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League Amendment Would Alleviate Purchase and Contracting Burden

The Senate voted 46-0 on Thursday in favor of a League sponsored amendment to HB 369 Criminal Law Changes that would scale back 2013 legislation that has caused significant administrative burdens on North Carolina local governments. The amendment, if given final approval, would remedy the substantial red tape that now accompanies even the smallest purchases and service contracts by municipalities as a result of the 2013 law. The new provision would remove a requirement that cities and counties determine whether their contractors and vendors are compliant with the state's E-Verify laws before making any purchase or contract, regardless of size or type. Instead, local governments would only have to make sure that their contractors are complying with the E-Verify laws that govern them for public contracts in the formal bidding range.

With our amendment in place, HB 369 passed the first of two required votes in the Senate on Thursday and is scheduled for the second vote on Monday night. The League thanks Senator Thom Goolsby and Senator Floyd McKissick for working with us on this important amendment. We also would like to thank the sponsor of HB 786, Representative Harry Warren, for being so receptive to our concerns and allowing us to modify his original, well-intended legislation. For more information on last year's E-Verify legislation and its municipal implications, click here. Contact: Whitney Christensen

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ACTION ALERT: Contact Senators to Oppose Sales Tax Bill

Please contact your Senators and voice opposition to HB 1224 Local Sales Tax for Education/Economic Development Changes. The bill has been re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee and is likely be the subject of more legislative action next week. It had been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor on Thursday, but was moved back to committee in response to opposition from a number of groups, as well as some within the Republican Senate Caucus. League staff is concerned that the bill could affect the availability of revenue for public transportation and that future revenue options for all of local government could become more limited. The bill would not directly affect municipal finances in the immediate future. It would set a cap of 2.5 percent for county local-option sales taxes, except for two counties, Durham and Orange, which have existing 2.75 percent rates. For those counties that have not utilized previous authority to raise local sales taxes beyond 2 percent, the legislation would force them to choose between public transportation and public education when choosing to utilize the authority. They could not use that additional taxing authority for both.

During a Senate Finance Committee meeting in which the legislation was initially unveiled, League Legislative and Regulatory Issues Manager Erin Wynia spoke against the bill, citing the concerns about the availability of transit money for the future. Wynia noted that potential stakeholders had not had time to examine the legislation. The N.C. Association of County Commissioners also asked that the legislation be delayed and studied until next year. Mass transit advocates, business organizations and environmental groups also criticized the legislation. In Mecklenburg County, which already has a 2.5 percent local tax, the change would mean that it would be forced to drop a proposal for another quarter cent sales tax increase to fund education. In Wake County, transit advocates said the proposal could kill transit plans there. Thank you for your help on this important issue. The concerns expressed regarding the legislation are already having an effect, but the outcome remains very uncertain. Other media coverage can be found here and here. Contact: Paul Meyer


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Legislative Session to Drag Into Another Week

The North Carolina General Assembly moved through another week without reaching a budget agreement, even as House leaders eyed adjournment next week. House and Senate budget negotiators continued to meet together publicly early in the week, and the Senate made an offer that moved closer to House positions on teacher pay and Medicaid spending. Governor Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger also met over lunch to try to work through differences. Later in the week, though, the Senate rolled out a Medicaid reform plan that is very much at odds with more modest reforms proposed by the House and Governor McCrory. Senate leaders indicated that moving to a managed care model of Medicaid, where the state would attempt to manage costs by paying a private insurer on an per-enrollee basis, is the best means of controlling spiraling Medicaid costs.

The effect of the Senate's rollout of the plan was to highlight yet more differences between the two legislative chambers. Nonetheless, House leadership filed a resolution on Wednesday that would have the legislature adjourning July 25. It may not mean much. Last month, Senate leader filed a resolution calling for a June 27 adjournment. League staff continues to monitor the budget negotiations and their effect on issues important to municipalities, including historic rehabilitation tax credits, film tax credits, and various grant programs. Contact: Scott Mooneyham

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Bill Opens up Buffer Mitigation Possibilities

A Senate committee voted yesterday to advance a measure redirecting a 15-year agency effort to update the State's buffer mitigation rules. The proposal would instruct the state's top environmental regulatory body to adopt revisions that would allow for more mitigation possibilities. SB 883 Disapprove/Amend Buffer Rules would require state regulators to adopt rules “substantively identical” to those proposed in a report prepared earlier this year by private mitigation banking interests and state agency staff. The League worked for many years with state regulators on this rule set, which was prompted by a 1999 law that directed the State to expand buffer mitigation options. That effort culminated in language approved last summer to allow more mitigation in urban areas, among other measures. As it did with the previously-approved rule package, the League supported the changes directed by the Senate in this legislative review of the rules because they would ease the ability of cities and developers to compensate for any disturbances made to buffer zones along water bodies. Such compensation, or mitigation, is a requirement of federal and State law. The bill next moves to the full Senate for its consideration Monday night. Read previous coverage of the League's involvement in these buffer rules in "EMC Approves Rules that Assist Buffer Mitigation in Urban Areas," June 2013 EcoLINC. Contact: Erin Wynia
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League-Sponsored Pension Spiking Bill Progresses

HB 1195 Fiscal Integrity/Pension Spiking Prevention was  unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Pensions, Retirement and Aging on Thursday. Already approved by the House, the bill is scheduled to be voted on by the full Senate on Monday night. The League, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the North Carolina Office of State Treasurer chose to pursue this legislation in hopes of protecting the fiscal integrity of North Carolina's retirement systems by minimizing the impacts of the infrequent but costly late-career pension spikes by system participants. Previous League coverage of this issue can be viewed here. Contact: Whitney Christensen
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Moped Legislation Motors Through Senate

The Senate voted 36-11 on Wednesday to approve a piece of League-sponsored legislation that would require moped owners to register and insure their vehicles. Because the House's final version of the bill did not include the insurance requirement, the chamber would need to vote to concur on the Senate's version for the bill to become law, or it could reject that version and negotiate the differences. If the House votes to concur, the League will have achieved a 2013-14 Municipal Advocacy Goal through the legislation's enactment. We thank Senator Tom Apodaca for his assistance in getting this important legislation through his chamber and Representative Phil Shepard for sponsoring the bill and ushering it through the House. Previous League coverage of HB 1145 Insurance and Registration for Mopeds can be viewed here. Contact: Whitney Christensen
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License Plate Reader Bill also Protects Underground Utilities

The Senate rewrote a bill Wednesday to allow for the placement of public safety equipment, such as automatic license plate readers, by local and State law enforcement agencies on state highway right-of-ways. Amidst a vigorous debate in which several senators voiced objections to the bill based on privacy concerns, the Senate passed HB 348 Public Safety Technology/State ROW by a 29-18 vote on the first of its two required votes. The chamber also passed several amendments to the original bill that would protect the rights of utilities, such as municipal water and wastewater utilities, that had utility lines located underground in those same right-of-ways. Those amendments ensured that utilities retained access to their utility lines at all times, and gave those utilities the right to remove any above-ground public safety equipment if they needed immediate access to their lines, pursuant to the state's recently-revised Underground Damage Prevention Act. Senate leaders scheduled a final Senate vote for the measure on Monday. Contact: Erin Wynia
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U.S. House Approves Highway Fund Patch

The U.S. House this week passed a bill that assures the continued flow of federal transportation dollars to North Carolina and other states through May 2015. The bill still requires the agreement of the U.S. Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he believes it can be merged with Senate legislation and passed before Congress takes its August recess. Without congressional action, the Highway Trust Fund faces a $6.6 billion shortfall through the end of the current calendar year, and states would see reduced payments from the fund.

The House short-term fix still does not address a long-term problem of dedicated gasoline and fuel taxes failing to keep pace with highway needs. But if the Senate reaches an agreement with the House on the measure, it would prevent federal transportation officials from restricting payments beginning Aug. 1. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told state transportation on July 1 that he would be forced to stop same-day payments to the states unless Congress acted quickly. Read previous Bulletin coverage on this issue here. Contact: Chris Nida

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Senate Makes Third Attempt to Reform Gravel Stormwater Laws

Members of the Senate Rules Committee attached yet another attempt aimed at reforming how the state's stormwater laws treat gravel to an unrelated bill yesterday, passing the measure with little explanation of the provision to the committee, and subsequently, no committee debate. The language, the third time the Senate pushed for this reform in the past year, would tie the hands of local governments in terms of requiring adequate stormwater controls on various development and redevelopment sites. Federal and state laws mandate that local governments place these regulations on development activities in their jurisdictions. The League opposed this new proposal because it would ultimately place the burden of reducing stormwater runoff from private development solely on the shoulders of local governments. Additionally, the new Senate language would prevent municipal stormwater experts from exercising their discretion when reviewing stormwater control plans. Finally, the language would trump previously-introduced bills on the topic that would instead direct a scientific study of how well various non-paved surfaces allow stormwater to infiltrate, leaving it to state regulators to use the results of that scientific study to write regulations. The League and its affiliate, the Storm Water Association of North Carolina, actively commented on and participated in efforts to better regulate this type of stormwater runoff in the past year; read more in "EMC Initiates Permanent Rulemaking to Define Gravel" in this week's EcoLINC. Contact: Erin Wynia
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City-Related Legislation Moves Forward

Legislators took action on several bills affecting individual cities and towns this week. They include the following bills, with brief recaps.

  • SB 105 Add Towns to the State Health Plan: Allows the Town of Elizabethtown and the Town of Matthews to enroll its employees in the State Health Plan. The Senate concurred with House changes to the bill, and it now goes to Governor Pat McCrory to be signed into law.
  • HB 375 Increase Allowed Size of Passenger Buses: Allows the City of Charlotte to operate passenger buses as large as 60 feet in length on certain roads. Senate approved and the bill became law.
  • SB 788 Town of Duck/Eminent Domain: Adds the Town of Duck to the list of municipalities that can utilize eminent domain to engage in beach renourishment programs. Approved by the Senate, presented to the House.

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Run-off Elections Set Stage for Fall Races

Tuesday's primary run-offs saw one upset in a congressional race and a legislative race that determined who will fill the seat next year. Mark Walker, a former Baptist minister from Greensboro, defeated Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. in the GOP primary for the 6th Congressional District. The seat is being vacated by Republican U.S. Representative Howard Coble. Walker took 60 percent of the vote in the run-off and will face Democrat Laura Fjeld, who has served as general counsel for the University of North Carolina system, in the fall general election. Berger is the son of state Senate leader Phil Berger Sr. In another congressional run-off, Watauga County software developer Josh Brannon beat Gardenia Henley to win the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District. Brannon will face incumbent Republican U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx.

In the legislative contest, Shelly Willingham, a former state House member and Edgecombe County commissioner, defeated R.B. "Rusty" Holderness to win the Democratic run-off contest for House District 23. Because there is no Republican candidate running, the win means that Willingham, who previously served in 2001-02, will return to the House next year. The seat is now held by Democratic Representative Joe Tolson, who is retiring after eight terms in the state House. Contact: Scott Mooneyham