RALEIGH – North Carolina lawmakers approved major setbacks to voting access, privacy rights, and LGBTQ equality during the General Assembly’s 2017-18 session, according to a legislative report card released today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit civil liberties group documented state House and Senate members’ votes on six pieces of legislation, all but one of which the ACLU opposed. The passage of legislation to “raise the age” of juvenile jurisdiction, which ended North Carolina’s standing as the last state in the nation to charge all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, was the lone bright spot for civil liberties during the last session, according to the group.
“It’s disappointing that yet another legislative session featured such damaging attacks on the rights of North Carolinians, but the bipartisan effort to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction shows that it is possible for lawmakers to work together to advance justice and common sense policies in our state,” said Sarah Gillooly, the ACLU of North Carolina’s director of political strategy and advocacy. “With every state House and state Senate seat up for election this year, it's more important than ever that North Carolinians loudly demand that our elected officials protect our rights – and hold them accountable when they don’t.”
The votes graded were on the following bills and issues:
- LGBTQ Equality: The House and Senate approved and Governor Roy Cooper signed House Bill 142, the H.B. 2 replacement law that created uncertainty about whether transgender people are subject to criminal or other penalties if they use restrooms and other facilities in public spaces. It also blocked cities and counties from passing protections for LGBTQ people against discrimination in employment or public accommodations until December 2020. The ACLU opposed the new law, calling instead for a clean repeal of H.B. 2, and is currently challenging H.B. 142 in federal court.
- Voting Rights: The House and Senate approved House Bill 1092, which places a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that, if approved by voters, would require North Carolinians to show a photo ID in order to vote in future elections. State lawmakers, who in 2013 crafted a voter ID law that a federal court struck down because its restrictions targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision,” would get to decide which types of IDs would be allowed, and which exceptions, if any, would be granted. The House and Senate also passed, over Governor Cooper’s veto, Senate Bill 325, which limited early voting options for North Carolinians by making it more difficult for counties to keep multiple early voting sites open and took away the flexibility to open additional voting sites part-time in order to accommodate demand and increase access for rural residents, those with disabilities, and those without transportation. The ACLU of North Carolina opposed both bills.
- Privacy Rights: The House and Senate passed, and Governor Cooper signed, Senate Bill 616, which gives local law enforcement sweeping, unprecedented power to look through a person’s entire history of prescription drug use at the pharmacy if they are under investigation for any drug crime, even possessing a tiny amount of any controlled substance. It also eliminates the requirement for law enforcement to obtain a court order, a crucial protection for our constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures, before searching someone’s prescriptions records in a state database. The ACLU of North Carolina opposed the bill, urging officials to combat substance abuse through public health solutions, rather than giving more power to law enforcement to violate people’s civil liberties.
- Juvenile Justice: The House approved House Bill 280, under which 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies will no longer be treated as adults in North Carolina’s criminal justice system, beginning in December 2019. The bill’s language became law when it was inserted into the state budget. North Carolina was the last-remaining state in the nation to treat every 16- and 17-year-old charged with a crime as an adult, subjecting them to adult sentences, adult jails, and the lifetime consequences of an adult criminal record. The ACLU of North Carolina supported the bill as part of a longtime advocacy effort with partner organizations.
- Immigrants’ Rights: The Senate approved Senate Bill 145, a sweeping anti-immigrant measure that would have directed state police to participate in the federal government’s deportation force, punished local governments that enact their own policies related to immigration, and defunded any University of North Carolina institution that limited its role in enforcing federal immigration law. The ACLU of North Carolina opposed this bill, which was never voted on in the House and did not become law.
In the House, eight members voted with the ACLU’s position 100 percent of the time, and one voted in line with the ACLU’s position 0 percent of the time.
In the Senate, meanwhile, 13 members voted with the ACLU’s position 0 percent of the time, and none voted with the ACLU’s position every time.