We like to think of Jan. 1 as the start of the new year, as, well, it is – at least it’s the start of the calendar year.
But there are many other start dates out there. North Carolina and local governments start their fiscal year on July 1. The Supreme Court starts its year Oct. 1.
Also in North Carolina, new laws took effect Dec. 1.
In a year in which the political news from Raleigh has been dominated by partisan sniping over the state budget, the new laws stand out as good news.
Two of the laws pull North Carolina into the 21st century; we were the last state in the country to prosecute all 16- and 17-year-olds in adult court regardless of the offenses. The Raise the Age law means adult courts will only be used for people in that age group who are facing high-level felonies, have already been convicted of an offense prior to Dec. 1, or who are facing a violation of motor vehicle laws.
North Carolina was also the last state in the country where consent to a sexual act could not be legally withdrawn. That loophole in the law dated to a 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling. Another court decision in 2008 said sexual assault laws don’t apply to people who were mentally incapacitated due to their own actions, such as consuming alcohol or drugs voluntarily. The new legislation, which passed the General Assembly unanimously, consigns those rulings to the history books.
Child sex abuse laws were also improved, with a new law calling for Class 1 misdemeanor charges against adults over 18 who don’t notify authorities when they have information, or suspect, that a child is being subject to physical or sexual abuse. The time limit on being able to prosecute a person who has committed a misdemeanor crime against a child was raised from two years to 10.
Conner’s Law, named after North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Conner, who was shot and killed after pulling over a speeding pickup in 2018, increases penalties for deadly assaults on law enforcement officers and creates death benefits of $100,000 to be awarded to a surviving spouse, dependents or the estate of public safety workers killed while in the line of duty.
Two laws address the state’s opioid epidemic: The Death by Distribution Act and the Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The Death by Distribution Act lets prosecutors charge drug dealers whose products have killed their customers with murder; the Opioid Epidemic Response Act OKs the use of state money for syringe exchange programs and increases office-based opioid treatment, among other things.
All in all, these laws are good government, and good for the public, particularly the more vulnerable among us and those on the front lines of protecting the public.