Rep. Chazz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, is the sponsor of legislation that would change the legal rules on some sexual assault cases in North Carolina. Here he speaks at a Carolina Public Press forum in Wake County in March 2019. To his left is Monika Johnson-Hostler, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Karen Tam / Carolina Public Press

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Time is running out for state senators to vote on a bill this year that would modify the state’s sexual assault statutes to eliminate a loophole.

Currently, North Carolina law does not consider sex with an incapacitated person to be rape if that person caused their own incapacitation through drinking or drug use.

House Bill 393 passed the state House of Representatives without dissent in April, receiving strong bipartisan support. The measure would change state law to override the decade-old legal precedent on sex with incapacitated victims.

The bill would also change the definition of a child’s caregiver and make it illegal to tamper with someone’s drink even if another crime does not occur afterward.

At the time, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Jay Adams, R-Catawba, implored unanimous support for the measure. He recalled a family friend whose drink had been poisoned 45 years ago.

“She was the sweetest gal,” Adams said in April. After the vote, he said, “I think it’s a good bill. I hope it’s as equally bipartisan in the Senate.”

So far, there’s simply been no action in the Senate on HB 393, not even a committee hearing.

The General Assembly is now poised to end the current session after being unable to resolve a budget impasse that has lasted since Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget in late June. Lawmakers may take action on a few measures before adjourning, but it’s not clear whether HB 393 is likely to be included.

Legislators may return to session in August, but their attention is expected to focus almost entirely on resolving the budget standoff.

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Because the House passed HB 393 this year, even if there’s no action on it in the next few days, it will still be around for Senate consideration during the General Assembly’s 2020 short session.

Rape law loopholes

Carolina Public Press and nearly a dozen media partners highlighted two problematic sexual assault laws in a series earlier this year, called Seeking Conviction.

In addition to the precedent on incapacitated rape victims, a 40-year-old legal precedent also says that once a person consents to a sex act, it is not a crime to continue having sex if that person revokes consent. A proposal that would have changed that, Senate Bill 563, died in the state Senate without a hearing earlier this session.

State Sen. Danny Britt Jr., R-Robeson, a co-sponsor of SB 563 and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CPP during a May interview that although he did not believe his bill was controversial, sometimes bills don’t pass in Raleigh for many different reasons.

“Oftentimes, it’s not the subject, it’s who’s running the bill and how they explain the bill,” Britt said. “It’s how they approach people, who have to understand the bill. There can be a lot of reasons why a bill that is a good bill is still not going to move in the General Assembly.”

Unlike HB 393, the Senate bill cannot come up for further action next year, but some of the proposals in that legislation could be added to other bills, including potentially to HB 393.

Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, one of HB 393’s primary sponsors in the House of Representatives told CPP in May that he was open to such additions.

“Any positive changes to our laws are welcome,” he said.

In May, he also expressed hope for the bill going forward. “I remain hopeful that our bill will pass the Senate and make it to the governor’s desk, but we have to keep working and we have to keep pushing,” he said.

CPP was unable to reach Beasley for this article.


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Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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