The following is Part 2 of a summary on the N.C. legislature’s latest proposals. Part 1 may be read at the following link.
By Mousa Alshanteer
Recently, the N.C. General Assembly has taken controversial steps to introduce voter identification methods, modify election procedure, limit environmental protections, repeal the N.C. Racial Justice Act and effectually close the majority of the state’s abortion clinics.
What follows is a summary of these measures:
Proposal of Voter Identification Methods and Changes to Election Procedure:
H.B. 589, which was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate soon after being introduced, would require voters to provide photo identification prior to voting – a cost of $10 to the 7 percent of registered voters – 481,109, to be exact – without a driver’s license or state-issued ID. H.B. 451, S.B. 428, S.B. 721 and S.B. 666 – all of which are also in committee – propose eliminating early voting on Sundays, reduce the number of early voting days, limit early voting sites to one per county, repeal same-day voter registration, penalize parents of students who register to vote away from home and end straight-ticket voting.
These measures would likely reduce voter turnout in five key ways.
Firstly, African-Americans are much more likely to cast a ballot during the early voting period than on Election Day, according to a report compiled by the United States Elections Project at George Mason University. Eliminating early voting on Sundays – when churches hold “Souls to the Polls” voting drives – and reducing the number of early voting days would discourage a disproportionate amount of African-Americans from voting during elections.
Secondly, limiting early voting sites to one per county will undoubtedly lead to much longer lines in many of the state’s more-populated counties. Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County, for example, hosted 22 early voting sites last year.
Thirdly, repealing same-day voter registration will effectively dissuade many citizens from participating in elections, particularly given that over 155,000 of them registered to vote on the same day that they cast their ballot this past election.
Fourthly, penalizing the parents of children who register to vote away from home by denying them their $2,500 child dependency tax deduction would surely dissuade students from going to the polls in the next election.
Finally, eliminating straight ticket voting will likely hurt Democrats in future elections, since over 1.4 million Democrats, compared to 1.1 million Republicans, voted a straight-party ticket last year. In 2008, nearly 60 percent of straight-ticket voters supported the Democratic Party.
Reformation of Environmental Protections:
S.B. 76 – currently appointed to a conference committee – would authorize the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources to issue permits – after March 1st, 2015 – for oil and gas exploration through methods such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic “fracking”. The House’s version of the bill includes a requirement for a legislative approval of environmental regulations prior to drilling – a provision which disappointed Senate sponsors of the bill. The bill passed the House last month and, if it is agreed upon by both chambers after it undergoes review in the conference committee, will likely be signed by Gov. McCrory prior to the end of this year’s session. If the House’s requirement for legislative approval does not survive negotiations, then it is very likely that the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources will issue unlimited permits to whosoever pleases to explore the state’s oil and gas reserves.
Additionally, S.B. 612 – currently in the Committee on Regulatory Reform – would repeal a variety of environmental regulations that applied to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation and require the repeal or revision of existing environmental regulations more restrictive than federal law. Charlotte officials have indicated that the legislation would repeal the city’s local laws regulating nutrient levels, stormwater detention vaults, erosion prevention measures, construction requirements and stream-buffer protections. The manager of Charlotte’s Water Quality Program, Daryl Hammock, has explained that the bill would prevent municipalities from addressing local environmental challenges.
Repeal of the Racial Justice Act:
In 2009, Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law the Racial Justice Act – a measure that allows a capital defendant to appeal his or her death sentence, provided that the defense is able to present evidence that race was a significant factor in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty.
Under this law, defendants are able to cite evidence that death sentences are sought or imposed more commonly upon defendants of one race than others, that sentences are sought or imposed more commonly on behalf of victims of one race than others, and that race is a significant factor in the call for peremptory strikes – the removal of potentially biased jurors without explanation – during the jury selection stage of the trial. One inmate, Marcus Robinson, successfully reduced his sentence from death to life without parole after his defense team argued that the prosecutors disqualified potential jurors due to their race.
Subsequently, the Senate passed a bill that would effectively repeal the Racial Justice Act. Though the Senate did not collect enough votes to nullify Gov. Perdue’s veto, the legislature introduced a major revision the following year that stated “statistical evidence alone is insufficient to establish that race was a significant factor” in the charging, sentencing or jury selection stages of a trial. This time, however, the governor’s veto was overturned.
A year later, Gov. McCrory signed an effective repeal of the Racial Justice Act – S.L. 2013-154 – into law, thereby preventing defendants of any race from appealing their sentences due to a potential racial bias.
Closure of Abortion Clinics:
After S.B. 353 – a measure that would increase penalties for drivers that injure motorcyclists – passed the Senate and was sent to the House Judiciary Committee for amendments, a few state representatives decided to cunningly push through an anti-abortion agenda while informing neither their House colleagues nor the public.
The amended bill – which passed a 3rd reading in the House and is ready for Senate approval – would limit abortion coverage under health insurance plans offered through a health benefits exchange, prohibit citizens from performing sex-selective abortions and impose additional regulations on statewide abortion clinics, effectively closing all but one in-state abortion provider.
With such measures being proposed by state legislators, it is no wonder that the partisan divide in North Carolina has widened. In fact, the “Moral Monday” protests being held in Raleigh have significantly grown in number, thereby encouraging conservatives to host their own “Thankful Tuesday” rally so as to express support for the state’s lawmakers.
In such an increasingly contentious political climate, it is almost necessary for us, North Carolinians, to become well-versed in the legislation proposed by our General Assembly, because by informing ourselves of our present, we will become better equipped to handle the future of our state.