Ten New Laws Passed in 2013 You Should Know About | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: This post, by Brian Balfour, was originally published in the Legislative Activity section(s) of Civitas's online edition.

    The 2013 North Carolina state legislative session was a memorable one. The passage of historic and long-overdue reforms to state taxes, election laws and education made headlines throughout the year.

    This article is not intended to recap those highly publicized laws, but rather is an opportunity to highlight ten new laws that received far less, if any, media attention.

    Senate Bill 117 Lily's Law

    Senate Bill 117, called "Lily's Law," is named after Lillian, the daughter of Danna Fitzgerald of Mebane. Fitzgerald was 27 weeks pregnant when her then-estranged husband shot her in the abdomen with a .45-caliber handgun and the child was born early because of the injuries.

    Fitzgerald survived the shooting. Lily ended up dying because of the injuries she sustained.

    Lillian's situation alerted legislators of a need in North Carolina. There is a law that already protects unborn Children (Ethan's Law) but Lilly's law will provide protection for children who are born alive but later die because of injuries inflicted prior to birth.

    House Bill 392 Drug Testing Benefits

    House Bill 392 requires county Social Services employees to conduct background checks on all applicants for Work First benefits and food stamps to ensure they're not parole/probation violators or have outstanding felony warrants.

    Adult recipients whom the DHHS reasonably suspects are engaged in the illegal use of controlled substances will be required to do a drug test. The cost of the initial drug test is absorbed by the State. If an individual fails the test and wishes to have a retest, the individual may submit additional test(s) at their own expense. If an adult applicant fails a drug test, their children will not be affected.

    House Bill 4 UI Fund Solvency & Program Changes

    HB 4 makes adjustments to North Carolina's unemployment insurance program. Specifically, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit will be lowered from $535 (fifth highest in the nation) to $350 (still higher than all other SE states, except VA). Furthermore, the state UI program's maximum duration for benefits is scaled back from 26 weeks to a sliding scale ranging from 12 to 20 weeks, dependent upon the unemployment rate at the time.

    These changes (among several other adjustments to UI) were made in response to the $2.8 billion the state borrowed from the federal government beginning in 2009 to cover UI benefits. Under the new program, the debt will be paid back about four years earlier, saving an estimated $400 million in interest payments.

    House Bill 248 Taxpayer Debt Information Act

    HB 248 requires that local bond referendums include both the total principle amount of the bond plus the anticipated interest to repay the bond on the ballot. Until now, such ballots were only required to disclose the principle amount of the bond, painting an incomplete picture for voters.

    House Bill 937 Amend State Firearms Laws

    HB 937 dramatically expanded protections for gun rights in North Carolina. The new law allows North Carolinians with valid concealed-carry permits to protect themselves in several areas that were previously gun-free zones, including restaurants that sell alcohol, greenways, and establishments that charge admission. All told, this law is a major step towards restoring gun rights in North Carolina.

    House Bill 638 Commonsense Consumption Act

    It's sad that HB 638 is even necessary, but it is. Titled the "Commonsense Consumption Act," HB 638 protects food service or production businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Businesses cannot be sued "for any claim arising out of weight gain, obesity, [or] a health condition associated with weight gain or obesity." The law also takes a jab at New York City's infamous soft-drink ban, prohibiting counties and municipalities from regulating soft-drink sizes.

    House Bill 74 Regulatory Reform Act of 2013

    HB 74 offers up a wide-ranging overhaul of state regulations, aiming to weed out obsolete or burdensome red tape. At the heart of the bill is a "sunset" process to ensure that every state regulation is reviewed regularly, and that unneeded rules are repealed. The process begins with the State Rules Commission reviewing all state regulations and establishing a date for its expiration, or sunset. After this initial review process, state agencies will be required to review and justify their regulations, or else they will be allowed to sunset.

    House Bill 428 North Carolina School Bus Safety Act

    HB 428 will impose harsher penalties on drivers who fail to brake for stopped school buses that are loading or unloading students. Under the new legislation, minimum fines would be increased between $500 and $5,000. Offending drivers could also face the loss their driver's license. The Department of Public instruction reports that since 1998 there have been 12 fatalities statewide caused by drivers attempting to illegally pass school buses. In the just completed school year, there have been four such deaths alone.

    House Bill 269 Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grant

    HB 269 creates new grants to replace the current tax credit program. Grants can be used to reimburse tuition, special education and related services for eligible children. Changing the tax credit to a scholarship grant will increase the number of children with disabilities who will benefit from school choice Grants cannot exceed $3,000, per semester. The individual grant amount is determined by a family's expenses and is not limited by a family's tax liability.

    House Bill 345 Increase Penalties for Misuse of 911 System

    HB 345 increased the penalties for the misuse of the 911 systems effective Dec. 1, 2013. Previously, it was a Class 3 misdemeanor for any person to call or access the 911 system unless it was for specific emergency 911 purposes. HB 345 increases that penalty to a Class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 120 days in jail and a discretionary fine, compared to the Class 3 maximum of 20 days in jail and $200 fine.
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