Cooper OK's bills for loosened alcohol laws, free rape kits and added domestic abuse protections

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a string of measures. The laws ease restrictions on bar owners, strengthen domestic violence protections and provide sexual assault victims free rape kits.

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Gov. Roy Cooper
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed a string of measures, including bills that ease restrictions on bar owners, provide sexual assault victims free rape kits and fill a coverage gap for domestic violence protective orders.

The new laws cleared the legislature last week with sizable support from Democrats and Republicans.

Among the bills Cooper signed was a measure that requires additional crimes be entered into the state’s DNA database. House Bill 674 also reiterates to hospitals that they aren’t allowed to charge sexual assault victims for rape kits.

"Victims of sexual assault deserve access to a rape kit without being further victimized by being charged for it,” Cooper said in a statement. “This new law will also strengthen the state’s DNA database used to catch criminals by including domestic violence and assault crimes."

Decades ago, North Carolina outlawed the billing of victims for rape kits, creating a fund that hospitals can bill instead to cover evidence collection in sexual assault cases. But that fund capped payments at $800, at times leaving victims with bills amounting to thousands of dollars. That payment cap is now raised to ensure kits are fully covered under the new law.

A separate measure Cooper signed strengthens protections for domestic abuse victims by allowing judges to renew a domestic violence protective order to fill the gap in time between an order’s expiration and a forthcoming court hearing.

The state's Democratic governor took action on a number of other items on Thursday, with perhaps the most sweeping changes coming to alcohol laws bar owners have found burdensome.

Effective immediately, customers who go to bars that don’t serve food no longer have to hand over their contact information to the business. Prior to Cooper’s signature, state law had required patrons of such private bars to become “members” to drink there, forcing them to disclose their contact information.

House Bill 768 also makes it easier for owners permitted by the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to sell alcohol to transfer their permit if there is a change in ownership. The bill also lets community colleges that host professional sporting events to sell alcohol.

One bill Cooper signed temporarily suspends the state’s automatic erasing of certain criminal records beginning next month.

Starting on Aug. 1, an estimated 10,000 North Carolinians over the following 12 months won’t have their records automatically expunged, though there would still be a process in place for them to seek the permanent deletion of files. The affected residents will include those who have criminal charges dismissed, are proven innocent or are found not responsible for alleged crimes.

Local officials currently delete such files, but the process can make it impossible for many to get documented proof of their innocence that an employer may request of them. If a group of court administrators, district attorneys, law enforcement personnel and other groups don’t resolve issues within the current expungement process, the system North Carolina has today would resume.