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October 23, 2021

Political Notebook: Gov. Cooper vetoes Ford-backed bill allowing firearms at churches that are also schools

SALISBURY — Gov. Roy Cooper last week vetoed a Senate-led bill allowing concealed carry of a handgun at churches that have an affiliated school on campus.

Rowan County Republican Sen. Carl Ford, who represents District 33, was among the sponsors of Senate Bill 43.

“I guess the governor thinks that the Second Amendment applies to everyone except people worshiping God,” Ford told the Post Sunday.

The bill would have amended a state law prohibiting weapons on the premises of educational institutions by allowing those with a valid permit to carry a handgun concealed if the property is both a school and religious gathering place, including religious schools. The bill also clarified concealed carry could only occur outside of the school’s regular operating hours, which includes when extracurricular activities are taking place. Additionally, it wouldn’t apply to any properties owned by a local board of education or county commission, which excludes properties owned by Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

“For the safety of students and teachers, North Carolina should keep guns off school ground,” Cooper said in his veto message.

Ford told the Post in March the bill was born from concern among churches that current laws prohibit church-goers from having a concealed handgun on Sunday. He said the nation has seen more churches attacked in recent years. At least 19 fatal shootings have occurred at churches since the Columbine school shooting in 1999.

The bill would have left the ultimate decision to allow concealed carry to the church. S.B. 43 states the church-goer cannot conceal a weapon on the church’s property if those in legal possession or control of the premises have posted a “conspicuous notice” prohibiting it.

Asked whether he anticipates a veto override, Ford said “possibly.” In North Carolina, a three-fifths majority is needed in each chamber to veto, which amounts to 30 votes in the Senate. The bill passed the Senate 30-19 and the House 70-38 in June, with only Democrats in opposition. A handful of Democrats supported the measure in the House and Senate.

A similar bill, House Bill 652, passed both chambers during the 2019-20 legislative session, but it was ultimately vetoed by Cooper due for the same reason.

Allowing conceal carry at churches with affiliated schools is also included in House Bill 134, which passed the House 72-44 on March 11. However, no movement has been made following that passage. Only five Democrats voted in support, and Rep. William Brisson, R-22, voted against the bill. Both Reps. Harry Warren and Wayne Sasser, who represent parts of Rowan County, were sponsors of the House measure.

Gov. Cooper signs five bills into law

RALEIGH — Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law five bills, including legislation related to police telecommunicators, remote meetings and environmental measures.

All five bills were passed unanimously in both chambers prior to the governor’s signature.

House Bill 203 allows an extension for certification of police telecommunicators. In 2019, a bill enacted a requirement for telecommunicators employed by municipal police agencies to meet the same qualifications and training requirements as those employed by sheriff’s offices no later than July 1, 2021. H.B. 203 extends that deadline by a year.

H.B. 812 makes changes to the current law dictating the conduct of public meetings. During a state-declared emergency, it allows the ability to amend public meeting notices to include information so that the public can access the meeting remotely if a member of the public body desires to participate remotely after the notice is issued.

The amended notice, however, must be issued no less than six hours prior to the official meeting and be distributed in accordance with the requirements of public notices for official meetings.

Another bill is H.B. 743, which increases the punishment for altering, destroying or removing permanent personal identification marks from personal property as well as removing, defacing, destroying, altering or covering up identifying marks on certain machinery, equipment and apparatuses. The legislation makes such offenses a class H felony if the value of the item is greater than $1,000, which carries a punishment ranging from four months minimum of community service to an active sentence of 39 months. Previously, those offenses were class one misdemeanors.

Rep. Warren was among the sponsors of the bill.

Another bill signed by the governor was sponsored by Rep. Sasser, a Republican representing Rowan and Stanly counties. H.B. 20 expands the type of development connections to water supply lines funded by the Clean Water and Natural Gas Critical Needs Bond Act of 1998. More specifically, it requires the secretary of Environmental Quality to authorize the annexation into the 1998 act for structures zoned for residential and mixed-use development. The legislation eliminates the requirement under existing law that the structure be “habitable” and located on lots zoned for single-family residences.

Lastly, H.B. 139 adds a licensed soil scientist to the North Carolina On-Site Wastewater Contractors and Inspectors Certification Board as a substitute for an employee of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. The board has nine members with three-year terms and authority over the construction, installation and repair of on-site wastewater systems and those who construct, install, repair and inspect those systems.

Fourth Circuit Court rules in favor of lower court’s decision to strike down state abortion ban

RALEIGH — A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled in favor of North Carolinians’ access to abortion care, upholding a lower court’s decision to strike down an abortion ban after 20 weeks.

In March 2019, a federal district court ruled against a longstanding state law that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in North Carolina except in cases of medical emergencies. The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. In that case, U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Jr. ruled state law cannot impose an outright ban that prevents a “woman from choosing to have an abortion before viability.” Osteen also references “the Supreme Court’s clear pronouncements on the pre-viability right to choose to have an abortion” as established more than 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade.

The new court decision comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a case challenging the state of Mississippi’s abortion ban after 15 weeks. Though bans prior to a fetus’ viability outside the womb have been ruled unconstitutional since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court will consider whether all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional.

“A patient should be able to make important medical decisions without interference from politicians,” said Dr. Katherine Farris, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “When someone has made the decision to have an abortion, they should be able to get one, without facing unnecessary restrictions that force them to delay care or carry a pregnancy to term against their will. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic will continue providing the care our patients need when they need it.”

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