-old have been charged.

About A.P. Dillon 1342 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_