By Theresa Opeka
A new year ushers in new laws in North Carolina. Here are the laws that took effect on Jan. 1.
Senate Bill 473, Enhance Local Government Transparency, bans public officials from gaining financially from their position. They can be charged with a felony if they do so. The law also prohibits public officials who serve on nonprofit boards from voting to award contracts to those organizations.
“Surprisingly, there was very little on the books in terms of laws prohibiting local government officials from abusing their power while in office before this piece of legislation,” said Jordan Roberts, director of government affairs for the John Locke Foundation. “Now enacted, this law clears up ambiguities in current statutes and makes clear that no matter the level of government, someone can’t profit off of their seat.”
The measure followed an audit released in May that found several Rocky Mount officials had prevented the city’s utility payment office from trying to collect $47,704 that Mayor Pro Tem Andre Knight owed in past-due utility bills. State Auditor Beth Wood’s office opened the investigation after getting more than 200 complaints at its hotline alleging misconduct by elected officials and employees of the city of Rocky Mount.
The new law would also give some independence to local government offices responsible for auditing their government colleagues.
There are also new requirements for those who want to go into law enforcement. House Bill 436 requires those looking to obtain employment as police officers to receive a psychological evaluation. It also requires officers to receive education on mental health and wellness strategies and creates a physical fitness study.
“This legislation combines two of the most critical issues of this past session: mental health and criminal justice reform,” Roberts said. “This bill was one of several that aimed at making policing in our communities better while placing a high importance on the mental health issues many suffer from.”
The law also implements a database that will allow law enforcement officials to check on the status of an incoming officer from previous law enforcement agencies.
A related measure, Senate Bill 300, increases protections, training, and oversight for state and local law enforcement officers, including the creation of a decertification database.
Multiple provisions in the state budget, Senate Bill 105, took effect Jan. 1. They include: bonuses of up to $1,000 for teachers and principals who qualify by taking certain additional training; the end of taxation of military pensions; an increase in the per-child income tax deduction; and implementation of new requirements for assisted living and nursing homes in management of infectious disease outbreaks.
Senate Bill 693, Expedite Child Safety and Permanency, amends various abuse, neglect, and dependency laws to ensure the safety of children in out-of-home placements and expedite permanency planning hearings for children who have been removed from their homes. It also discusses child welfare reform, establishes safeguards to help protect against human traffickers, implements a statewide child protective services hotline, and provides safe placement for children in need of mental health services.
House Bill 110 made changes to the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program, or HOPE. The bill came as state and local leaders struggle to quickly distribute federal rental assistance aid they’re tasked with administering. The changes will let landlords apply for assistance on behalf of tenants, along with other changes designed to facilitate a more effective administration of the program.
In 2020, while the world succumbed to COVID-19 pandemic policies that shut down businesses, and thus froze many incomes, a federal agency — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — issued a moratorium on evictions. The move was massively disruptive for landlords and left them in limbo for months.
North Carolina established the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program, or HOPE, to provide rent and utility assistance to low-income renters who were experiencing financial hardship due to pandemic policies, protecting them against utility disconnections and evictions.
House Bill 890 allows for ABC stores to sell their items online. It allows distilleries and wineries to sell packaged products at certain times on holidays including New Year’s Day, July 4, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. It also requires that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission make a good-faith effort to offer all liquor brands to all local boards, so they are more readily available in stores statewide and not just in a few select areas.
Other laws that took effect include Senate Bill 248, which includes additional information about dental plans on health insurance cards. Senate Bill 103 reduces regulations to help children with Autism.
House Bill 734 protects citizens from unlicensed mental health facilities. House Bill 489 updates building codes and development regulatory reforms, including the requirements to be licensed as a general contractor in the state.
House Bill 366 provides regulatory relief to N.C. citizens with such things as allowing distilleries to sell spiritous liquor directly to consumers in other states and allowing for remote building code inspections.
Senate Bill 329 deals with building permit rules and timeshares.