In the waning hours of the 2022 summer legislative session, two of North Carolina’s most conservative House members took to the floor to speak out against government overreach.
“We should not have a government tracking people,” said Rep. Keith Kidwell, the House deputy majority whip.
The Beaufort County Republican was not addressing privacy concerns that have been raised since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, ending the constitutional right to an abortion.
Rather Kidwell was angry about a provision tucked inside Senate Bill 201, legislation that would make a number of changes to North Carolina’s motor vehicle and transportation laws.
The objectionable section would allow the state Department of Transportation to enter into agreements with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation for the placement and use of automatic license plate reader systems within land or right-of-way owned by the DOT as part of a pilot program.
The cameras provide real-time data for law enforcement and could be useful in the case of a stolen vehicle or an Amber alert.
But Rep. Kidwell was unwavering.
“Now, I’ve had someone write to me and say we do not have an expectation of privacy once we’re outside of our home. Well, that may be true, but I do think we have an expectation of privacy that our government should not track us every place we go.
Then I hear, ‘You don’t trust your government?’ No. I don’t to be quite honest with you,” Kidwell answered. “That’s one of the main reasons I’m here. I don’t trust my government.”
Kidwell then directed the House to read the Constitution.
“Pull up that Fourth Amendment and read it and see if you don’t agree this is a blatant violation of that right – the right to privacy.”
Tracking political opponents, dissidents
Rep. Larry Pittman (R- Cabarrus Co.) joined in Kidwell’s opposition, calling the pilot program ‘reprehensible.’
“We hope and pray we never have government leaders in this state who want to keep tabs on political opponents, but this system would allow that,” Pittman warned. “I am not gonna sit still for that as long as I am here.”
Pittman said while cell phones can provide tracking data and one’s location, that handheld technology could easily be left at home, whereas the license plate could not legally be removed from one’s car.
“If there becomes a totalitarian government in this nation, this state, you should not be putting in a system by which they can track political opponents wherever they go.
I know the benefits of it. Oh, we can catch kidnappers, we catch bank robbers. You can also catch dissidents,” Pittman warned his colleagues.
Fifteen Republicans joined with Pittman and Kidwell in rejecting Thursday’s version of the bill. A rare 55-55 vote sent SB 201 off the floor and back to a group of conferees.
‘This is America in 2022?’
In the upper chamber, state Senator Natasha Marcus was also thinking about privacy last week in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs.
“It pains me to think my daughters or any body’s daughters might face a problem pregnancy, an unwanted pregnancy, a not viable pregnancy and not be able to get the healthcare they need in America,” said Marcus in an interview with Policy Watch.
“This is America in 2022? That we are going to have forced birth?”
The Mecklenburg County Democrat said it is stunning to think we are now in a place where we are not going to trust women to make the very personal choice that is best for them and their families in consultation with their doctors.
“Instead, we are going to have politicians almost literally in the exam room.”
She said this is a terrifying prospect for women.
“For now, abortion is still legal in North Carolina. We cannot slide backwards or allow the government to block people from making our own decisions about such deeply personal matters,” Sen. Marcus said.
Marcus sponsored a bill this session that would codify Roe and Casey protections.
Under that proposed legislation, the state would be prohibited from imposing any undue burden on the ability of a woman to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability.
Marcus and other progressives believe the measure is essential as Republican-controlled states quickly begin to ban or severely restrict abortion access.
Another unsettled issue being debated is whether women might be punished for traveling out of state to get an abortion.
Senate Bill 888 was sent to the Rules committee in late May. It was never given another hearing.
A different ending in the House
But what of Senate Bill 201, the transportation bill that raised concerns because the pilot license plate readers might track motorists?
Reps. Kidwell and Pittman won their push for privacy.
The 13-page bill became a 12-page bill in a matter of hours; the section was removed entirely.
The House passed the conference committee substitute for SB 201 unanimously last Friday.