Defeating the Racial Justice Act wasnt the only victory the states prosecutors enjoyed this session. They also saw the passage of a bill that increases the penalty for most second-degree murder convictions.
The thinking behind SB105 is that it would give district attorneys more incentive to seek second-degree murder convictions in some cases. It would lead to fewer capital murder prosecutions, which could save the state millions of dollars in rising indigent defense costs.
Higher penalties would also make it easier for victims families to accept that choice instead of first-degree murder, which carries penalties of death or life in prison without parole but can be more difficult to prosecute.
The bill would change the minimum sentence from nearly eight years in prison to more than 15 years and the maximum from more than 32 years to life without parole. First-degree murder requires prosecutors prove a killing was premeditated.
The bill provides two exceptions to the increased penalties: if someone is killed in the commission of an inherently dangerous act or omission and if someone distributes certain illicit drugs that cause a fatal overdose.
The bill is waiting for the governors signature, after passing the House 117-0 and the Senate 48-1. The proposed legislation first cropped up in 2009 but was buried in a committee.
It was originally pushed by a woman whose son was strangled, pushed out a second-floor window, dragged into nearby woods and a plastic bag wrapped around his head in Winston-Salem. A man was charged with first-degree murder but later offered a plea bargain of second-degree and sentenced to 38 years and four months.
The bill would also increase penalties for repeat offenses of felony death by vehicle.
Writers bright idea
A recent UNC report looking at information deficits in North Carolina recommends that a state C-SPAN station allow better insight into lawmaking in Raleigh.
The report is highlighted in a Columbia Journalism Review article published Friday. Writer Andria Krewson observes that the dearth of statehouse reporters tracking the N.C. General Assembly especially in the whirlwind final few days of session was compounded by the ongoing primary campaign and the looming Democratic National Convention.
She writes: Enter a proposal for a statewide C-SPAN-style service online, on-demand, and searchable. The concept gained traction during a January workshop hosted by UNCs Center for Media Law and Policy to address issues raised by the FCC report, Information Needs of Communities and emerged as the leading recommendation in a report issued by UNCs School of Journalism and Mass Communication in June.
The hope is that such a service could make it easier for journalists, citizens, and other watchdogs to keep an eye on whats happening in the state capital, without filters from intermediaries like lobbying organizations or even, in some cases, traditional media, Krewson wrote.
Its a big task, as the article notes. For one, the legislative chambers and committee room action isnt even captured by cameras now. Only audio is available.
GOP victory offices set up
Four months before Election Day, the N.C. Republican Party is preparing to test its operation.
In a Super Saturday event, the party will launch four new field offices across the state for the coordinated victory campaign. The new offices are located in Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Greenville and Wilmington. U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx and Renee Ellmers, along with Party Chairman Robin Hayes and other congressional candidates, will cut the ribbons. Four others are already operating in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Asheville.
Party spokesman Rob Lockwood said the partys goal is tens of thousands of voter contacts through phone calls and door knocking.
This is a way to engage our volunteers and test our operation in a competitive setting, Lockwood said, referring to North Carolinas battleground status.
Post calls N.C. for Romney
The Washington Posts political prognosticators are moving North Carolina into the leans Romney category, a rightward shift from the states previous status a toss up" swing state.
Chris Cillizza notes he struggled with how to categorize the state. In our first electoral map predictions, we put it into the toss up category but the longer we looked at the states with which it shared that rating, the more it looked like the one state that didnt belong. And so, we are moving North Carolina from toss up to lean Romney today, he wrote Thursday.
Cillizzas reasoning is multifaceted: President Barack Obama barely won in 2008; the state typically supports Republican presidential candidates; the states unemployment rate; and the N.C. Democratic Partys recent scandals and weaknesses.
Moving North Carolinas 15 electoral votes means that there are now 237 electoral votes either solidly or leaning toward Obama and 206 electoral votes either solidly or leaning toward Romney. There are 95 electoral votes in the seven toss up states combined, he concludes.
The WaPos thinking fits within the D.C. narrative from other pundits putting the state in Mitt Romneys GOP grasp, including the Rothenberg Political Report.
But Nate Cohn at the New Republic disagrees. He posted a rebuttal on the magazines website. It concludes: In a state decided by turnout, Romney seems to hold a slight advantage as long as GOP enthusiasm is elevated and young voters remain disinterested. But North Carolinas unique demographic profile all but ensures one of the closest races in the country. Given the difficulty of predicting turnout and the resilience of Obamas coalition, it would be unwise to assert that either side has an especially clear advantage, at least for now.
Staff writers Craig Jarvis and John Frank
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