North Carolina’s effort to rewrite the state’s criminal code continues making gradual progress. 

The House Rules Committee recently issued a favorable report on Senate Bill 584, the latest legislative step in recodification efforts championed by criminal justice reform advocates and members of the General Assembly. 

Senate Bill 584, if passed, would require more oversight on criminalization from the General Assembly. The legislation requires all criminal penalties to be approved by the General Assembly while also stripping local governments’ ability to create new crimes. Local governments could still pass ordinances, but violations of them wouldn’t automatically be considered misdemeanors.

It would allow lawmakers to get a handle on some of the state’s unusual local ordinances, including Mount Airy’s ban on Silly String and Aurora’s prohibition on windows without screens.

This bill serves as a successor to House Bill 379, which was passed in June 2018.

The legislation required all agencies, commissions, and boards with the power to create crimes submit a list of all their crimes to legislative working groups. Under this bill, local jurisdictions were also required to submit their ordinances (in which violation is automatically considered a misdemeanor) to the working group. The deadline established for these lists was December 1, 2018.

In the future, this information would be used by experts to make recommendations for re-evaulating these crimes and better informing the public of their consequences. 

As of July 2019, only 72 of 100 counties had provided necessary information; 236 of 550 cities and towns have fulfilled their reporting requirements. 

“NCACC has worked closely with counties to help them prepare their list of ordinances that carry criminal punishments as required by H.B. 379 Recodification Working Group. NCACC provided reporting guidance last year to assist counties in complying with the reporting requirement, which is nearly complete,” said Lacy Pate, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. “Seventy-two out of 100 counties have responded to date and NCACC continues to serve as a resource to assist the remaining counties, which tend to be smaller, and have less staff.” 

Despite complying with these regulations, the NCACC has no official position on the recodification, although they have claimed to support “slow and cautious approach” that the General Assembly has taken in the latest version of this legislation. 

Mike Schietzelt, criminal justice fellow at the John Locke Foundation, is optimistic about the progress of the recodification effort. 

“This legislation brings us one step closer to a more clear and concise criminal code here in North Carolina, and the John Locke Foundation is ready to lead the way,” said Schietzelt. 

Senate Bill 584 is headed to the Senate to concur with the House’s version. If it does, the bill would go to Gov. Roy Cooper.