Thursday, November 30, 2006

Laws That Take Effect December 1st, 2006

Following are brief descriptions of new laws that take effect on December 1, 2006 which will better protect our children and families and make our neighborhoods safer. Please 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 regulation 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 opportunities 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; Aggravated Felony Death – A person who unintentionally causes the death of another while driving impaired and has an impaired driving conviction within seven years of the offense is guilty of a Class D felony; Repeat Felony Death by Vehicle Offender – A person who has a previous conviction for causing a death while impaired and is convicted a second time for a felony death by vehicle is subject to punishment under the second degree murder statute, which is a Class B2 felony.

In addition to current bans against under-aged possession and purchase of alcohol, the new law makes it illegal for a person younger than age 21 to consume alcohol. The law previously prohibited only under-aged possession and not necessarily consumption. 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 drives. 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.

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