The House Rules committee voted to introduce a bill that would remove televisions from death row.
According to Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, the bill was introduced at the request of the Gaston County district attorney.
In January, death row inmate Danny Robbie Hembree Jr. wrote a letter to his hometown paper in Gaston County mocking the state's ineffective death penalty.
Hembree claimed he lived a life of leisure, complete with color television.
"Kill me if you can, suckers," he wrote.
Moore's bill would order the Division of Adult Correction to remove televisions from death row.
"One thing he (Hembree) crowed about in his letter was he was able to spend his days watching color TV," Moore said.
Moore said some legislators had recently visited death row and that it was not a life of luxury.
"But there are people out here living in society that are trying to get by that don't have TV," Moore said. Providing it to prisoners accused of the most heinous crimes seemed wrong.
"Why limit it to death row?" asked Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, suggesting televisions should be removed from the entire prison system.
Moore answered that, for other prisoners, television privileges might be an incentive to behave better.
The idea sparked a few moments of levity in the room. Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, suggested forcing death row inmates to watch the children's program "Sesame Street" as punishment.
"Fox News," quipped Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, in response to Stam. Hackney was quickly answered by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, who said, "They might hear the truth for the first time in their lives."
Not to be outdone, Blust got in the last joke of the day.
"Why don't we really punish them and televise the General Assembly," Blust said.
The committee approved the bill's introduction, so it will be eligible to be heard this year.
Update: The Division of Adult Correction, which runs the prisons, has concerns about taking the televisions off death row.
"It's a management tool," said Pam Walker, a spokeswoman for the prison system. Death row inmates are not allowed to mix with other prisoners, so they cannot participate in work and education programs.
Television helps occupy the prisoners and gives them an incentive to obey the rules. There is one television per common room in the death row area.
"We're certainly concerned and would like the opportunity to provide some input," Walker said.
Prisoners must purchase headphones from the canteen in order to listen to the television. And, Walker said, canteen sales – mostly for basic hygiene items – fund whatever cable service the prison might get.
"It occupies their minds," Walker said. "Otherwise, they'll be looking for other things to do and potentially create issues."
Also, there is no channel surfing for the inmates. The television channel is controlled by a corrections officer.