All or portions of roughly 20 state laws take effect Monday in North Carolina, with some changing how judges are elected or how doctors prescribe powerful pain medications. New political parties also have an easier time getting on state ballots, while new drivers will get more information on how to respond when an officer pulls them over.
Here’s a rundown.
More partisan races
A legislative shift starting two decades ago that ultimately made trial and appellate court races officially nonpartisan affairs comes full circle with two new laws taking effect that make them partisan again. But whether those approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in late 2016 and last spring will get fully implemented in 2018 – or ever – is unclear.
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GOP lawmakers separately voted last fall to cancel judicial primaries for all political parties next year only because they are still debating changes to Superior Court and District Court election districts and whether to propose a new selection method of judges in a referendum. Some GOP legislators have left open the door to restore the 2018 judicial primary if they can’t find agreement soon on judicial redistricting or replacing head-to-head elections. Democrats also have sued to reinstate the primaries.
Thresholds for a new political party or an unaffiliated candidate to get on ballots are now lower. A political party used to have to collect signatures equal to 2 percent of the number of voters in the most recent general election. Now it’s 0.25 percent, or about 83,500 fewer names than before. There’s now also another way for a party to participate in the state’s presidential primary. Only Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians are now considered part of official parties. The Green Party could benefit from the changes.
The signature requirement for a statewide unaffiliated candidate also is falling from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. Thresholds for unaffiliateds seeking some regional offices also have fallen.
In response to the state’s opioid epidemic, the legislature approved a wide-ranging drug abuse prevention law. An element of that law contains a provision taking effect with the new year that prevents a doctor or other medical practitioner from prescribing more than five days of opioids after an initial visit for acute injuries and more than a seven-day supply following surgery. There are exceptions and refills can occur in a follow-up visit.
In a separate law, applicants to become a licensed pharmacist are now subject to criminal background checks.
News of violent and deadly encounters between police and motorists led the General Assembly to require new drivers be taught what to expect during a traffic stop and what is considered an appropriate response. The law required the information be taught during driver’s education classes. Beginning with the new year that information must be put in the state driver’s handbook. It should be in the latest handbook edition by the end of March, the state Division of Motor Vehicles said.
North Carolina’s Medicaid agency now must review information on recipients quarterly to determine whether circumstances – such as income, employment or lottery winnings – could make them ineligible for coverage. Bed and breakfast homes and inns also will have more flexibility in offering lunch and dinner to their guests through eased regulations.