North Carolina editorial roundup
Posted March 15
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Winston-Salem Journal on requiring driver's education to teach students what to do in a traffic stop:
A North Carolina bill working its way through the state House is part of a recent national trend that requires driver's education to teach students what to do in a traffic stop, The Associated Press reported earlier this week. Nothing but good can come of this.
HB21 would require the driver's license handbook to include a description of "law enforcement procedures during traffic stops and the actions that a motorist should take during a traffic stop, including appropriate interactions with law enforcement officers," thus priming the pump for a less rancorous exchange than might otherwise ensue, especially when it involves inexperienced and startled drivers.
The bill had more than 35 House sponsors from both major parties by early last week.
"I think all of us want to do anything we can to make the public safer out there, and to not put our officers in a situation where they might make the wrong decision," Republican state Rep. John Faircloth, a primary sponsor of the bill and a former High Point police chief, told the AP.
He's right in his comments. It's unfortunate that some encounters between police officers and motorists have turned contentious and even deadly in recent times. Knowing what to expect might not resolve every situation, but it's a good place to start.
The best of these bills work both ways, also requiring police to undergo training to make sure they're holding up their end. Robert Dawkins, state organizer of the police accountability group SAFE Coalition NC, told the AP that the training could help young drivers control their emotions at traffic stops, but added that companion legislation is needed "so that police officers can understand to control their emotions" as well, the AP reported. That should be added to the House bill.
Illinois recently updated its "Rules of the Road" to include training for drivers and officers, saying, "a driver is to be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement officers," and that drivers should report what they consider to be inappropriate conduct to the officer's superiors as soon as possible.
"Anything that keeps the rancor and stupidness from going on inside of a car when there is a minor traffic violation, we're all for," Allen Robinson, chief executive officer of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, told the AP. We agree. Young drivers should understand that being pulled over is not the worst thing that could happen, and might actually benefit them, especially if there's a safety issue at hand.
And officers should be aware — and most likely are — that kids aren't always going to act the way they should.
"The goal here is to reduce what could be a tense situation that can be very stressful on both sides," Dave Druker, with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, told the AP. His message is to use "a common-sense approach" and don't be confrontational.
That's good advice for everyone involved.
The Robesonian on whether to classify 16- and 17-year-old criminal offenders as juveniles:
North Carolina has always fancied itself among the more progressive Southern states, but for every step forward there seems to have been an unnecessary retreat.
Amendment One, the law banning gay marriage that was found to be unconstitutional, is a prime example, as is the shoot-ourselves-in-the foot House Bill 2, which continues to do this state and its residents damage on the economic front as well as to our image.
But North Carolina is poised to take a big step forward by leaving New York as the only state in the nation that continues to treat 16- and 17-year-old as adults in criminal court.
Last week, House Bill 280, which would classify most 16- and 17-year-old criminal offenders as juveniles, was touted at a Raleigh press conference, and it has the backing of key players of our judicial system, including judges, police and sheriffs.
The bill, which would take effect in December 2019, says 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and lower-grade felonies must be tried in juvenile court — although it provides latitude for a nonviolent case to be transferred to the adult system if circumstances warrant.
We expect that a Senate version to the bill will be introduced, an appropriate compromise reached, and for Gov. Roy Cooper's signature to make the bill law.
The reasons for a higher majority age are compelling, and begin with this: With some exceptions, teenagers who are 16 and 17 years old should not have the balance of their lives imperiled by immature and reckless action, especially one that is nonviolent. Science shows that a person's brain is not fully developed at those young ages, and that actions are often impulsive. Using the full extent of the law as punishment is too harsh.
It is why we don't trust 16- and 17-year olds to drink alcohol, to possess full driving privileges, to enter into contracts or to vote.
A higher majority age would loosen up the criminal court system, making justice swifter, therefore making for a safer society.
Sending children into prison with hardened adults is self-defeating, as recidivism rates are higher than for those who enter the juvenile justice system, meaning these children return to society as adults better able to cause carnage.
An adult conviction is also a matter of public record, making it more difficult for youthful offenders to get scholarships or grants for continued education or to find a job. A juvenile record is sealed, so those opportunities are not compromised.
While we don't anticipate determined opposition to raising the majority age, there will be conversation on the details, and what manner of crime will send a 16- or 17-year-old into the juvenile system, and what will send him or her into the adult system. The juvenile system will need more dollars to handle the influx, and we would argue punishment should include the opportunity to perform community service, whether that be assisting nonprofits or clearing roads of trash.
The additional money would be a keen investment, saving the state money housing and feeding juvenile offenders in adult prisons, and by rehabilitating these young people, so that they can become productive adults who contribute to society instead of bleed it.
The News & Record of Greensboro on legislators becoming lobbyists:
State legislators in North Carolina are paid less than $14,000 a year, so some of them trade their experience for more lucrative opportunities as lobbyists.
Not so fast, says a bipartisan bill introduced in the House by Rep. John Faircloth of High Point and others.
It would double the time, from six months to a year, that a lawmaker would have to be out of office before he or she could register as a lobbyist.
This is a positive step for good government, and it immediately drew support from more than 40 House members. In addition to Faircloth, a Republican, co-sponsors include Republican John Blust and Democrat Pricey Harrison, both from Greensboro.
Former legislators, especially those who were influential legislators, can be very valuable to clients that seek favorable treatment by the General Assembly. Lobbyists can use their connections to gain access and catch the ear of former colleagues. They know the issues, the players and what arguments may be most effective with which people.
There's a risk, however, that while they're still in office, some could be working on behalf of future clients. That's a little more likely if the time between public service and a lobbying career is too short.
Some legislators also resign from office so they can begin lobbying in time for the next legislative session. One was Tom Apodaca, a top lieutenant of Senate leader Phil Berger, who gave up his seat in July and registered in January, exactly six months later, as a lobbyist with his own new firm.
Six months seems to be too short a gap between legislative service and lobbying. A full year is better. Many states impose an even longer wait, which seems wiser still.
Faircloth's bill also imposes a one-year waiting period on other state officials, such as elected Council of State officers and leaders of Cabinet departments appointed by the governor. The same concerns apply to those people, and a one-year gap seems to be a prudent minimum.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring for five years employees who leave an agency from lobbying that same agency. While that is an extensive time, the order doesn't bar them from lobbying other agencies. Trump's order also shortened the time before former employees can contact their former agencies from two years to one. This creates an opportunity for unofficial lobbying.
As influence-peddlers, though, lobbyists are only middle men. The big players are special-interest groups that make massive campaign contributions directly to candidates or bankroll independent expenditure organizations. Politicians pay attention to groups that can finance entire campaigns, and some serve those interests rather than the people they're supposed to represent.
A former legislator who becomes a paid lobbyist, and the special interests that hire him or her, should not have more influence with lawmakers than do ordinary citizens. But, if lobbyists didn't get results, no one would pay them good money for their work.
Yet, small victories are important. If a legislator must wait for a full year after leaving office before cashing in as a lobbyist, the connection between lawmaking and lobbying might be a little less direct and lucrative.
Unfortunately, this bill has been stuck in the House rules committee for more than a month. Maybe, ironically, special interests are preventing it from advancing.
If legislative salaries were a little higher, perhaps the temptation to trade lawmaking experience for a lobbying payoff would be weaker, but that's a complicated issue of its own. Many changes are needed to make politicians serve the people first rather than special interests, and lobbying reform is just one.