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Lawmakers say this gesture of support would mean a lot to families of injured officers

Collecting a fee from the wife of a severely injured police officer was the last thing Wake County Clerk of Court Blair Williams wanted to do.

But he had no choice.

State law prevented him from waiving the $120 fee collected from people filing legal paperwork seeking a guardianship. When a court grants a guardianship, it allows a person to make decisions for another during a period of incapacity or disability.

A bill filed earlier this month in the legislature by Rep. Cynthia Ball would address future cases like the one of Raleigh police officer Charles D. Ainsworth, who still is recovering from being shot while on duty, she said.

Ainsworth suffered a serious gunshot wound during a traffic stop in January. He was investigating a report of a stolen car near Western Boulevard. Police say Cedric Jamal Kearney, 23, of Henderson shot Ainsworth multiple times with a .45-caliber pistol. Kearney has been charged with attempted murder.

The bill would give clerks of court discretion to forgo fees on guardianship cases involving law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty, Ball said.

Ball and a bipartisan group of legislators held a press conference Wednesday to describe how House Bill 296, which they call the Respect for Families of Law Enforcement Act, would benefit families of severely injured law enforcement officers. Williams also was present.

“We sponsors believe the gesture would mean so much at a very difficult time and demonstrate our respect for the sacrifice of injured law enforcement officers like Officer Ainsworth,” Ball said.

Lawmakers did not know how many other injured law enforcement officers would have been covered by this proposal, but they didn’t think it would occur very often.

“We’re not talking about many,” said co-sponsor Rep. Allen McNeill, a Randolph County Republican. “It’s a rare occurrence. This represents a gesture to the families when they’re faced with these types of situations. It can be a very troubling and trying time for the families. Anything we can do to help them in those hours of need or help a family is much appreciated from the family.”

There is little or no financial impact for the state, lawmakers said.

State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat, said he feels confident about the bill’s prospects for passage.

“This bill today has bipartisan support in both chambers,” Chaudhuri said. “It cuts a little bit of red tape out when there shouldn’t be any for a family. We hope and pray that no law enforcement officer is ever injured. But if they are, we hope that this will will ease the hardship that officer’s family experiences.”

The bill is supported by the N.C. Police Benevolent Association and the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, McNeill said.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.
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