Bills address domestic violence; property rights | North Carolina | Indy Week

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Bills address domestic violence; property rights

Legislative update

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Three by gun, one by knife

Four women were murdered in domestic violence incidents in North Carolina in just the first two weeks of 2007. At that rate, the number of domestic violence homicides in the state this year will be the highest since 2004, when 81 people were killed, according to statistics compiled by the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Six bills co-sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Wake) address domestic violence issues, including increasing penalties for batterers, providing additional security for victims and appropriating nearly $5 million to state agencies that would then help fund nonprofit organizations' projects.

The recommendations grew out of a Joint Legislative Committee on Domestic Violence that convened in 2005-06.

Other Triangle legislators co-sponsoring the bills and its Senate counterparts include state Reps. Bill Faison, Verla Insko, Paul Luebke and Jennifer Weiss and state Sens. Bob Atwater and Janet Cowell.

Among the appropriations, HB 43 would funnel $2 million from the General Fund to the N.C. Council for Women for fiscal year 2007-08. The Council would use this one-time money as matching funds to local agencies building new domestic violence shelters, buying existing spaces for shelters or adding living space to current shelters. An additional $1 million would be allocated to the state's Department of Health and Human Services in the form of block grants for prevention programs, particularly in underserved and immigrant communities.

"I'm optimistic we'll be able to fund the request," Ross says. "It's not exorbitant and fairly in line with what's been funded in the past."

In 2004, the legislature passed comprehensive domestic violence laws that "brought North Carolina into the 21st century," says Ross.

The N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence received more than 100,000 calls in 2004-05, the latest figures available.

Among other domestic violence legislation, HB 44 strengthens protective orders against batterers. Currently, a protective order violation is a misdemeanor; three constitute a felony. If this legislation passes, one violation would qualify as a felony.

"When someone violates a protective order, it raises a red flag," says Beth Froehling, Coalition public policy director. "Many of these violations lead to homicide."

Get offa my land

One of the biggest affronts to property rights occurred in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the local government in New London, Conn., could condemn private property and sell it to private interests, which could develop the land for "economic development"—aka their own profit.

Although the N.C. legislature strengthened laws last session that would prohibit these types of takings, SB 38, sponsored by state Sen. Fred Smith (R-Clayton), would ask voters to codify it in the state constitution through a public referendum.

The language of the bill is straightforward: It prohibits state and local governments or other political subdivisions, such as school districts, to take property by eminent domain if purpose of the condemnation is for "economic development purposes, including increasing the tax base or increasing the rate or quality of employment" in a community.

Sen. Neal Hunt is among the bill's cosponsors, as is fellow Wake Republican state Sen. Richard Stevens, who says the bill is intended to stave off any Kelo-like coups here.

"Most people would agree not to take private property for someone else's gain," he says, adding that by putting language in the state constitution, no courts or future legislatures could undo it.

Governments commonly use eminent domain for public improvements, such as roads, schools and utilities, but the definition of "public" and "good" has since expanded, due to the Connecticut decision.

However, Andy Romanet, general counsel and chief lobbyist for the N.C. League of Municipalities, contends the legislature "adequately dealt with the issue" when it previously tweaked the law. Once in the state constitution, the language would be difficult to undo; citizens would have to vote in another public referendum to change it. "Unintended consequences can be dealt with in the legislature," Romanet says. "Our number one concern with a constitutional amendment is that it doesn't define economic development. What if a private shopping center on private land needs water and sewer and a local government wants to run the infrastructure so people can shop there? Is that economic development?"

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