Senate inaction leads to House U-turn on crime bill

Posted August 15, 2014 12:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2014 12:38 p.m. EDT

— Two weeks after unanimously rejecting Senate changes to an omnibus bill of changes to criminal laws, the House voted Friday to reverse its earlier action and approved the measure.

House Bill 369 now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, requested the reconsideration, saying the Senate refused to appoint members to a conference committee to negotiate compromise legislation. Without action, the bill would die, ending several provisions favored by many lawmakers – and law enforcement officials who lobbied in recent days for the bill's passage.

The bill increases the penalty for supplying a cellphone to an inmate and makes it a felony for anyone to commit an assault in retaliation of work carried out by law enforcement officers or court officials.

Those provisions come in the wake of the April kidnapping of Frank Janssen, the father of a Wake County prosecutor. Authorities allege an inmate who wanted to get back at the prosecutor orchestrated the abduction over a cellphone smuggled into a state prison.

The bill also would allow State Crime Lab technicians to provide testimony in trials via videoconferencing to save travel time and allow them to spend more time catching up on the backlog of cases in the lab. And it would change the practice of deferred prosecutions to conditional discharges, obtaining guilty pleas in advance from first-time defendants in case they don't meet the conditions set by prosecutors to have the charge dropped.

Stam said House members voted it down 112-0 on July 31 because the Senate had lifted many of the provisions of another bill the House had already passed and dropped them into House Bill 369 but left out several pieces that the House wanted, such as language on the expunction of criminal charges and the treatment of defendants with mental retardation who face the death penalty.

"There's nothing really wrong with the bill itself," Stam said.

Revisiting the bill required three separate votes that left many House members confused about the procedure.

"Forgive my addled mind," Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said as he asked a series of questions about the bill and what exactly the House was being asked to do.

After 30 minutes or so of discussion, the House voted 77-14 to approve the bill.