Commentary

Legislature advances another promising criminal justice reform bill

The Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project applauds and congratulates Senator Andy Wells (R-Alexander, Catawba), Senator Warren Daniel (R-Avery, Burke, Caldwell), Rep. Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance), and Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) for their successful efforts to advance Senate Bill 584 Criminal Law Reform.

After passing the Senate earlier this session, SB 584 is now moving through the House—the bill received a favorable report from the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and is expected to pass the House with bipartisan support.

SB 584 is intended to limit the ability of local governments and state agencies to create criminal laws through local ordinances and rule making, respectively. It’s a crucial part of a broader bipartisan movement in North Carolina and across the country to clarify and otherwise limit what behaviors and acts constitute a crime and are subject to criminal penalties like incarceration.

There is growing consensus across the political spectrum that there are too many criminal laws that punish individuals and derail lives unnecessarily and without warning. SB 584 recognizes the incredible impact of criminal punishments and takes reasonable measures to restrict the authority to criminalize behaviors to the state legislature rather than delegating that authority haphazardly.

Below is the summary bill analysis for SB 584.

CURRENT LAW AND BACKGROUND:

  • S.L. 2018-69 required cities and towns that have enacted an ordinance pursuant to G. S. 14-4 to “create a list of applicable ordinances with a description of the conduct subject to criminal punishment in each ordinance” and submit it to the General Assembly by December 2018. As of July 9, 2019, 72 of 100 counties and 236 of 550 cities and towns have reported as required.
  • The same legislation required State agencies, boards, and commissions that have the power to define criminal conduct in the North Carolina Administrative Code to also report a list of crimes defined by the agency, board, or commission. As of July 9, 2019, 40 agencies, boards, and commissions have reported.
  • G. S. 14-4 authorizes counties, cities, towns, and metropolitan sewerage districts to create crimes through local ordinances. Generally, a violation of a local ordinance is a Class 3 misdemeanor.

BILL ANALYSIS:

  • Sections 1 and 2 would amend the rule-making procedure to delay the effective date of rules that create a new criminal offense to either the 31st legislative day or the day of adjournment of the next regular session, whichever occurs first, unless disapproved by the General Assembly.
  • Sections 3 and 4 would amend S.L. 2018-69 to extend the reporting deadline for State agencies, boards, and commissions, and for counties, cities, towns, and metropolitan sewerage districts to file their reports to November 1, 2019. These sections would also amend the Session Law to require reports to go only to the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee, rather than both that committee and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety.
  • Section 4 would amend S.L. 2018-69 to limit the reporting requirement to counties with a population of 20,000 or more according to the last federal decennial census, and cities or towns with a population of 1,000 or more according to the last federal decennial census.
  • Section 5 would provide that no ordinance adopted on or after January 1, 2020 and before January 1, 2022 by a county, city, or town that is required to report pursuant to S.L. 2018-69, as amended by Section 4, shall be subject to a criminal penalty as provided in G.S. 14-4 unless that county, city, or town submitted the required report on or before November 1, 2019.
  • Section 6 would require the General Statutes Commission to study the reports received pursuant to S.L. 2018-69, as amended by Sections 3 and 4 of this act, and make recommendations regarding whether conduct currently criminalized by ordinance or rule should have criminal penalties provided by a generally applicable State law. The Commission shall report to the 2019 General Assembly and to the Joint Oversight Committee on General Government on or before May 1, 2020.

Daniel Bowes is the director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project. Bowes recently joined UNC School of Government Professor Jessie Smith, Mike Schietzelt of the John Locke Foundation, Rep. Dennis Riddell, and Senator Floyd McKissick on the Spectrum News program, In Focus to discuss the issues of over-criminalization and the urgent need to clarify and narrow North Carolina’s criminal code.

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