(The Center Square) – A bill that could reduce mass incarceration in North Carolina is on its way to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk.
The First Step Act, which was approved 119-0 by the House on Wednesday, overturns a portion of the state's mandatory minimum sentencing statute. The Senate approved the bill, 48-0, on Tuesday.
The act allows judges to decide whether to sentence a defendant in a low-level drug offense case under the habitual offender sentencing guidelines.
It also allows a person who was sentenced for trafficking or conspiracy to commit trafficking to seek a shorter sentence, and it authorizes the Department of Information Technology to study the collection of criminal justice data.
Under current law, a person who has pled guilty or has been convicted of three felonies is considered a habitual felon and is subject to a sentence for a felony class that is four times higher than what they were convicted of, but no higher than a class C.
The bill's sponsors said the First Step Act promotes rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders and drug users. As of April 30, 4,657 people were housed in North Carolina state prisons under the state's habitual offender law.
Cooper was North Carolina's attorney general for 16 years and a state senator before becoming governor. As a senator, Cooper voted in favor of several mandatory minimum sentencing rules.
Ongoing national protests over policing have prompted Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to launch task forces to examine ways to address racial injustices and police reform.