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Our Opinion: Wilson lawmakers cast common-sense vote to raise the age

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THUMBS UP to the N.C. House for passing a bill to raise the age for adult criminal charges from 16 to 18. North Carolina is currently the only state that charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

House members voted 104-8 to approve House Bill 280 and send it along to the Senate. Reps. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, and Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, supported the bill, while Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, cast a vote in opposition.

Collins expressed concern that the bill could allow teenagers to commit violent crimes and escape with only a slap on the wrist, according to the News & Observer, but HB 280 allows judges to transfer jurisdiction to superior court for felony offenses.

Handling youthful indiscretions in the juvenile court system places the focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Under current law, a teen could be saddled with a lifelong criminal record for a minor misdeed, limiting career and college prospects and increasing the risk for recidivism.

Most legislators opted for a common-sense, bipartisan plan to give youths an opportunity to confront and correct bad behavior before they become adults. That’s worthy of applause.

THUMBS DOWN to Richmond Early College High School, which recently confiscated students’ yearbooks over what officials deemed “inappropriate” senior quotes, including one attributed to President Donald Trump.

The only disputed quote made public, chosen by a female senior, was “Build that wall,” a reference to Trump’s planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The National Coalition Against Censorship says the school overstepped. The Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that public high schools can censor yearbooks and student newspapers “so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” Suppressing a student’s view on federal immigration policy simply doesn’t pass that test.

“A school’s mission is not to insulate students from controversy, but to expose students to a variety of ideas so that they may critically analyze them,” NCAC program director Svetlana Mintcheva wrote in a letter to the early college. “Schools that fail to do so inadequately prepare their students for the real world.” We agree.

THUMBS UP to North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which recently purged problematic policies from their student handbooks in order to safeguard student speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education awarded both schools a green light, signifying that their policies no longer conflict with constitutional law. We applaud N.C. Central and UNC-Greensboro for taking important steps to ensure students can express themselves freely.

Perhaps spurred by a campus free speech bill backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest that would ban unconstitutional speech codes, North Carolina’s public universities are taking a hard look at their rulebooks.

East Carolina and UNC-Wilmington are currently revising their speech codes with FIRE’s help. We look forward to seeing these schools commit themselves to free expression.

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