News: Quick Takes

Bill forcing government agencies to list all crimes on the books moves forward

A bill to begin overhauling North Carolina’s criminal code is one step closer to passage.

House Bill 379, “Recodification Working Group,” passed the N.C. Senate by unanimous vote Monday, June 11. The legislation was approved by the state House in March.

H.B. 379 would require state agencies, boards, and commissions to take inventory of crimes on their books. It’s hard to know what is — and isn’t — criminal in North Carolina, said Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, a sponsor of the legislation. Hundreds of crimes are strewn across the N.C. General Statutes, and hundreds of other misdemeanors extend beyond state code. Administrative and licensing bodies also enact regulations that are enforced as criminal laws.

Additionally, the state allows counties, cities, towns, and metropolitan sewer districts to create crimes.

The system is a mess, experts say. H.B. 379 may be the first step toward cleanup.

To rewrite the code, the state must compile a list of all existing crimes, said Steven Walker, general counsel to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Walker worked alongside several lawmakers to introduce the legislation.

Once the log is complete, a working group, the parameters of which haven’t been specified, would be responsible to overhaul statutes.

Under the legislation, agencies, boards, and commissions would report all listed crimes to the General Assembly by Dec. 1, 2018.

The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts would take stock of common law crimes and general statues, identifying redundant and unconstitutional crimes. That list would go to the legislature no later than Feb. 1, 2019.

“Recodifying North Carolina’s criminal law in this way is a big undertaking,” said Jon Guze, director of legal studies at the John Locke Foundation. “Before it can begin, the General Assembly and the public need to have a clear understanding of the nature and extent of the overcriminalization problem and of what needs to be done in order to solve it.”

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary I Committee for concurrence.