RALEIGH — A state task force that works to reduce child deaths could be eliminated under a Republican-backed bill unveiled Thursday that seeks to make dozens of changes to North Carolina laws.
The Technical and Other Corrections bill passed in a state House committee over the objections of Democrats and is scheduled for a floor vote Friday. While many of the adjustments are indeed technical, such as correcting typos in bills passed earlier in the legislative session, the 58-page bill includes numerous substantial policy changes with little explanation about who is backing them or why.
Such bills are something of an annual tradition at the state legislature, typically coming toward the end of the legislative session as a way for powerful lawmakers to insert pet provisions without leaving fingerprints behind.
Among the provisions included in their year’s tome is the elimination of the state’s Child Fatality Task Force, a commission created in 1991 to study the causes of death among children and make recommendations about how to prevent them. The measure quickly drew concern from advocacy groups combating child abuse and infant mortality.
“The Child Fatality Task Force brings together legislators and issue experts to develop innovative policy solutions that save children’s lives,” said Linda Saturno, executive director of the group NC Child. “We must not lose this critical component of child death prevention.”
There are also several tweaks to state gun laws in the bill, including the elimination of a statute that took effect July 1 requiring local clerks of court to notify the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of information that would bar an individual from legally purchasing a handgun. Gun-control groups have long pushed states to implement such reporting requirements following mass shootings where the killers successfully purchased handguns in one state despite records in another state that should have barred them from doing so, such as domestic violence protection orders or involuntary commitments to mental institutions.
A different provision removes responsibility for creating the forms for concealed firearms permits from the state court system to the State Bureau of Investigation, an agency that is expected to move from the control of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper to the Republican administration of Gov. Pat McCrory with the approval of the state budget.
Another section prohibits the State Board of Education from restricting membership of the boards of directors of publicly funded charter schools. The state board currently bars the employees of private companies that provide goods or management services to charter schools from serving on the nonprofit boards that approve their contracts and payments.
A new public-private partnership created to oversee the state’s economic development efforts would be exempted from state laws that help encourage the participation of companies owned by women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities in state contracts.
The bill would also allow county sheriffs to potentially sell e-cigarettes to jail inmates “involved in an authorized smoking cessation program.” The use of tobacco products is generally prohibited in the state’s jails and prisons.
If approved by the House, the bill will head for consideration before the Republican-controlled state Senate.