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State House approves raise the age bill

Updated: May. 17, 2017 at 4:46 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WECT/AP) - The North Carolina House of Representatives voted 104-8 Wednesday to approve a bill that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 for most offenses, marking another step toward the state not charging minors as adults.

North Carolina is the only remaining state in the nation that automatically charges all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of the crime. New York legislators agreed in April to a two-year phase out of the practice.

The measure would take effect in 2019 and shift misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases to juvenile court. A competing Senate proposal would only shift misdemeanor cases.

Even though the House bill has bipartisan and law enforcement group support, some lawmakers have voiced concerns about the financial challenges of moving cases to juvenile court.

"Sending kids into the adult criminal justice system puts their safety and future at risk and harms North Carolina's communities in countless ways," said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. "This bipartisan House vote is a hugely important step toward fixing a long overdue injustice that now exists only in North Carolina. We stand with a broad coalition of North Carolinians in urging the Senate and Governor Cooper to pass this much-needed measure into law and finally do the right thing for North Carolina and its young people."

House Bill 280, which has received support from Republican and Democratic leadership as well as children's advocates and law enforcement groups, would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction for misdemeanors and low-level felonies, meaning that 16- and 17-year-olds charged with those offenses would be redirected to the state's juvenile justice system.

The bill's language was based on a series of recommendations made by a commissioned chaired by NC Chief Justice Mark Martin, who has endorsed the proposal. Senate Leader Phil Berger has also said the issue is a high priority for the state Senate.

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