TAR HEEL VIEW: Raising the age, easing ballot access were wise moves

THUMBS UP to state lawmakers for voting to raise the age for most adult criminal charges from 16 to 18, making North Carolina the last state to extend its juvenile court jurisdiction.

After a “raise the age” bill cleared the N.C. House last month, the legislation was bundled into the 2017-18 state budget — no doubt a result of horse-trading and careful compromise between the House and Senate.

Minors accused of violent felonies can still be tried as adults, but beginning in December 2019, less-serious crimes will be handled in the juvenile justice system. The change shifts the focus from punishment to rehabilitation of youthful offenders, and other states that have raised the age see less recidivism.

Juvenile records are confidential, meaning teenagers’ petty crimes will no longer turn up on criminal background checks, where their presence often makes it difficult to find gainful employment.

Democrats have long supported this reform, but the measure was a tough sell for some law-and-order Republicans. It likely took prodding from the John Locke Foundation, a prominent North Carolina conservative think tank, to convince them raising the age is sound public policy.

“This is an example of conservatives adapting and applying their longstanding principles based on new information, which has revealed long-term reductions in both crime and cost when juveniles are kept out of adult courts,” wrote syndicated columnist John Hood, the foundation’s chairman.

THUMBS DOWN to a Wake County magistrate banning the Rev. William Barber and 31 other protesters from the N.C. Legislative Building following their arrest on trespassing charges last month.

Barber, who recently stepped down as head of the North Carolina NAACP, has been charged with trespassing numerous times in acts of civil disobedience. Supporters applaud his courage and opponents call it a tired publicity stunt. But Barber has never resisted or been violent. He poses no threat to state lawmakers or their staffers.

The state Constitution safeguards Tar Heels’ right to assemble and “to apply to the General Assembly for redress of grievances,” making it unlikely that the building ban will stick if challenged in court.

Our legislature and the building where it convenes belong to the people. They must remain open to all.

THUMBS UP to Senate Bill 656, which would give third-party and unaffiliated candidates a better chance of making it on the ballot in local and statewide races. The bill, also known as the Elections Freedom Act of 2017, is heading to the House floor after clearing committee on Wednesday.

Political parties would need 10,000 signatures to gain ballot access instead of the current threshold — about 93,000 signatures representing 2 percent of those who voted in the last election. Individual candidates with no political affiliation would be required to collect just 5,000 signatures.

The two-party system has a virtual monopoly on state and national politics, but it has no constitutional basis and some Founding Fathers were famously wary of political parties gaining too much influence.

Citizens should be able to run for public office whether or not they align themselves with Democrats or Republicans. Voters deserve choice and competition.

The Wilson Times