State Politics

New abortion, ‘ag-gag’ laws take effect Friday in North Carolina

Chapel Hill High School/North Carrboro precinct worker Braxton Foushee, left, helps a voter do the paperwork to get her ballot before she voted in the school gym November 3 in the Orange County municipal elections also with voting for school board offices and five bond referendums. 2016 brings the official start of North Carolina’s new voter ID requirements, which will be in place for the March 15 primary.
Chapel Hill High School/North Carrboro precinct worker Braxton Foushee, left, helps a voter do the paperwork to get her ballot before she voted in the school gym November 3 in the Orange County municipal elections also with voting for school board offices and five bond referendums. 2016 brings the official start of North Carolina’s new voter ID requirements, which will be in place for the March 15 primary. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The new year will ring in new controversial laws passed by the state legislature in 2015, covering topics such as voter ID, abortion and undercover workplace investigations.

Lawmakers set Jan. 1 as the date for a number of laws to take effect. Starting Friday, a workplace bill that opponents have labeled “ag-gag” will allow companies to sue employees who secretly take photos or videos on the job.

Voters will be required to provide a photo ID at the polls, with a few exceptions. And abortion providers must submit copies of ultrasounds to state government.

The fight over several of the laws continues, with more lawsuits and lobbying expected.

Planned Parenthood launched a new campaign this week against the ultrasound provision of the abortion law, calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to suspend the law.

Here’s a look at what takes effect Friday:

State to take abortion ultrasounds: Some provisions of the abortion law approved in June are already in effect, including a required 72-hour waiting period for abortions that began in October.

Starting Friday, abortion providers must send the state Department of Health and Human Services records for all abortions or induced miscarriages after the 16th week of pregnancy, including measurements and ultrasound images of fetuses.

The law says the records are for “statistical purposes only,” with patients’ and doctors’ names remaining confidential. The records will not be made public.

Supporters say the change “strengthens” reporting requirements that help state regulators.

The new rules are “medically unnecessary and purely politically driven,” Melissa Reed, director of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, said in a statement. “The true intent of the law is clear – to shame women and intimidate the doctors that care for them.” She said it’s “completely inappropriate” for the state to demand ultrasound images that are part of a woman’s personal medical file.

Planned Parenthood said it has gathered 1,300 signatures through an online petition calling on McCrory to “put a stop to this harmful law immediately.” McCrory signed the bill into law in June, and he doesn’t have the power to repeal it without the legislature taking action first.

No more undercover investigations: An animal welfare group says it won’t be able to conduct undercover investigations at large farms after a new workplace law takes effect Friday.

Dubbed “ag-gag” by its opponents, the “Property Protection Act” became law after legislators voted to override McCrory’s veto in June.

The bill will allow business owners to sue employees who use their positions to secretly take photographs or shoot video in their workplace. It could also be used to sue workers who steal data, documents or merchandise. Employers could sue for punitive damages of $5,000 a day.

The group Mercy for Animals says it is a target of the law. One of the group’s investigations last month produced a video of chickens being kicked, spun by their necks and crammed into sheds. The video resulted in felony charges for a worker at a Richmond County poultry farm.

The law will “perpetuate criminal animal abuse and keep it hidden from the public,” said the group’s director of investigations, Matt Rice.

The legislation’s sponsor, Republican Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville, said in June that workplace whistleblowers will still be able to report criminal activity to the “proper authorities,” which he said are “law enforcement and state and federal regulatory agencies – and not the media and not private special interest organizations.”

Rice said that while his group won’t be able to go undercover in North Carolina, it will continue to fight the law.

“We’re encouraged by the fact that Idaho’s ag-gag law was overturned by a federal judge,” he said. “We’re hoping that North Carolina’s ag-gag will also be overturned, and we’re exploring legal avenues to do that.”

Voter ID arrives: The dawn of 2016 also brings the official start of North Carolina’s new voter ID requirements, which will be in place for the March 15 primary.

Lawsuits have so far failed to stop the new law, but legislators did take action in June to soften the requirement. Voters without a photo ID will be allowed to cast provisional ballots.

Voters can fill out a form explaining why they couldn’t obtain an ID and instead provide their date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number, or show a voter registration card to prove their identity.

A legal challenge by the NAACP and other groups is still working its way through the federal court system. The opponents argue that the requirement will “suppress” young and minority voters, but supporters say identification is needed to combat voter fraud.

The State Board of Elections is working on a public information campaign to make sure voters know what to expect.

IDs for vehicle insurance: Speaking of IDs, a little-noticed piece of a controversial immigration bill takes effect Friday.

Much of the debate surrounding the “Protect North Carolina Workers Act” centered on the sanctuary city ban, which prevents cities and counties from passing ordinances that limit enforcement of immigration laws.

The sanctuary city ban took effect Oct. 29, but the law set a later start for new regulations governing vehicle insurance.

The law bans immigrants from using documents issued by their country’s consulate as a valid ID. Starting Friday, that ban applies to the insurance industry, which won’t be allowed to use consular documents to verify a customer’s identity or residency.

Tax credits for data centers: Technology data centers will have a more favorable tax status in the new year.

They’ll be exempt from paying sales taxes on equipment and electricity – and data center servers are heavy power users. Plenty of strings are attached for companies seeking the tax breaks, including wage and investment requirements.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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