We always feel a little apprehensive when the legislature is in session, fearing more rounds of gerrymandering or another “bathroom bill” that could risk commerce and create havoc. But several bills that have advanced this week make us feel practically optimistic. In at least a few areas, common sense reigns.
One was the expressed desire of state senators to restore robust language — and harsher punishments — to a “Hands Free NC” law making its way through the legislative process.
The measure as originally introduced by the House made it illegal for nearly all drivers to hold wireless devices or cradle them against their shoulder, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported. Fines for violating the law would begin at $100 and grow to $200 with penalties on insurance records for repeat offenders.
But the language was weakened, punishing drivers for using hand-held devices only when authorities determined they contributed to careless or reckless driving.
Some Republican legislators, supported by parents of children who died in distracted driving accidents, are now pushing for a return to the original language, or, as an alternative, warning first-time violators and requiring repeat offenders to take a class to avoid insurance points.
We prefer the original punishment for this serious matter. All of us see people on the road with one hand on the wheel and the other at their ear, risking their own lives and those of other drivers and passengers, as well as nearby pedestrians. This practice needs to be stopped.
Hang in there, senators. Keep pushing.
Another item on many people’s wish list has been the repeal of the Map Act, which passed the Senate on Wednesday. Now it goes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it into law.
The Map Act’s ill effects became obvious when the N.C. Department of Transportation designated the property of Winston-Salem residents to be in the path of the Northern Beltway, but declined to buy them out. This left the landowners in limbo, unable to develop or sell their property — essentially taking it without compensation.
Landowners took the DOT to court, a laborious, years-long process that finally afforded them some compensation and a measure of justice.
This should happen to no one else.
The House and Senate bills to repeal the act were co-sponsored by Forsyth Reps. Debra Conrad and Donny Lambeth and Sen. Joyce Krawiec and Sen. Paul Lowe. Krawiec said repealing the Map Act “has been a priority for me since I arrived at the Senate six years ago.”
We appreciate all of our legislators who stuck with this to see it through.
A third bright note is legislation approved by the state House on Tuesday that would allow UNC School of the Arts to build a new $46 million, 444-bed dormitory on its campus as one of several UNC capital projects. It’s now before the Senate.
The dorm would introduce suites-style housing to the campus for the first time, mixed with more traditional apartment-style housing. It’s necessary to attract students and could entice more juniors and seniors to remain on campus for housing, according to school officials.
It would certainly be an upgrade, one of several in recent years that add to the attraction of this local gem.
We still have hopes for other legislative decisions that could improve our city and state, including funding to assist in the renovation of the Stevens Center and Medicaid expansion. Prospects for both look dim — but it’s not too late. If those measures were to pass, we might be absolutely giddy.