|New Laws Help Fight Crime, Help Homeowners|
This article appeared in the NCCC newsletter, dated August 2008.
The General Assembly agreed to major initiatives to fight crime and gangs and help North Carolina homeowners facing foreclosure this session Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
“We made progress that will make our state a better and safer place,” said Cooper. “Tougher penalties for child predators and gang criminals, more tools for law enforcement, and more crime lab experts will make our communities safer. And keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill is a common-sense step that can help prevent tragedies.”
The following items championed by Cooper won approval during the recent legislative session:
Fighting gang violence
Cooper joined law enforcement agencies across the state to support House Bill 274 to fight the rise in gangs in North Carolina. A recent report by the Governor’s Crime Commission estimates that there are 14,500 gang members in North Carolina and that 82 percent of the state’s jurisdictions have gang related activity. This new law will give police more tools to fight gangs by making it a felony to participate in gang activity, solicit anyone under 16 to join a gang, or threaten anyone for quitting a gang. Cooper also wants to see more funding for programs to keep kids out of gangs.
“We are in a war with gangs for the hearts and minds of our children and we must win,” said Cooper about the gang problem.
Fighting child predators and pornographers
Convicted child pornographers will serve time behind bars under Senate Bill 132, pushed by Cooper to strengthen penalties for possession, dissemination and production of child pornography. The measure also increases the penalty for predators who solicit children over the Internet and then show up at a meeting place to assault a child.
The new law also bans convicted sex offenders from social networking sites where children are members and requires social networks to take reasonable steps to keep North Carolina sex offenders off of their sites. Cooper has led a group of attorneys general from across the country to get MySpace and Facebook to make their sites safer and to protect children from predators and pornography.
“I’ve made protecting children from predators and pornographers a priority in our office,” Cooper said.
Helping the SBI solve crimes
Legislators approved three of the six new firearms analysts Cooper requested to help law enforcement solve crimes at the SBI Crime Laboratories in Asheville and Raleigh. After fighting off proposed cuts to a fund used to pay for crime lab equipment, Cooper was able to garner $174,000 for new lab equipment needed to keep pace with changing technology.
The two new analysts approved bring to 17 the total number of new SBI Lab experts Cooper won from lawmakers during this legislative session, including 12 analysts approved in last year’s budget for the SBI Regional Triad Crime Lab which opened this month in Greensboro. In last year’s budget, legislators also approved three additional DNA analysts for the SBI, which has more than quadrupled its staff of DNA experts in the past few years.
To help investigate violent crime, drug trafficking, child predators, financial fraud and public corruption, Cooper had asked for 17 new SBI field agents which legislators did not include in this year’s budget. The budget approved in 2007 included three of eight SBI field agents and two of four SBI computer crimes agents Cooper requested.
Protecting North Carolina from tragic shootings
Cooper pushed for Senate Bill 2081, sponsored by Sen. Tony Rand, to help protect North Carolina from a tragic shooting like the one that occurred last year at Virginia Tech. The bill requires court clerks to enter mental health commitments into a national database, which will provide the information for gun permit background checks.
The change brings state law in line with a federal provision that prohibits those who were committed from buying or carrying guns. For the first time, it also gives people a way to have their rights restored if a judge agrees.
Helping families save their homes from foreclosure
Cooper worked with the NC Commissioner of Banks, the Governor’s Office and lawmakers to craft House Bill 2623 to give homeowners who face foreclosure more time to try to work out solutions. The new law, which applies to subprime home loans issued between 2005 and 2007, will give homeowners at least 45 days notice before foreclosure proceedings start and gives the the Commissioner of Banks the authority to extend the foreclosure process if a home could be saved.
Two other bills to fight foreclosure and unfair loans also backed by Cooper won passage this summer. House Bill 2188 aims to protect subprime borrowers from being overcharged on mortgage loans by restricting yield-spread premiums and by prohibiting lenders and brokers from being rewarded for putting borrowers into loans with higher interest rates. House Bill 2463 requires mortgage loan servicers to be licensed and imposes new standards on their loan collection activities.
These measures combine with strong new laws enacted last year to update North Carolina’s landmark predatory lending law, which Cooper authored as a state senator. House Bill 1817 requires lenders to verify that a borrower will be able to repay a loan, even after the interest rate increases. House Bill 817 makes mortgage fraud a felony, and House Bill 1374 gives consumers who are facing foreclosure more information so they can protect their rights and give North Carolinians who are the victim of predatory mortgages the right to seek justice in local courts.
“Reducing foreclosures helps families and our economy,” Cooper said. “A home is the most important purchase most families will ever make and loans must be fair.”