Local & State
|NC Senate OKs Raise the Age funding, slams Medicare impasse|
|GOP leader criticizes Gov. Cooper for standoff|
|Published Thursday, October 10, 2019 1:00 pm|
|PHOTO | BILL OXFORD|
|The North Carolina Senate approved a bill that will fund the state's Raise the Age initiative for young offenders.|
The North Carolina Senate has approved a bill that would fund the state’s Raise the Age initiative to keep non-violent juvenile offenders out of adult criminal court.
The upper chamber passed H.B. 1001, which has bipartisan support to appropriate money for the program’s launch on Dec. 1. Funding for Raise the Age had been ensnared in a budget standoff between legislative Republicans and Gov. Roy Cooper over his insistence on Medicaid expansion in exchange for his signature.
“Thankfully, we were able to overcome Governor Cooper’s ridiculous ultimatum and pass Raise the Age funding, said Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican and former prosecutor. “This initiative will hopefully give teenagers a chance to make something of their lives after non-violent offenses. A young man or woman's future shouldn't be destroyed because of a mistake they made at 16.”
Raise the Age, which would move 16- and 17-year-olds charged with low-level felonies and misdemeanors to juvenile courts, is part of a long-term overhaul of the state’s approach to criminal justice. Advocates contend the change would improve public safety and provide intervention for young inmates – especially non-violent offenders – who would otherwise be incarcerated with violent adult convicts.
Cooper and Republicans in the General Assembly have failed to reach a budget compromise after Cooper vetoed the GOP-written budget over Medicaid expansion. Without the support of Democratic lawmakers, Republican can’t override the veto, and Cooper has indicated he won’t support a budget that doesn’t include Medicaid benefits.
Republicans slammed Cooper for blocking budget items that include teacher pay and school construction.
“We could have a deal tomorrow if the Governor would just drop his ridiculous ultimatum,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said. “We’ll continue working to clear the deck before session ends at the end of the month. I hope Governor Cooper will drop his ultimatum so we can end this reckless standoff.”
According to the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, in 2014, 5,689 16- and 17-year-olds were convicted as adults. Of that number, 3.3% were convicted for Class A-E felonies such as murder and rape, 16.3% for lesser felonies and 80.4% for misdemeanors.
Three of Raise the Age’s four primary sponsors are white Republicans: Reps. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), David Lewis (R-Harnett), and Susan Martin (R-Pitt, Wilson). The fourth, Duane Hall, is a white Democrat from Wake County.
Raise the Age supporters believe the initiative will produce benefits similar to the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011, which reformed the adult criminal justice system. That law lowered the state prison population over the last decade while saving the taxpayers nearly $165 million from 2012-15.
The Senate in May unanimously passed The Second Chance Act, which will expand the opportunity for individuals to have certain nonviolent misdemeanor and felony convictions expunged after their sentences have been completed. That bill, sponsored by Sens. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), Warren Daniel (R-Burke), and Floyd McKissick (D-Durham), allows people who have been convicted of misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies as 16- or 17-year-olds to petition the court for expungement. The bill would ensure that anyone convicted before Raise the Age will be in the same position as peers who will have their juvenile records sealed after the law goes into effect.
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