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New North Carolina laws on arson, domestic protections begin soon

Firefighters battle the downtown Raleigh fire
Jason deBruyn

More severe penalties for committing certain types of arsons and large-scale thefts at stores in North Carolina are among all or portions of 10 new state laws approved by the General Assembly this year that will take effect on Thursday.

The enacted legislation creates new felony crimes for setting fire to a prison, an occupied commercial structure and an unoccupied commercial structure. Someone who commits arson also will face a felony if a first responder suffers a “serious injury” from the blaze.

Arson that results in serious injury to firefighters, law enforcement, or other first responders will be classified as a Class F felony, punishable by up to 41 months in prison.

The new law also expands the definition of arson for places of worship to include synagogues, mosques, and temples. Previously, the law only specified churches, chapels, and meeting houses.

Another law attempts to crack down on large, organized thefts at stores. Crimes of “organized retail theft” already are on the books, but now there are more serious felonies when the value of property stolen over a 90-day period exceeds $50,000. Store owners also can recover stolen goods more quickly and sue thieves for specific damages.

One of the new laws starting Thursday will allow Wildlife Resources Commission officers to accuse someone of a misdemeanor when a person breaks rules the commission creates to respond in an emergency to a serious wildlife disease. The previous law had limited such punishments to $25 fines.

Used car dealers also can now face $50 fines if they fail to formally inspect a vehicle before it's offered for sale — something they're already required to do. That's part of an omnibus motor vehicle and transportation law.

Another new rule taking effect attempts to remove any enforcement gaps in domestic violence protective orders while waiting for courts to act. This allows a judge to extend such an order temporarily beyond its expiration date until a hearing to renew it is held.

Another new law also requires criminal background checks for new firefighters.

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Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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