Gov. Cooper vetoes Senate Bill 168

Gov. Cooper vetoes Senate Bill 168
July 08
14:31 2020

Sen. Lowe says he wasn’t privy to changes made to original bill

Earlier this week Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a controversial bill that included language that would have limited access to death records of those who die while in police custody.

On the surface, Senate Bill 168 seems to be geared toward improving services provided by the state’s division of mental health and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), but neatly tucked away in section two of the bill is a section that calls for “confidentiality of certain death investigation information and records received by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”

Under the current law, if someone dies while in police custody, even if the investigation is ongoing, once records are handed over to the medical examiner’s office, it becomes public record. SB 168 would’ve kept those records confidential until the end of the investigation, at which point the state examiner’s office would determine if the information is made available to the public.

The bill passed the senate just after 1 a.m. on June 26 and once word started to spread across social media, people across the state and country voiced their displeasure with the bill and urged Gov. Cooper to exercise his right to veto. Even rap legend Ice Cube joined the push. On his personal Twitter account he wrote, “This is so dirty. You know most crooks do their crimes after midnight. Governor Cooper do not sign this into law. Don’t give more cover for Killer Cops.”

Sen. Paul Lowe, who is listed as a co-sponsor, said the original bill died last year but was later picked up and revised. Unlike the House of Representatives, in the Senate changes to a bill do not have to be germane to the original bill. 

In 2013 N.C. made headlines across the country when lawmakers pushed an anti-abortion bill by using a motorcycle safety bill. According to Lowe, the controversial language was added to SB 168 in the fifth or sixth revision. He said the original bill proposed by former Sen. Floyd McKissick was to make CBD oil available to people suffering from chronic pain.

“That was the original bill. That’s what I co-sponsored … When it was gutted and the language changed, I wasn’t privy to that,” he said. “I think the new language that was added was terrible and it doesn’t help our people.”

When discussing the bill on Monday morning, Lowe said lawmakers were working on having the language removed from the bill. “I’ve been working on this for last week to see what the Governor is going to do and what we need to do the try to change this,” Lowe continued. 

“I have been talking to individuals across the aisle and they’ve been amenable to making the necessary change. I feel very confident that we will get the necessary changes done to this bill.”

A few hours after speaking with The Chronicle, Gov. Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 168. In a statement released Monday evening, Cooper said the concerns made by the public made it clear that the bill shouldn’t become law.

“Senate Bill 168 includes a provision to change the handling of public records by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner which could have the unintended consequence of limiting transparency in death investigations,” Cooper wrote. “While I believe neither the Department of Health and Human Services which proposed it, nor the General Assembly which unanimously passed it had any ill intent, the concerns that have since been raised make it clear this provision should not become law.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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