RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — New or tougher criminal penalties against rioting, vandalizing power stations and harassing law enforcement officers and emergency workers are among North Carolina laws approved this year that took effect Friday.
Expanded gun rights at some places of worship and prohibitions on state agencies from demanding job applicants comment on personal and political beliefs also are among over two dozen new laws enacted by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and implemented fully or in part on Dec. 1.
Separately, Medicaid expansion also began Friday in North Carolina, which is expected to ultimately provide health care coverage to roughly 600,000 adults.
Increased punishments for intentionally damaging or attempting to damage energy facilities received strong bipartisan support in the legislature following the December 2022 electrical substation shootings in Moore County that cut power to about 45,000 homes and businesses for days. There have been no announced arrests in the attack.
The enacted measure, which also would apply to damaged power lines, wires or other operating equipment, makes such attacks a high-grade felony that would likely result in several years of prison time for a first offender. A person who is injured or whose property is damaged by a utility attack also has grounds to sue for monetary damages.
North Carolina’s anti-rioting statute now contains higher criminal punishments and some new crimes pushed by Republicans in response to protests against racial injustice and police brutality in 2020 that at times became violent.
Fines and prison time have increased, typically by a couple years or more, for protesters who brandish a weapon, injure somebody or cause significant property damage. The law also creates new crimes for protesters who cause a death or incite a riot that contributes to one. Business owners also are able to seek compensation from protesters who damage property.
In the weeks after the bill was enacted, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina sued to block enforcement of the state’s anti-rioting law. The group’s lawsuit now focuses on the definition of a riot in state law — untouched this year by legislators — as being so broad and vague as to threaten peaceful demonstrators with their arrest. The lawsuit is pending.
GUNS AT CHURCHES
A gun-rights bill that became law when legislators overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto already eliminated a requirement that someone obtain a permit from their local sheriff before they can purchase a handgun. Other provisions that took effect Friday ease rules for people who want to carry a pistol at buildings where some churches hold services.
The law says people with a separate concealed weapons permit can carry a gun openly or under clothing while they attend religious services at a location where private or charter schools also meet. State law otherwise prohibits guns on school property. Some church leaders had complained it was harder to protect parishioners at these sites then at traditional church venues.
The law doesn’t allow firearms during school hours or when any students are present. And it still doesn’t apply when a public notice prohibiting concealed weapons is posted.
It’s now unlawful for state agencies, community colleges and the University of North Carolina system to compel applicants for rank-and-file jobs to reveal their personal or political beliefs to get hired. The law, which doesn’t prevent opining voluntarily, was hailed by Republicans as protecting free speech and diversity of thought.
In response to GOP opposition to “critical race theory,” the law also bans trainers of state employees from advancing concepts to workers such as that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” or to believe they should feel guilty for past actions committed by people of the same race or sex.
The legislation became law over Cooper’s veto. The governor said the restrictions attempted to suppress workplace discussions related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Penalties have been increased for people who point lasers at law enforcement officers, while a new offense has been created for pointing them at emergency medical technicians and police animals like K-9s.
Another new law increases criminal penalties against K-12 educators who commit certain sex offenses against students.
Punishments for intentionally disseminating obscene materials also have risen to a more severe felony if the suspect knowingly commits the crime in the presence of a child.
And unauthorized street takeovers — in which motorists block traffic to perform burnouts, doughnuts and other stunts — also have now become officially illegal, with first-time violations a misdemeanor and fines of at least $1,000.