Limits on opioids among new laws taking effect


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Restrictions on opioid prescriptions and a controversial cancellation of judicial primaries are among the many new state laws taking effect this week.

The General Assembly's website lists 20 bills enacted in 2017 with provisions that took effect on Jan. 1. The changes in law range from minor to major in their impact and touch diverse areas, including driver's education, stormwater fees paid by airports, and how seasonal amusement workers are paid.

Of the laws taking effect on Monday, two are high-profile. The first, the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, makes many changes to how opioids are prescribed statewide. The legislation — a rare bill that passed the House and Senate unanimously — is a response to the “epidemic” of opioid abuse that's caused the deaths of many North Carolinians. Northeastern North Carolina shared in those deaths, as health and law enforcement officials spent much of 2017 wrestling with abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin.

Effective Jan. 1, the law forbids prescribing more than a five-day supply of opioids for “acute pain,” which the law describes as pain expected to last three months or less. For acute pain following surgery, the law instead allows a seven-day supply of opioids. The provision, which doesn’t apply to hospitals or nursing homes, is meant to limit the number of opioids that may be stolen or abused.

The provision also shields practitioners from legal liability and disciplinary action if they limit prescriptions in accordance with the law. 

Another high-profile law that took effect Monday eliminates judicial primaries in 2018 and includes other election-related changes. Republicans passed the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017 over Gov. Roy Cooper's veto. Democrats have sued to block the law’s changes, decrying the bill as Republican meddling in a judiciary whose rulings have stung the GOP — evidenced in part, they say, by eliminating primaries for statewide seats not affected by redistricting.

The bill also makes it easier to get state recognition for a new political party, lowering how many votes for a gubernatorial candidate the party has to get for recognition. The new law also reduces the number of signatures unaffiliated candidates in various races need to get on ballots, and, in primary elections, reduces the plurality required for a candidate to win without facing a second primary. That threshold is now 30 percent of the vote, down from 40.

As for other laws taking effect Monday, noteworthy ones include:

* SL 2017-95: The law requires the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles to modify its driver's license handbook to include information on law enforcement procedures during traffic stops and actions motorists should take. That information is also required to be taught in driver's education in high schools, starting this school year.

* SL 2017-132: The law forbids counties and cities from imposing stormwater utility fees on runways and taxiways on military property, and allows other airports to claim an exemption from those fees if they use the savings to recruit businesses. The law would apply to the Elizabeth City Regional Airport, whose runways belong to the U.S. Coast Guard. However, Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County officials confirmed Tuesday that the airport, which is outside the city limits, isn't charged stormwater utility fees.

* SL 2017-144: The law requires applicants for a pharmacist's license to provide the N.C. Board of Pharmacy a criminal background check, the results of which remain confidential.

* SL 2017-185: The law adds employees of “seasonal amusement or recreational establishments” to the categories of employees exempt from overtime and record-keeping laws. While striking a statute that entitled those workers to time-and-a-half if they worked more than 45 hours, the law compensates for that somewhat by eliminating the Commissioner of Labor's authority to allow them to be paid less than the state minimum wage.

* SL 2017-191: The law directs the DMV to offer driver’s licenses that include a designation that a person is deaf or hard of hearing. The law doesn't change who is eligible to drive, but aims to prevent misunderstandings between law enforcement and the hard-of-hearing during traffic stops.

To see a complete list of the new laws that took effect Jan. 1, go to www.ncleg.net and click “2017 Legislation with effective dates of July 1, 2017, through Jan. 1, 2018.”