@NCCapitol

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Perdue signs Laura's Law, Justice Reinvestment

Posted June 23, 2011 12:25 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2011 6:19 p.m. EDT

Gov. Bev Perdue held a signing ceremony this morning for four laws she says will make North Carolina a safer place to live.

House Bill 49, Laura’s Law, increases the penalties and prison time for repeat DWI offenders. It was named after Laura Fortenberry, a 17-year-old from Gaston County killed last summer by a drunk driver who already had two DWI convictions.

“Why in the world was this person on the road?” Perdue asked.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said it sends a strong message to habitual drunk drivers: “You’re going to go to prison, and you’re going to be there for a while.”

Laura’s mother, Michelle Armstrong, was present at the ceremony. Perdue invited her up to the desk while she signed the bill, giving her a hug. Rep. Moore told her, “You’re one of the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

Armstrong, in tears, said the experience was “just overwhelming.”

“It’s not been a year yet. July 25th will be a year that she was killed,” Armstrong said. “It’s just amazing, the care that people in North Carolina have.” Her comments are at right.

House Bill 642, the Justice Reinvestment Act, was also signed today. The sweeping measure rewrites many of the state’s laws on imprisonment and probation, especially for misdemeanants. Instead of being sent away to state prisons, those with short sentences will serve them in county jails. The new law also requires nine months of post-release supervision for most offenders.

The measure has been in development for more than a year. It was prompted in part by a Pew study that showed the state could save money, reduce prison populations, and cut recidivism rates by shifting its focus from incarceration to prevention, treatment, and support.

“Eighty-five percent of our prisoners currently leave the prison system with no supervision,” Perdue said. She said the new law will help communities build safety nets for ex-convicts with churches and civic groups, helping to reduce recidivism. It also includes more drug and alcohol treatment for those behind bars.

The bill had strong bipartisan support in both chambers. Perdue said it will be the hallmark of this legislative session, and “the most magnificent example of people doing what’s right, of not trying to gouge each other with partisan rhetoric.”

The two other bills signed today were Senate Bill 268, which increases penalties for intimidating or threatening a witness, and Senate Bill 449, which sets up a task force to address the growing problem of fraud and other mistreatment of elderly people.