Raleigh, N.C. — A measure intended to stop frivolous stalking complaints could endanger funding under a federal program designed to help women who are victims of sexual assault and other violence.
The Senate Judiciary II Committee discussed but did not vote on Senate Bill 409 Tuesday, opting to ask those who drafted the bill to find a way to move forward without endangering the federal funds.
"This bill has originated from a request from our chief district judge in Mecklenburg County," said Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg.
He said that, by the court's estimation, there were 772 frivolous stalking suits filed last year. His bill would have allowed the court to assign the costs of those civil suits to the person who brought the action if they "willfully" failed to follow up.
A rewrite of the bill presented in committee would not have dealt with Chapter 50B of the law, which explicitly deals with domestic violence.
Instead, the measure would adjust Chapter 50C, a section of the statute that allows people to file no-contact orders against people who have sexually assaulted them or others who may be harassing them. It can be used in cases of domestic violence among unrelated parties who live together. Committee Chairman Warren Daniel said the typical 50C order might be filed by a public figure like a television personality who was being pursued by a fan.
However, Tarte said that statute is sometimes being used by neighbors fighting over leaf disposal and similar minor complaints that don't rise to the level of stalking.
Hal Pell, a staff attorney for the committee, said the measure may interfere with funding the state receives under the federal Violence Against Women Act. That federal law says states are not eligible for funding if their civil no-contact orders could require a victim to pay court costs.
Roughly $3 million could be at stake, advocates told the committee.
Pell and Daniel, R-Burke, said they would work toward a version of the bill that meets the letter of the federal law. It might be possible, for example, for a judge to issue formal findings that someone is not an actual victim of stalking in order to assess the penalties being considered.
"We will direct staff to find figure out if there is a way to fix this bill," Daniel said.