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North Carolina AG urges public safety, law enforcement bills

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein called for passage of a package of bills involving public safety and law enforcement. The bills would tackle gun violence and the opioid crisis.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein pushed Monday for a package of crime prevention proposals he said would better equip law enforcement to tackle gun violence, the opioid crisis and the state's backlog of sexual assault cases.

Stein, the only high-profile Democrat to announce his candidacy for governor in 2024, outlined an extensive list of policy goals three days before a General Assembly deadline designed to pare down legislation that will be considered through next year. Bills unrelated to taxes or spending, elections or a few other exceptions that haven’t passed one chamber by Thursday face long odds for consideration during the rest of the biennial session.

Stein said gun violence prevention efforts are urgently needed. He exhorted lawmakers to prioritize adopting universal background checks and red flag laws, which could allow state courts to temporarily remove firearms from people who might pose a danger to themselves or others.

Republicans, who hold veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers, oppose those ideas but have found some common ground with Democrats, primarily on the safe storage of firearms.

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"We don't want to have there be a school tragedy for this state to take action," Stein said. "We can take action today that will reduce the likelihood of a school shooting ever occurring."

Some bipartisan crime prevention bills have already passed one chamber, including those classifying synthetic drugs called nitazenes as controlled substances and making it a felony to possess equipment used to produce counterfeit pills containing fentanyl. But House Minority Leader Robert Reives of Chatham County acknowledged that most proposals backed by Democrats have "not had a chance to be talked about."

Stein also proposed the state establish a unit to help local law enforcement investigate hundreds of cold cases he's been dedicated to reviving since he took office in 2017. In what he promotes as one of his primary achievements as attorney general, Stein worked with the legislature to set aside millions of dollars for police to run DNA tests on a backlog of thousands of sexual assault kits in their custody.

He announced Monday that 95% of those older kits have now been tested or submitted to labs for testing, generating about 900 hits. He said, however, that local law enforcement has yet to follow up on those hits because it's "severely strapped for resources."

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