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Cooper helps win new laws to fight crime, protect consumers

Release date: 7/27/2006

Raleigh: Several bills voted into law during the General Assembly’s latest session will fight crime, make communities safer and protect consumers, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.

“I’m pleased that North Carolina will move forward on several important issues this session,” Cooper said. “Tougher laws against sex offenders coupled with better information for parents can help us better protect our children. More SBI agents and lab experts will mean cracking more cases and taking more criminals off our streets. We helped consumers by expanding our law against price gouging and continuing our push to make North Carolina laws against identity theft some of the strongest in the nation.

The following items championed by Cooper won approval during the recent legislative session:

Protecting communities from sex offenders

Cooper has worked closely with legislators to improve the NC Sex Offender Registry and toughen laws to protect communities from sex offenders. The General Assembly adopted legislation backed by Cooper that requires sex offenders to register for life and prohibits them from working where children are present. The new laws also allow officials to track the worst offenders using global positioning satellite information. Offenders will need to register with sheriffs more frequently and in person, instead of by mail or telephone.

Cooper also won funding to start the Sex Offender Watch Program, which will notify people by email when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood or near their child’s school. The alerts will also link to maps so communities can pinpoint where a sex offender lives.

Additionally the state’s automated fingerprint identification system will be replaced to greater serve more than 500 law enforcement agencies across the state. Law enforcers use the system to pinpoint suspects using unique identifiers on fingerprints from a crime scene, and the data is also used to screen potential employees who work in schools and nursing homes.

Helping the SBI fight crime and solve more cases

Cooper won funding for 12 out of 20 additional SBI agents and Crime Lab experts he requested to help solve crimes and protect North Carolina communities. For the SBI Crime Lab, Cooper requested and legislators approved funding for five new drug chemistry experts to analyze evidence from drug crimes including meth busts. Cooper also won funding for a DNA expert and a computer forensic analyst for the Lab. Legislators approved funding for five of the new SBI field agents Cooper asked for including one to investigate trafficking of methamphetamines and other drugs, two to specialize in financial crimes and public corruption cases, and two computer crime agents to partner with the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

While these additional positions will help, they do not address the full range of challenges facing law enforcement. With violent crime rates rising in North Carolina and across the country, Cooper plans to continue to ask legislators to invest more in fighting crime and keeping our communities safe.

Continuing the fight against Identity Theft

Cooper helped push through a measure (HB 1248) that will require state and local government to notify consumers if a security breach may have compromised their personal information and placed them at greater risk of identity theft. The new law will add to the protections put in place through last year’s comprehensive Identity Theft Protection Act, which already requires businesses to notify their customers if a security breech occurs. 

Under another bill proposed by Cooper and approved by legislators (House Bill 2883) North Carolina military personnel, veterans and their families who are victims of the recent theft of Social Security Numbers and other information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can freeze their credit for free to protect themselves from identity theft. The free security freezes will remain available for at least 90 days and could be available even longer, until January 1, 2007, unless the VA takes action to offer these impacted consumers free credit monitoring.
Stopping price gougers

Cooper fought to expand North Carolina’s law against price gouging, which previously applied only during a state of disaster such as following a hurricane or snow storm. The new law (HB 1231) will take effect whenever the Governor declares an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services. The Governor will be able to make that declaration if the President declares a disaster outside of North Carolina that substantially disrupts our market, such as occurred in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. The improved price gouging law will also apply to all levels of the supply chain, from the manufacturer through the wholesaler and distributor to the retail shop. When the law is triggered, the Attorney General’s Office can investigate potential price gouging and seek refunds for consumers who paid too much. The courts may also impose civil penalties against price gougers of up to $5,000 for each violation. 

Fighting public corruption:  

Public officials and candidates for office will need to provide more information about their financial interests by law under a proposal Cooper presented to legislators before the start of this year’s legislative session. The requirement to file economic disclosure statements will apply to legislators, executive branch officials, judicial officials and others rather than the patchwork of disclosure currently used. Lying on the disclosure form will constitute a felony. The disclosures will now be required by law instead of being left to a gubernatorial executive order, which does not cover all officials, subject to ratification of the conference report Thursday. Cooper and his department have voluntarily disclosed financial interests, and now other officials will be required to do the same.