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Pregnant? Addicted to drugs? Cuff her!

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In new and insane legislation, women in North Carolina could be slapped with an assault charge for using drugs while pregnant, bringing the Tar Heel State ever closer to more well-established insane states like Alabama, where fetuses have lawyers.

Senate Bill 297, introduced last week by Republican Sen. Brent Jackson, a farmer, and Sen. Louis Pate, who is a retired merchant, would criminalize a pregnant woman for using narcotic drugs if her child is born "addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug and the addiction or harm is a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant."

The woman could avoid criminal prosecution—the level of offense, misdemeanor or felony, is not specified—by completing a drug-addiction recovery program.

Obviously, in an ideal world, pregnant women wouldn't use drugs. But as the left-leaning blog The Progressive Pulse points out, drug dependency is a "recognized medical condition that must be treated with proper medical care."

Furthermore, pregnant women who are using narcotics may not have access to, or money to pay for, treatment for drug addiction. Many treatment centers don't admit or aren't prepared to treat pregnant women.

This is all to say, no good will come of prosecuting a drug-addicted mother with a new child. As with most terrible public policy made in regards to women's "health," criminalizing drug use during pregnancy would disproportionately affect poor and minority women who don't have access to drug treatment facilities, or even decent medical/prenatal facilities in the first place. —Jane Porter

Stop your (legal) bitching

Ye doth protest too much, sayeth the state's homebuilders' lobby. Spurred by the powerful special interest group, several legislators are trying to revoke North Carolina citizens' right to file a protest petition, a legal mechanism used to block unwanted developments. The full House was discussing the most recent version of the bill at press time on Tuesday.

The main sponsors of HB 201 are Republicans Paul Stam of Wake County, who's usually on the wrong side of everything, and John Fraley of Iredell. He's in the home textile business, so development is in his best interest.

Two Democrats are also primary sponsors: Ken Goodman from Richmond County, who owns a flooring business, and Darren Jackson of Wake County, an attorney whose specialty includes residential real estate.

Protest petitions can be effective: Raleigh residents recently filed a protest petition against a proposed Publix grocery store. The developer dropped the project.

In Durham, residents filed a protest petition against 751 South—the developer even tried some legal maneuvers to invalidate it. Ultimately, the protest petition was declared valid, but county commissioners passed the rezoning.

Three Democratic senators from the Triangle sponsored compromise legislation, Senate Bill 285.

Sens. Mike Woodard, of Durham, Valerie Foushee of Orange and Chatham counties; and Floyd McKissick Jr., of Durham, filed the bill last Thursday. If passed, it would increase the required percentage of property owners filing a petition—those within 100 feet of the land to be rezoned—from 5 percent to 15 percent. Two-thirds of a city council would have to approve such a petition, down from three-fourths.

That bill has been sent to committee, ostensibly to die. —Lisa Sorg

Inmate deaths could receive more scrutiny

One year after a North Carolina inmate died of dehydration following a month-long stay in solitary confinement, state lawmakers want to eliminate bureaucratic restrictions that they say hindered the investigation of that prisoner's death.

House Democratic Leader Larry Hall of Durham, joined one Republican and two Democrats last week in co-sponsoring House Bill 281, which would require the state Division of Adult Correction to turn over copies of all records to medical examiners in the event of an inmate's death.

Hall said state restrictions "seem to have limited the Office of the Medical Examiner in performing their duty" in investigating the death of Michael Kerr, a Sampson County man with a mental illness who died during his transfer to Raleigh's Central Prison last March.

The INDY reported Kerr's death last April, including allegations from a neighboring cellmate that Kerr was left handcuffed, covered in his own waste, without food or water in his isolated cell in Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville. Prison workers were attempting to transfer Kerr to Central Prison, the state's chief mental health facility for male inmates, when he died.

The legislation directs the prisons to provide "full and accurate" copies of all inmate records, including any made after the prisoner's death, to medical examiners. N.C. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pam Walker, whose department oversees the prisons, said prison officials were forthcoming with all documents in their possession.

Walker added that DPS is working with lawmakers to discuss confidential medical and mental health records.

Since Kerr's death, the state prison system has fired nine workers and transferred dozens. It also prompted investigations from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, a federal grand jury and the nonprofit Disability Rights N.C., which reported "severe deficiencies" in the prisons' care for inmates with a mental illness. —Billy Ball

This article appeared in print with the headline "Pregnant? Addicted to drugs? Cuff her!"

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