Happy Holidays to you and your family!
This time of year is always busy for everyone due to the usual hectic work schedules, getting ready for the holidays and shopping for gifts, traveling to visit relatives and loved ones, and everything in between.
Work at the General Assembly is also busy for me this time of year as we try to wrap up our work on the interim study committees before the start of the new legislative session in January. I have attended meetings of the House Study Committee on State Personnel, Study Commission on Economic Development Infrastructure, House Select Committee on Public School Construction and House Select Committee on the Rural Economy in Raleigh. I am also looking forward to participating in the upcoming Christmas Parades in Rich Square, Gaston, Seaboard, Henderson, Garysburg, Jackson and Roanoke Rapids.
As I’ve said many times before, I’m extremely proud of the progress we made on education, health care, our economy and reducing crime during the short time we were in Raleigh this summer. Several of the new laws that we approved during this year’s session will go into effect on December 1st and are detailed below.
The General Assembly will reconvene on Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at noon. During the interim, you can contact me via email at email@example.com or by calling my Raleigh office at (919) 733-5662 or in Gaston at (252) 536-8013. My legislative office in Raleigh is staffed on a part-time basis by Mary Capps, my Legislative Assistant. You can also find additional information on the General Assembly at www.ncleg.net.
Early Holiday Gift: Sales Tax Cut Goes Into Effect December 1st
North Carolina consumers will see savings at the checkout counter due to a cut in the state sales tax rate that goes into effect Friday, December 1 — just in time for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Legislators approved a reduction of the state’s sales tax earlier this summer, reducing it from 4.5 percent to 4.25 percent. It is estimated that this tax cut will save our state’s taxpayers $140.1 million during the next seven months. Additional tax cuts take effect on January 1, 2007.
Below is a list of new laws that take effect on December 1, 2006, which will better protect our children and families and make our neighborhoods safer. Feel free to contact me if you would like additional information on these issues or any others that were considered by the General Assembly during this year’s session.
Protecting Children from Sex Offenders (S.L. 1006-181, HB 1896): Sex offenders will face much stricter registration regulations in North Carolina beginning December 1. The new law also prohibits a sex offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center and bars offenders from working or volunteering in a position where they would interact with minors. Some of the worst predators face lifetime satellite monitoring under a new global positioning system (GPS), and all offenders must comply with tougher registration requirements, which will give authorities more chances to update addresses and photographs.
Legislators also included $1.5 million in the budget to upgrade the state’s sex offender registry, implement the global positioning system (GPS), and establish an email notification program so citizens can be notified when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood.
Cracking Down on Drunk Drivers (S.L. 2006-253, HB 1048): North Carolina’s drunk driving laws will get tougher beginning December 1. The new law will better protect the public from the dangers of drunk drivers by strengthening existing driving while impaired (DWI) laws and making sure they are applied fairly and consistently throughout the state.
The new law limits a judge’s discretion to find a DWI defendant not guilty if the breathalyzer test results show a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater. It requires prosecutors to document and report their reasons for dismissing DWI cases, which the Administrative Office of the Courts can post on its website. It expands the definition of impaired driving to include the presence of any amount of illegal drugs in the blood.
It also adds to the list of DWI-related crimes, including a new category of charges when an individual who is driving while impaired injures a victim. The law also adds new categories and stiffer penalties for those with DWI convictions who injure or kill others in accidents. The new categories and penalties are:
Felony Serious Injury — A person who unintentionally causes serious injury while driving impaired is guilty of a Class F felony. Aggravated Felony Serious Injury — A person who intentionally causes serious injury while driving impaired and has an impaired driving conviction within seven years of the offense is guilty of a Class E felony.
In addition to current bans against underaged possession and purchase of alcohol, the new law makes it illegal for a person younger than age 21 to consume alcohol. The bill also requires anyone purchasing a keg of beer to first obtain a permit from the vendor to help trace beer purchasers.
Seat Belt Use Enhancements (S.L. 1006-140, SB 774): All vehicle passengers, including those in the back seat, will now have to buckle up in North Carolina. The new law mandates seatbelt use for all riders in a passenger vehicle. The law takes effect on December 1, but for the first six months — until next July — law enforcement officers will not issue tickets, only warnings. Beginning on July 1, 2007, back-seat passengers who are not wearing a seat belt would get a $10 ticket; however, it would only be a secondary violation, meaning law enforcement cannot stop a vehicle solely for a seat belt infraction.
Supporters of the legislation said 70 percent of back-seat passengers who died in North Carolina accidents in recent years were not wearing a seat belt. Currently, only 36 percent of passengers use seat belts in the back seat, compared with 86 percent in the front seats. Of the more than 1,100 deadly crashes in 2004, seatbelts are credited with saving more than 600 lives. Almost 20 other states, including South Carolina, have passed back-seat belt use laws, which was also a major recommendation of North Carolina’s Child Fatality Task Force.
Cell Phone Use Prohibited for Drivers Under 18 (S.L. 1006-177, SB 1289): Teenagers will now be prohibited from talking on their cell phones while driving. Motorists under the age of 18 caught using a cell could face a $25 fine and an extension to their graduated driving period. Like other graduated licensing rules, this law is designed more as a tool for parents than a tool for law enforcement. The bill makes exceptions for teenagers speaking with parents, law enforcement and spouses. According to supporters of the bill, more than 21 percent of all highway fatalities occur in crashes involving teenage drivers. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among North Carolina teens, with more than 400 killed in the past five years. Drivers using mobile phones are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren’t. The legislation was recommended by the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force.
Disorderly Conduct During a Funeral or Memorial/Military Service (S.L. 1006-169, SB 1833): Anyone who displays visual images, yells or uses abusive language within 300 feet of the funeral or memorial site will be guilty of a misdemeanor under a new law aimed at protecting families from protests at funerals. The bill originally targeted military services, but now covers all funerals. The protest ban would begin one hour before the funeral and end one hour after the conclusion of the funeral. According to bill sponsors, 31 states this year have filed similar bills, with 14 signed into law. The federal law, enacted earlier this year, applies only to national cemeteries; state laws would have a broader effect.
Increased Penalty for the Assault of a Handicapped Person (S.L. 1006-179, SB 488): The criminal penalty for a simple assault or battery on a handicapped person will increase from a Class 1 to a Class 1A misdemeanor.
High School Students: Want to be a Legislative Page?
The N.C. House Page program offers high school students (ages 15 to 18 or those currently in the ninth grade) the opportunity to see firsthand how laws are made by participating in the legislative process. Each House Members is permitted to sponsor up to five pages from their district for the upcoming session, which begins on January 24. Pages will serve for one week doing duties such as participating in daily sessions and committee meetings. To read more about the House Page program, please visit www.ncleg.net/house/pages/home.html. Interested students should contact my office at (919) 733-5662 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for an application. Because of limited slots, it is best to submit applications as early as possible.
Assistance for Riegelwood Tornado Victims
Governor Mike Easley and other state officials are encouraging all North Carolinians to help the families in Riegelwood who have suffered so much. The November 16th storm, which was the state’s second-deadliest tornado in 50 years, claimed the lives of eight people and damaged or destroyed at least 35 homes, leaving about 100 people homeless.
For those looking to help the tornado victims, the Community Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina has set up the Riegelwood Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. Tax deductible contributions can be sent to: Community Foundation, 321 North Front Street, Wilmington, NC 28401 or visit the foundation’s website at www.communityfoundationsenc.org. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are also accepting donations that should be designated “Riegelwood Tornado.” For information about the recovery or how to donate to the relief efforts, the public can also call the Governor’s Emergency Bilingual Hotline, 1-888-835-9966.
As I’ve said many times before, I hope you will continue to let me know how you feel about the issues that were debated by the North Carolina Legislature and the challenges you and your family are facing each day.
By working together, we can make Northampton, Vance and Warren Counties and all regions of North Carolina a better place to live, work and raise a family.