By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Synthetic cannabinoids, mephedrone and MDPV are one vote away from becoming contraband in North Carolina as the House gave its nod to a ban on the products Thursday. The Senate had on Feb. 10 unanimously approved laws against two of the popular substances, but will now be asked to concur with the House version of the law that deals with all three, treating K2 or Spice drugs much like marijuana and bath salts or plant food (mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone) much like cocaine.
“Here’s an opportunity to … take off the shelves a product that is being merchandised as … legal marijuana, that is being misrepresented. The packages of bath salts and K2 say ‘not for human consumption,’ and then they hand out a little piece of paper on how to use them,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union).
Earlier in the week, House Judiciary Subcommittee B had amended the bill (S 7) to change its effective date to June 1, instead of April 1 as initially proposed and had added a trafficking penalty regarding mephedrone. The Proposed Committee Substitute had already undergone a few changes regarding penalties for possession of large quantities of synthetic cannabinoids based on anecdotal reports that the substances are anywhere from three to 100 times stronger than marijuana. As passed in the House, the bill would make it a felony to possess more than 50 three-gram doses of Spice or K2, with penalties rising accordingly. Possessors of 28 or more grams of MDPV or mephedrone could also be charged with trafficking.
Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow), primary sponsor of a similar bill in the House and steadfast champion of the legislation, told fellow lawmakers that the substances have been causing havoc around the state’s military bases and that every law enforcement agency he had talked to about the matter supported the bill.
“We’re happy to see this legislation, which was good to begin with, be improved with the work in committee and now approved by the House,” said the Rev. Mark Creech. “We urge the Senate to take quick action, as we expect they will, to make it law before more young people start to experiment with these dangerous substances.”
Laura’s Law wins House approval
Also in the House on Thursday, lawmakers voted to approve Laura’s Law (H 49), which would create a new charge — Aggravated Level 1 DWI — to levy stringent penalties against drunken drivers who have already proven their blatant disregard for the law and the safety of others. Named for Laura Fortenberry, a Gaston County teen killed by a repeat DWI offender, the law targets those who have already had at least one DWI offense but not enough charges to qualify as a habitual offender. It would allow authorities to use the charge if they find three or more grossly aggravating factors, which could include prior DWI charges, driving with a revoked license, having caused an accident involving injury or having a passenger in the car under age 16. Those convicted under Laura’s Law would be sentenced to 120 days to 36 months in prison and would not be eligible for parole. Further, they could be ordered to submit to continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) once they are released. The fine for the charge would be $10,000, up from $4,000.
“One of the things that this bill does is increase the use of technology,” said Rep. Joe Hackney (D-Orange) as he urged fellow lawmakers’ to support the measure and become informed about CAM and ignition interlock devices. “…These offenders can be monitored and if the person goes back to using alcohol, the probation officer can know about it right away. These new advances can save lives.”
Introduced by Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), the bill was taken up by the Finance Committee earlier in the week. The measure includes an extra $100 court cost to cover expenses.
Committee Considers Electoral Freedom Act
Also taken up by lawmakers this week was House Bill 32, the Electoral Freedom Act of 2011, which was discussed in the House Elections Committee. Sponsored by Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Greene); Rep. Glen Bradley (R-Franklin); Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham); and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Edgecombe), the bill’s goal is to make it easier for small political parties to gain a spot on North Carolina ballots. Currently a new party or unaffiliated candidate must gather 85,370 voter signatures to make the cut.
LaRoque told the committee the bill would change the requirement to one-half of one percent of the total number of voters who voted in the most recent general election. Applying the formula to the gubernatorial race of 2008 would mean a new party needs some 10,672 signatures, a number relatively close to that suggested by Free the Vote North Carolina, which recommended a 10,000-signature requirement. The bill would also set parameters for a party to meet in order to maintain a ballot presence.
While committee members wanted to see how the numbers played out in small counties as well as larger legislative and congressional districts, they were more concerned with the late filing deadline the new bill would allow for new party members, the third Friday in July. Though bill sponsors said the later date would give new parties more time to gather needed signatures, several lawmakers were concerned that it would create an unfair advantage or allow for losers in the Republican or Democratic primaries to switch parties and still show up on the ballot. Sponsors assured them the next draft of the bill would include safeguards to prevent such an end-around.
“I understand where y’all are wanting to go with this bill but I remain skeptical,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell). “I see room for a lot of mischief.”
Starnes questioned whether the bill would inadvertently allow a new party to form and nominate a candidate that was already nominated by an existing party, thereby landing the candidate’s name on the ballot twice. Bill sponsors said they would make sure that wording prevented such a maneuver, and legislative staff said current law already would prevent that situation.
The committee expects to take up the bill again soon at which time they will have a report from the N.C. Board of Elections on expected impact as well as an updated proposed committee substitute.
Senator pushing video gambling and liberalization of liquor laws
Also of interest at the General Assembly this week, Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe) introduced the Video Lottery Entertainment Act, a companion bill to the one championed by Bill Owens (D-Camden) in the House. The bill would legalize video poker and put it under the authority of the N.C. Lottery Commission. Jenkins’ is the fourth piece of legislation proposed this session in relation to video gaming. Two others, S 3 and H 226, would strengthen the ban on video sweepstakes.
Two more bills introduced by Sen. Jenkins (D-Edgecomb) would significantly liberalize North Carolina’s liquor laws. S 276 – Spiritous Liquor Tastings at ABC Stores would allow liquor tasting events on the premises of North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Stores. S 277 – ABC Sunday Sales/Local Option would allow the state’s ABC stores to sell spirituous liquor on Sundays.