Friday, May 25, 2007

Justice 5-25-07

The House approved two measures that would reform the death penalty in North Carolina. One proposal would allow convicted killers sentenced to death to challenge the penalty if there was evidence of racial discrimination. The bill, House Bill 1291, would require the defendant to prove that race was a factor in the sentencing and could include evidence that people of some races are sentenced to death more often than people of other races. Another bill, House Bill 341, would require the state Supreme Court to review some life imprisonment sentences when conducting a “proportionality” review to determine whether a death sentence is warranted. If the justices determine the penalty was too severe when compared to cases with similar circumstances, they can reduce the penalty to life in prison. The review does not allow them to reverse the conviction.

A bill that would change the way medical malpractice lawsuits are handled in North Carolina passed the House on Monday and will go on to the Senate. The bill, House Bill 1671, would automatically send malpractice cases to an arbiter unless there is an objection by one of the parties. The arbiter would be able to award damages no higher than $1 million. The goal of the bill is to reduce insurance costs for physicians. Costs recently have risen to levels that some say discourage people from practicing medicine in the state. Insurers, knowing there is a limit to damages in many cases, may lower their insurance fees. The bill is based on one that passed in the state of Washington last year and is the result of a compromise between the N.C. Medical Society and the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, two groups that have long fought over medical malpractice suits.

Drivers from other states who come to North Carolina to get drivers licenses and lower insurance premiums will be committing a felony under a bill approved this week in the House. The House passed the measure unanimously Monday, and it will now go to the Senate for consideration. House Bill 729, supported by the state Department of Insurance, is designed to minimize fraudulent insurance filings with the state. Drivers from out of state often come to North Carolina, fraudulently claiming to be residents, and then securing automobile insurance here. When these people have accidents, it can raise rates for other people insured in North Carolina. North Carolina has one of the lowest auto insurance rates in the nation. The bill also requires insurers to try to verify if an applicant is being truthful about their residence.

The House passed a bill Monday that would allow authorities to take driver’s licenses from adults who give underage children alcohol. The penalty would be in addition to the misdemeanor charge already in place. The charge is currently punishable by a fine and community service. The bill, House Bill 1277, passed 106-6, and it will now go to the Senate for consideration.

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