Gov. Cooper will allow two bills similar to those he previously vetoed to become law without his signature

Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday he is allowing bills on hotel tenants and rioting penalties to become law without his signature. 

Senate bill 53 says that people who live in inns, motels, campgrounds, or other lodgings do not have legal rights afforded tenants if they live in those places for fewer than 90 consecutive days. 

Cooper vetoed a similar bill in 2021.The bill this year passed along party lines in the Senate and easily passed the House with bipartisan support.

Cooper said in his statement, Cooper acknowledged the bill has broad legislative support.  “However safe housing is sometimes only available from temporary shelter such as hotels, and I remain concerned that this bill will legalize unfair treatment for those who need protection, and this will prevent me from signing it.”

House bill 40, a bill increasing penalties for rioting, will also become law without Cooper’s signature. House Speaker Tim Moore championed the bill, and has said it was inspired by protests against George Floyd’s murder. Civil rights groups warned that the law would be used to target people of color and make people hesitant to protest injustices. 

Cooper vetoed a version in 2021.

The bill on rioting penalties passed this year with one Democratic vote in the Senate and six Democratic votes in the House – enough to override a veto if all legislators show up for an override vote. 

Republicans have revived several bills Cooper vetoed in past years. With bigger GOP majorities in the House and Senate, those bills have a better chance of becoming law. 

In his statement on the rioting penalties, Cooper said, I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year. Property damage and violence are already illegal and my continuing concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impacts on communities of color will prevent me from signing this legislation.”

’11 North Carolinians every day’: Senators move to increase punishments as fentanyl overdoses rise.

Sen. Michael Lazzara (L) and Sen. Danny Britt (R) advocate for stiffer penalties for fentanyl distribution in SB 189.

State Sen. Michael Lazzara has seen more than his share of families crushed by the scourge of fentanyl in his home district of Onslow County.

“In 2021, we lost 11 North Carolinians each and every day from drug overdose,” Lazzara said Tuesday, urging his colleagues to fast-track stiffer penalties against dealers who traffic heroin or fentanyl.

Lazzara was joined by families who had lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic, including Leslie Maynor Locklear of Robeson County.

“To me growing up in Pembroke was like growing up in Mayberry. It was the all-American life where people watched out for each other’s kids, worshiped in church together,” Locklear told lawmakers.

“I instilled these values in my children and ensured that they had the love and support they needed into adulthood. But today, drug addiction has become a great suffering for our small community as it is across the entire state of North Carolina.”

In less than a year, Locklear lost two sons in separate drug and fentanyl related overdoses.

The first lost came in February. Her son Matthew was trying to get clean.

“He had a great job in Raleigh, a girlfriend, and a security team,” Locklear testified. “When he took his final hit of heroin,  he had no idea it was laced.”

He was found by city workers in a stairway near NC State University.

Leslie Maynor Locklear describes the loss of her two sons.

Nine months later, Locklear returned home to find her oldest son Ryan cold and unresponsive. He too, had struggled with drug addiction.

“Today, I stand before you as a heartbroken mother who loves both her sons, trying to explain to their sister, my last and remaining child, why this happened to us,” she said.

According to the NC Department of Health and Human Services 4,041 people in North Carolina lost their lives to overdose in 2021. More than 77% of those overdose deaths likely involved fentanyl.

Senate Bill 189 would increase the fine amounts related to trafficking heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil. The bill would consolidate laws related to second-degree murder and death by distribution. It would also create new offenses related to deaths caused by distribution of certain controlled substances.

The measure also establishes a task force for enforcement of fentanyl and heroin drug violations.

Amendments to the bill approved Tuesday would expand the Good Samaritan immunity law in an effort to encourage people call 911.

“We currently have immunity for only certain classes of drugs. We want people to be encouraged to call 9-1-1 no matter what the drug is that the person has overdosed from,” explained Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson, Scotland, Hoke), a primary co-sponsor of the bill.

Another amendment would allow a district attorney who is investigating a case for potential overdose due to death by distribution to request an autopsy from the chief medical examiner’s office and the medical examiner in the county where probable cause exists.

“Currently right now there are a lot of autopsies that aren’t being conducted on some of these overdose deaths and what we’re doing is putting in here language that the medical examiner is to conduct autopsies whenever the attorney believes that death by distribution possibly happened,” Britt said.

“It’s hard to prosecute some of these cases because there’s simply not an autopsy revealing what caused the death and we have spoken to the Department of Health and Human Services about this, and in the last budget we did fund additional resources for additional medical examiners.”

Running out of Narcan, running out of time 

Sheriff Charles Blackwood

Sheriff Charles Blackwood, president of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, said fentanyl is much more lethal than other unlawful drugs, and it’s killing North Carolinians in record numbers.

“It’s life threatening to those who misuse it. Life threatening to law enforcement officers and emergency personnel who try to save lives,” said the Orange County sheriff.

“It’s deadly in very small doses. Just two milligrams. Two milligrams is potentially a lethal dose. That’s a few grains of sand.”

And while Narcan has helped prevent thousands of overdose deaths, it’s not the solution.

“We’re running out of Narcan. We’re having to get grants to get Narcan. And that’s absurd. It’s absurd to think that we must do that,” Sheriff Blackwood said.

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association is advocating for SB 189 this session in hopes that greater penalties will save lives.


Angie Todd of Onslow County’s chapter of Families of Addicts (Screenshot from NCGA)

‘Those that prey on our loved ones’

Angie Todd of the Onslow County chapter of Families of Addicts urged lawmakers to make this bill a bi-partisan priority. Like Locklear, Todd lost a son to addiction and was devastated when she learned drugs also had a hold on her daughter.

“My daughter owned her own home, paid off her vehicle, worked two jobs and had worked herself into management,” Todd shared. “Mother of two beautiful little boys, and nowhere to go but up. She lost it all within the first year of her active addiction. Thankfully, her life has been spared.”

Todd wants North Carolina families to know this can happen to anyone.

“I learned to what lengths dealers will go in getting these highly addictive substances to our loved ones, whether it’s sliding [it] into other drugs or offering testers at the local gas stations or anywhere that it is easily accessible to people,” she warned.

“We hold our loved ones in addiction accountable for their actions, and we need to have stricter penalties for those that prey on our loved ones in their weakest moments.”

Bipartisan support

Fentanyl opiate in plastic bag (Photo: Getty Image)

After moving the bill through Senate Judiciary Tuesday, Sen. Lazzara was back with SB 189 in Senate Rules Wednesday morning advocating for stiffer penalties.

“Putting criminals who distribute fentanyl behind bars will help to disrupt the supply of fentanyl and send a clear message that this kind of behavior will be unacceptable,” Lazzara told committee members. “It can and also be used as an opportunity, as a resource, to help those in need, such as addiction treatment break free from their addiction.”

Without question or debate, senators advanced the bill.

For more on fentanyl, read NC Policy Watch’s coverage by Joe Killian.
* A closer look at the mounting toll of fentanyl on the nation’s youth
* Fentanyl in NC: An epidemic within the opioid epidemic

HPU Poll looks at favorability for governor, presidential candidates

The results of the latest High Point University Poll, released Wednesday, give some insight into how North Carolinians view everything from the job being done by Gov. Roy Cooper and President Joe Biden to the name recognition of potential candidates to replace them both in office.

Cooper continued to have the strongest support of any individual politician in the poll, with 46 percent of respondents saying they have a favorable view of him, 34 percent unfavorable and 16 percent unsure or unfamiliar.

Cooper had higher approval than both the N.C. Supreme Court (40 percent favorable) and the General Assembly (39 percent)

The poll also asked about Attorney General Josh Stein and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. Stein is running for the Democratic nomination for governor and Robinson has been teasing a run for the Republican nomination for more than a year, recently giving the GOP rebuttal to Cooper’s state of the state address.

Robinson and Stein had 22 percent and 19 percent favorability respectively. A large percentage of respondents said they weren’t sure or were unaware of either man – 57 percent for Robinson and 58 percent for Stein.

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Cooper stresses support for education in State of the State speech

Gov. Roy Cooper enters the NC House chamber

Education as a key to expanding the state’s skilled workforce and maintaining its economic competitiveness was a central theme in Gov. Roy Cooper’s State of the State speech Monday night, a speech that included references to priorities in his next budget. 

He encouraged investment in the “education pipeline” that begins in early childhood. 

“A great workforce requires real investment from cradle to career,” he said. 

“We know that a great workforce also relies on public schools. Educating the next generation of workers who will fill the jobs that we haven’t even yet imagined is how we stay an economic powerhouse.”

Cooper said his budget will include full funding for public schools as recommended by a consultant in a long-running school finance lawsuit called Leandro. The budget will also have double-digit raises for teachers and principals, he said.  

The governor’s budget is a mere suggestion. The state legislature writes and passes its own budget and often ignores the governor’s priorities. 

His support for full Leandro funding puts Cooper, a Democrat, in direct opposition to the Republican-led legislature. 

In his January remarks opening the legislative session, Senate leader Phil Berger said,  “Success in education policy is about more than hitting some arbitrary funding goal,” Policy Watch reported. 

Last Friday, the NC Supreme Court with its new 5-2 Republican majority decided to reinstate a lower-court order blocking the funding. Last year, when the court had a 4-3 Democratic majority, it backed an order to fund the education plan. 

Cooper delivered a message directly to the Supreme Court. Justices were in the House chamber with legislators, members of Cooper’s cabinet, and Council of State members. 

“The Court should uphold decades of bipartisan Supreme Court precedent that comes down on the side of the children, because that’s what really matters – the children,” he said.  

Cooper has made Medicaid expansion one of his main goals of his time in office. For most of those years, Republicans refused to consider it. That changed last year when Berger said he supported expansion. Last week, Republican leaders announced they reached an agreement to expand Medicaid, but tied expansion to a state budget that won’t be final for months.  

Cooper urged legislators to not wait. 

“Every month we wait to expand not only costs lives but costs our state more than $521 million a month in federal health care dollars,” he said. If the state waits too long, it risks losing $1.8 billion in federal reimbursements for hospitals, he added.

Cooper took a preemptive shot at bills that could land on his desk that further restrict abortion, tell teachers how to talk about racism, and target LGBTQ students. He urged legislators to keep the state “off the front lines of those culture wars” that hurt people and cost jobs. 

“Use public schools to build a brighter future, not to bully and marginalize LGBTQ students,” he said. “Don’t make teachers rewrite history. Keep the freedom to vote in reach for every eligible voter. Leave the decisions about reproductive health care to women and their doctors.”

In a departure from tradition, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson delivered the Republican response. Robinson is expected to run for governor next year and used a good bit of his time delivering an autobiographical sketch that sounded a lot like a campaign ad. 

He reanimated grievances over COVID-19 shutdowns and credited Republicans in the legislature for the state’s economic successes.

Bonus content: Watch Gov. Roy Cooper address Leandro funding during his State of the State speech:

New Meredith College poll looks at views on discrimination, Equal Rights Amendment

New polling from Meredith College examines North Carolinians’ views of discrimination and the Equal Rights Amendment, which seeks to provide protections for those experiencing it.

The full report on the poll, produced in partnership with the ERA-NC Alliance, was published Monday. It delves into how different North Carolinians see discrimination against an array of different groups – from Black and Hispanic people to LGBTQ people and religious groups like Jews and Evangelical Christians.

“The issue of discrimination and what can be done about it is as old as the United States,” the report reads. “Protecting voting rights for all citizens, the fight for equal pay for equal work, and for being treated equally in criminal matters have a long history in this country. Recently, prominent hate crimes against many groups, such as the mass shooting of Black persons in Buffalo or attacks against synagogues and their congregants, have raised additional concerns about how laws grounded in the United States Constitution can protect the country’s citizens.”

“In addition, many politicians have attacked the issue of  ‘wokeness’ as a way of targeting marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, making it more acceptable to discriminate against members of these groups,” the report reads. “It is within this cultural and political context that we decided to survey North Carolinians about their perceptions of discrimination against traditionally marginalized groups in society, such as
women and Black people. We also decided to ask citizens about their perceptions of groups not
considered to be historically marginalized groups—men and White people—to determine
similarities and differences between perceptions of discrimination between historically
marginalized and historically elevated groups.”

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