BY JOHN H. WALKER
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
More than 50 new laws went into effect Tuesday, including one that gives North Carolina concealed weapon permit holders more leeway to bring their handguns into bars and restaurants and onto school and university property.
Local law enforcement officials had mixed reactions to the legislation when it was introduced and as it moved through the legislative process.
.“The last thing we need is people being able to carry concealed weapons in more locations. I think the law is lenient enough as it is,” Tarboro Police Chief Damon Williams said in an earlier story. “I would not be in favor of that kind of legislation in North Carolina. I can see it presenting more problems than it solves.”
While Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said he doesn’t have a problem with the portion of the bill that would allow employees at an institution of higher education who live in an on-campus residence to carry a weapon on their residential premises. On the other hand, he is uneasy about concealed weapons permit holders being able to carry guns into restaurants where alcohol is served.
“Alcohol and guns don’t mix. We’re a little leery on that,” said Knight. Williams concurred, saying that mixing guns and alcohol is “the last thing you want to do.”
Other new laws place additional rules on abortions, require new consumer protections when they’re billed by hospitals and doctors, and demand higher fees for boat licensing.
As far as the gun amendments, people with concealed handgun permits will be able to arm themselves in a restaurant where alcohol is served, provided they don’t drink or enter an establishment that has a sign to prohibit weapons.
Permit holders also will be allowed to store their handguns in a closed compartment in a locked car at parking lots owned or leased by state government or at lots in any school from kindergarten through college.
Gun rights advocates within the General Assembly and outside say Tuesday’s changes, which also include longer punishments for people who use or display guns while committing felonies, will deter violent crime, not augment it as critics contend.
“We expect to see exactly what’s happened in other states — nothing, absolutely nothing,” said Paul Valone, leader of Grass Rights North Carolina, which sought the eased concealed weapon restrictions. “Concealed-carry weapon holders have always been responsible.”
The new abortion law, like the gun law signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in the summer, makes it illegal to carry out abortions on the basis of the baby’s gender and limits abortion coverage in insurance plans offered by cities and counties to cases involving rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life.
Doctors performing surgical abortions must be physically present for the entire procedure and in the same room when a patient receives the first drug for a chemically induced abortion.
Portions of another new law are designed to help patients and their families wade through medical bills. Hospitals and surgery centers must provide, when asked, itemized billing statements “in language comprehensible to an ordinary layperson.” They would be unable in some situations to place a lien on someone’s house to collect unpaid bills, and certain public hospitals would be barred from garnishing wages for similar debt.
Owners of boats also now have to pay higher one- or three-year fees to obtain their vessel’s license number and higher new and transfer title fees. A large portion of the revenues will be transferred to a new dedicated fund to pay for dredging shallow navigation channels and lakes. The fund was developed as the federal government is moving away from paying for dredging projects.
Other new laws now in effect include:
• prohibit civil actions against North Carolina companies that manufacture, advertise or distribute food on claims their products led to long-term consumption of food or drinks led to excessive weight gain and health problems. The “Commonsense Consumption Act” also makes clear local governments can’t pass ordinances like one passed in New York City prohibiting the sale of large soft drinks.
• direct county social service offices to perform criminal background checks for Work First and food stamps applicants and recipients to ensure they are not parole violators or facing felony charges. The law was vetoed by Gov. Pat McCrory in large part to another section related to drug testing for welfare applicants, but the legislature overrode the veto. McCrory has said he won’t carry out the drug testing directed to begin next summer until lawmakers fund the program adequately.
• expand criminal punishments for prostitution, solicitation of prostitution and human trafficking, while providing immunity from prosecution for minors suspected or charged with the crime.
• require carbon monoxide detectors in hotel and motel rooms where fossil-fuel heaters or fireplaces are installed in enclosed rooms or very close by. The law is a response to the deaths of three people related to the poisonous gas in the same Boone hotel room in two different instances.
• set higher fees for state government lobbyists and the entities for which they lobby.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)