The North Carolina Senate has approved an omnibus criminal justice reform bill that includes increases in penalties for rioting and resisting arrest.
Senate Bill 300 makes resisting arrest while causing serious injury to an officer a felony and increases minimum maximum sentences for certain riots.
“Over the past decade, Republicans in the General Assembly have been dedicated to evaluating the criminal justice system and implementing reforms that have broad support,” said Sen. Danny Earl Britt Jr., R-Robeson, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We’ve corrected decades of overcriminalization. SB 300 continues that trajectory and responds directly to concerns about police conduct. Our work isn’t complete, but we’ll continue to come together to address these critical issues.”
Lawmakers said the measure was filed in response to local and national demonstrations last summer after the police killings of unarmed Black people and the U.S. Capitol riot in January. North Carolina businesses were destroyed and looted during the summer demonstrations.
The bill was a bipartisan compromise between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said the bill is a step toward equity and fairness in the state’s justice system, which has been a goal for the General Assembly since the summer demonstrations.
“We have ways to go, but this is an excellent start,” Robinson said.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, launched task forces to develop law enforcement and criminal justice reforms last year after the civil unrest. Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man, also was killed last month by Pasquotank County deputies.
Officials stalled the release of the body-camera footage, amplifying outrage over the incident. If SB 300 becomes law, immediate family members would be able to see video footage within five business days after a serious police incident that results in death or serious injury.
It is unclear how much the changes and programs in the legislation will cost the state.
Under the bill, the penalty for rioting that leads to $1,500 in damages or serious injury is up to 39 months in prison. Someone involved in a riot while carrying a “dangerous” weapon or using a “dangerous” substance could face up to 59 months in prison if the riot results in a serious injury.
SB 300 also increases police oversight. It requires new mental health and wellness training, psychological screenings and FBI’s criminal background checks for law enforcement officers. It creates an “early warning” system to track and document use-of-force incidents. It also requires officers to intervene and report excessive use of force by other officers. Officials would be required to create a public database of officers facing suspensions and revocations.
The Senate unanimously approved the measure Wednesday, 49-0, and it now goes to the House for consideration.
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