Raleigh, N.C. — The House gave final legislative approval Tuesday to bills that would toughen penalties for improper operation of amusement rides and would adjust the rules for using marijuana oil to treat severe seizure disorders.
Both measures now head to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature or veto, or they can become law without his signature.
House Bill 39 was crafted in response to a 2013 accident at the North Carolina State Fair that injured five people on The Vortex. Investigators said a key safety feature on the ride had been disabled, and the operator pleaded guilty in June to criminal charges in the case. The ride owner still faces charges.
The bill includes a five-fold increase in the civil fines for improper operation of an amusement ride – it could be for not having a safety certificate, using an untrained operator or not having the required records of operation – and creates a misdemeanor offense for violating the regulations and a felony offense if someone dies or is seriously injured because of the violation.
Rep. Red Davis, R-New Hanover, said the initial House bill called for a 10-fold increase in the fines, but the Senate sought only a doubling of the penalties. So, the two chambers compromised on the final five-fold increase, he said.
The Senate also added a provision calling for the state Department of Labor to study whether it also should regulate zip lines. A Wilmington girl died last month on a zip line course at a summer camp in western North Carolina.
Davis told House members that the Labor Department doesn't have enough inspectors – nor do its inspectors have experience with zip lines – to take over regulation of the courses immediately. Lawmakers want a study completed by next April so they can take any necessary action in their 2016 legislative session.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a former camp counselor, said all of the camp operators he's spoken to are open to the study.
"There are things, when you’re dealing with children and risky activities, that sometimes happen," McGrady said. "Let’s study it. We cannot protect against human error, but we can protect against things that aren’t designed right or aren’t inspected right or don’t have appropriate protection."
The measure passed 113-0.
Meanwhile, the House passed House Bill 766 by a 112-2 margin. The bill would make it easier for neurologists to prescribe hemp extract oil, sometimes called cannabidiol oil or CBD oil. The oil is made from a special strain of marijuana, but it does not contain high concentrations of the chemicals that get people high. It is seen by many as useful in treating children with epileptic symptoms.
A bill passed last year was designed to allow for wider use of the CBD oil, but many families say they still face obstacles because its use was supposed to be linked to academic studies. This year's measure would allow for a less convoluted path for doctors to prescribe the treatment.
The new bill includes a sunset in 2021, when use of CBD oil would again become illegal in North Carolina again if studies of the substance don't show therapeutic benefit.