Members of the House Judiciary Committee endorsed changes to the Racial Justice Act that would narrow the use of statistics to prove racial bias in death sentences. The bill now goes to a vote of the full House.
House Republicans say they want a version of the bill that is veto-proof.
The committee vote Monday was along party lines, with Democrats opposed.
Majority Leader Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, said the changes make the law about each individual rather than about statistics.
Democrats said the revision essentially repeals the 2009 law because defendants could not use statistics alone to prove racial bias.
"This bill is government at its disingenuous worst," said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat. The bill acknowledges racial bias exists, but "makes it impossible for a defendant to prove it," he said.
In April, Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks, in the first claim filed under the act, re-sentenced a death-row inmate to life in prison without the possibility of parole, finding there was statistical evidence of bias. Earlier this month, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation said three clients it represents in Cumberland County cases were also entitled to reduced sentences because of Weeks’ ruling.