State Legislators Look to Change a Law That Makes Sexual Assault Convictions Difficult

North Carolina state capitol building in Raleigh.

North Carolina state capitol building in Raleigh. Konstantin L/Shutterstock


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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Feds announce $900M in infrastructure grants … New Jersey retirement-plan marketplace fails to materialize … Phoenix City Council to wrestle with rising pedestrian fatalities.

North Carolina lawmakers are hoping in the coming weeks to successfully update laws that make the Tar Heel state one of the most difficult states in which to win convictions in sexual assault cases. Current North Carolina law does not recognize mid-course second-thoughts in a sexual encounter. That is, once consent to sex is given, it cannot be revoked, as far as the law is concerned. Which means that it’s not a crime in North Carolina, as it is in every other state in the country, to force yourself on someone who had been interested in sex and then made it clear that they were no longer interested in sex. State Sens. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) and Danny Britt (R-Columbus) this spring re-introduced a bill to change that law. It’s their third attempt. “Because of the widespread knowledge about this issue, survivors aren't reporting their rapes or, when they are, they realize that the system that’s supposed to help them will fail to do so,” Skye David, staff attorney for the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told Forbes. Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would clarify the current murky state statutes around consent to sex and alcohol and drug-related “mental incapacitation.” State courts have ruled that a person can not be considered “mentally incapacitated” when they themselves were responsible for the incapacitation.  [News&Observer, Forbes]

INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING | The U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week that it has put aside $900 million for fiscal year 2019 surface transportation projects—50 percent of which meant specifically to go to rural areas. The maximum grant award through the BUILD fund will be $25 million. No more than $90 million will be awarded to a single state. [Roads & Bridges]

RETIREMENT FUNDS | Three years ago, New Jersey passed a law signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie to create a marketplace of private retirement plans vetted by the state that owners of local businesses could tap for the benefit of their employees. The law sought to fill a major hole: AARP estimates that 1.7 million workers in New Jersey lack access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. But the state’s promised Small Business Retirement Marketplace has yet to materialize. “The Christie administration simply never implemented it,” said Evelyn Liebman, of the New Jersey AARP. “None of it.” Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office after Christie, switched focus and in February signed into law a state-run IRA that officials expect to be up and running in a couple years. [NJ Advance Media]

GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE | The Washington State Democratic Party has joined top Democratic officials in calling on Republican lawmakers to expel state Sen. Matt Shea. The Guardian reported this weekend that the Spokane Valley Republican in 2017 took part in online discussions targeting anti-fascist activists for surveillance, intimidation and violent attack. In chat messages published by the Guardian, Shea appears to offer help conducting background checks on the activists. Shea and the state party didn’t respond to requests for comments from the Seattle Times on Monday. [Seattle Times, Guardian]

SAFE STREETS | Phoenix City Council this week will consider ways to stem the rising number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents on the city’s streets every year. Ninety-seven pedestrians were killed in Phoenix in 2017, more than double the number in 2010, but the city has done little to adjust the deadliest stretches of road. City staff plans to brief Council members on the Vision Zero multinational traffic safety movement. [Arizona Republic]

WIND POWER | The Anschutz Corporation subsidiaries behind the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Project have secured the last of the permits needed to begin construction. The enormous undertaking has been in the planning stages for a decade. Its wind farms will eventually include 1,000 turbines that will send power over a 730-mile line over public and private land from the Rocky Mountain state to customers in the Southwest and California. [Caspar Star Tribune]

John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.

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