Commentary

Last minute attacks on civil liberties advance at General Assembly

We must be getting close to the end of the 2016 legislative session because, as has become an annual phenomenon, state lawmakers are doing the worst to rush through bills that would undermine civil liberties. A pair of statements released late yesterday by the folks at the ACLU of North Carolina explain, respectively, the latest attacks on immigrants and government transparency in police practices.

Statement #1 on the Senate’s anti-immigrant bill:

Today the North Carolina Senate voted to approve HB 100, a bill that creates new rules for the enforcement of state immigration laws. Senator Mike Woodard objected to the bill on its third reading, meaning that the Senate must vote one more time before the bill is sent to the House.

Specifically, the bill would

  • Take away the ability of law enforcement officers to use local or organizations IDs, such as those used in Greensboro, as a tool for for identifying crime victims, witnesses, and suspects
  • Empower the Attorney General’s office to determine if a local government is in violation of state immigration laws and potentially cut off funding to school construction and other infrastructure projects if a jurisdiction is found in violation
  • Allow anonymous tipsters to claim that a local government is violating immigration laws, compelling the Attorney General’s office to dedicate resources to an investigation.

Immigrant rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina, are opposed to the bill.

“This bill creates a costly, burdensome and unnecessary framework for enforcing immigration laws that would make it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs, encourage fraudulent tipsters to waste government resources, and give the Attorney General sweeping powers to withhold funding from school construction and other infrastructure projects,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “These changes would allow massive government overreach and waste precious taxpayer dollars – all in an attempt to target and single out undocumented North Carolinians who work, go to school, and contribute to our communities in countless ways.”

Read a fact sheet on HB100 by the ACLU of North Carolina and the North Carolina Justice Center here: http://www.acluofnc.org/files/legislative/HB_100_factsheet.pdf

Statement #2 on House legislation to keep police body camera footage secret:

A bill that would allow law enforcement agencies to shield officer worn body camera footage from public view unless ordered to release the footage by a court was approved by the North Carolina House tonight.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina, which has advised many local law enforcement agencies on their body camera policies, opposes HB 972. 

“Body cameras are supposed to represent a step forward for transparency, but this bill would be a step backward by empowering police to keep video footage secret—even from individuals who are filmed,” said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. “At a minimum, people who are filmed by police body cameras should be able to obtain that footage.  Instead, HB 972 would force people to go to court to obtain footage, a process most simply can’t afford. This bill would also deny local governments the ability to determine if footage does in fact need to be released in order to maintain public confidence, something they have the ability to do under current law.”

Under HB 972, body camera and dash camera footage would not be a public record. Law enforcement agencies would have the discretion to disclose footage to people who are recorded, but if the agency denies a request to disclose the footage, the recorded individual would have to bring a claim in court to attempt to obtain it. There would be no mechanism for law enforcement to release videos of public interest to the general public other than through a court order.

Dozens of law enforcement agencies in North Carolina are using or have plans to acquire police body cameras, but many lack policies that allow public access to the recordings.

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