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Condolences to the Family of Sen. Martin Nesbitt

The League wishes to extend its condolences to the family of Senator Martin Nesbitt, who died yesterday at the age of 67. According to WRAL, the cause was complications related to stomach cancer. Earlier this week, Nesbitt announced he was stepping down as Senate Minority Leader due to a recent medical diagnosis. On Wednesday, a number of individuals lined the roadway in Buncombe County to wish Nesbitt well as he was transported home from the Triangle area. Nesbitt began as a Representative in the N.C. House in 1979 and served 11 terms there before being elected to the State Senate in 2004. The League worked with Nesbitt on a variety of issues over the years and had a deep respect for his commitment to public service. His family and friends will be in all of our thoughts and prayers. Governor Pat McCrory has ordered that all North Carolina state flags on state facilities be lowered to half staff, saying in a statement, "Sen. Nesbitt was a dedicated public servant to the State of North Carolina. He was a true professional in everything that he did. We join his family in mourning his loss." More on the life and career of Sen. Nesbitt can be found in the Asheville Citizen-Times and the News & Observer.
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Sen. Rucho Discusses Revenue Laws' PLT Proposal with T&F LAC

All three of the League's Legislative Action Committees (LACs) met this week, and on Tuesday the Tax & Finance LAC was joined by Senator Bob Rucho and Mike Hannah, Legal Counsel for the N.C. Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Rucho and Mr. Hannah addressed the need for tax reform in North Carolina, and, in response to questions from committee members, also discussed the recent privilege license tax reform proposal presented to the Revenue Laws Study Committee. Sen. Rucho, a proponent of the proposal that would limit the privilege license to a charge of $100 per business, told the committee that some cities around the state had "abused" their privilege license tax authority and that the tax was not intended to be a revenue stream for municipalities. However, he also said that through the expansion of the sales tax base, many municipalities could be "kept whole" through the additional revenue this expansion would generate. While the League is open to discussions regarding further reform of the state tax structure, reducing municipal revenues this year through legislation restricting the privilege license tax, with only the commitment to make up some of that revenue through future tax reform efforts, is not a a safe solution for cities. The Revenue Laws Committee could again take up the privilege license tax reform proposal at its meeting on Tuesday. We appreciate Sen. Rucho and Mr. Hannah adjusting their schedules to be with us this week, and we thank them for taking the time to engage with League members on these issues and look forward to working with them in the future.

Sen. Bob Rucho and Mike Hannah address the League's Tax & Finance LAC

Sen. Bob Rucho (second from right) and Mike Hannah (far right), Legal Counsel for the N.C. Senate Finance Committee, discuss tax reform with members of the League's Tax & Finance Legislative Action Committee.

In addition to the Tax & Finance LAC, members of the League's other two LACs traveled to Raleigh this week to kick off their work for 2014 as well, despite the best efforts of Mother Nature. After previously rescheduling these meetings due to last month's winter weather, all three of the LACs operated on a revised schedule this week due to another round of ice and snow. Despite that, members attended in person and participated via conference call to conduct the business of the LACs, and we thank all of the LAC members for being flexible and dedicated to their service on these important committees.

The General Government LAC was joined this week by City of Hickory Chief of Police Tom Adkins, president of the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, and Fred Baggett, NCACP Legislative Counsel. Chief Adkins and Mr. Baggett talked with the committee regarding NCACP's legislative priorities this year -- including support for the League's efforts on the privilege license tax and supporting HB 348 Public Safety Technology/State ROW -- and how the League and NCACP can continue to partner together in the future. We appreciate Chief Adkins and Mr. Baggett taking time from their schedule to join our committee, and again thank all of the LAC members for their service. The League's policy committees will be very active this year in advance of the Dec. 11, 2014, Advocacy Goals Conference, and we look forward to working with the members of all the committees in the months ahead.

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Committee Places 'Excessive' Land Use Regulations Under Microscope

The Property Owner Protection Committee kicked off its series of interim meetings Monday with an in-depth tutorial on local land use laws and practices across the state. Committee co-chair Rep. Tim Moffitt stated that the primary focus of the committee's work would be to determine which local regulations were "excessive" and to recommend legislation that would disallow these types of local regulations. In a follow-up meeting with League staff, Moffitt committed not to run this legislation in the upcoming Short Session; instead, he said he intended to propose a package in the 2015 Long Session. The study represented one of the suite of studies authorized last fall for the Legislative Review Commission.

As an example of the types of local regulations deemed excessive, committee member Rep. Tim Moore, the main sponsor of a bill last session that required the City of Durham to provide water and wastewater service to a development outside the City's jurisdiction, referenced the situation that led to that legislation. Moore stated that he did not believe cities should use access to water and wastewater utilities to deny municipal-level services to property owners such as developers. Moore also drew attention to a prior court case involving the Town of Southern Pines and land a property owner in the town wanted to use for a car dealership, expressing his preference to grant property owners vested rights in certain development permissions at an earlier point in time than under current law.

Other committee members questioned local government practices regarding the types of infrastructure improvements required of developers -- such as road and sidewalk upgrades -- especially for single-parcel development; enforcement of building code provisions; use of area plans to impose regulatory requirements on property owners; compensation if a rezoning lowered property values; how non-conforming uses are determined; the extent of zoning in counties; and allowance of farm operations in a city's extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Building on topics addressed by bills over the past few years, the agenda for Monday's meeting included presentations by UNC School of Government faculty on the following topics:

  • Authority to enforce and enact land use regulations
  • Vested rights
  • Exactions
  • Extra-territorial jurisdiction
  • Appearance standards
  • Attorney's fees

Moffitt, the primary driver behind the law that forcibly transferred Asheville's water system to a regional wastewater system, sponsored legislation similar to this study in a stand-alone bill last session. In the meeting with the League, he said the committee would likely meet two more times prior to the Short Session, then would meet again in the fall to make a package of recommendations for legislation next year. The committee will next meet on April 7 at 9:00 am in Legislative Office Building Room 544.

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U.S. House Approves Delay of Flood Insurance Changes

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in approval of H.R. 3370 Flood Insurance Affordability Act Tuesday, thanks in part to everyone at the local level who reached out to their Representatives. Of the North Carolina delegation, only Reps. Butterfield, Price, and McIntyre voted in favor of the delays. The remainder of the N.C. delegation either voted against the bill or submitted no vote. H.R. 3370 will cap FEMA's authority to increase premiums at 18 percent per property per year, repeal the provision that required sold homes to immediately pay the full actuarial flood insurance premium, and restore the grandfathering of rates based on original flood risk zones. In addition, when updating flood maps, FEMA will be required to gather local input and consider flood mitigation features. Finally, the bill directs FEMA to conduct an affordability study on provisions of the Biggert-Waters Act. Because the House passed a modified version of the Flood Insurance Affordability Act, the U.S. Senate will need to give final approval before the bill can become law.

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McClatchy: FCC Could Overturn State Laws Affecting Local Broadband

According to a report from the McClatchy Washington Bureau this week, the Federal Communications Commission will look at overturning state laws restricting the ability of local governments to build their own broadband networks. The report features the City of Wilson, which constructed its own fiber-to-the-home system in the late 2000s. The city's ability to grow its system was restricted by a North Carolina law passed in 2011, which also created barriers for future municipalities looking to enter the broadband market. (For more on that law, see page 4 of the League's 2011 End of Session Bulletin.) According to the report, the FCC is hoping to consider a formal set of rules related to this matter by the late spring or early summer.
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Candidate Filing Period for 2014 Elections Comes to a Close

The candidate filing period to appear on the ballot for a variety of offices in November ended at noon last Friday. According to a detailed analysis from the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, a total of 428 candidates filed to run for State Supreme Court, the N.C. Court of Appeals, U.S. Senate and Congress, and the General Assembly. Based on information provided by the legislature regarding the N.C. House and Senate, 43 Representatives and 12 Senators effectively won their election last Friday, as they will be unopposed in the May primaries and on the November ballot. Unofficial lists of all candidates filing for state legislative office can be found here for the House and Senate. For more on the candidates filing for office, see this report from WRAL.
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Reminder: Attend the Final Duke Streetlight Forum in Greensboro

In conjunction with Duke Energy Progress/Duke Energy Carolinas (Duke), a group of League members has developed a series of Outdoor Lighting Forums to collect feedback on customer needs and update energy customers on the latest developments in the modernization of outdoor lighting technology. With successful forums in Cary and Hickory having already taken place, the last remaining forum will be held on March 13 in Greensboro (forum details and registration here). The League has pushed for Duke to develop a modernized streetlight rate, most recently in a filing submitted in early February (read more details in "League Urges Duke to Modernize Streetlight Rates").
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DENR Readies Stormwater Tool to Make Designs Easier for Cities, Developers

A workgroup that included state environment officials and League representatives capped a year-long effort to develop "Storm-EZ," a tool that will streamline calculations used to determine the performance of low-impact development devices, at its final meeting yesterday. Now in its beta version and made available by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for testing, the tool aims to ease the ability of stormwater device designers and local government plan reviewers to utilize a broader range of stormwater devices. These additional options can often lead to less expensive stormwater control costs for developers, as well as quicker review by cities and towns. Stormwater staff members may test the new tool at the upcoming N.C. Low Impact Development Summit, held March 26-27 in Raleigh (register here). Low-impact development is a voluntary approach to stormwater management that mimics a site's natural hydrology by disconnecting impervious surface areas and incorporating designs that infiltrate, filter, store, evaporate, and detain runoff close to its source.

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State CIO Recommends State and Local Government Drone Use to Legislature

At a Thursday meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology, State CIO Chris Estes gave a presentation on the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) within the state. As part of his presentation, Estes recommended that the legislature permit state and local government agencies to fly them for certain purposes, such as search and rescue missions, surveying and mapping, agricultural research, and fire fighting support. The 2013-14 budget legislation directed the State CIO's Office to study the potential safety and privacy issues, uses and benefits, governance, and costs associated with UAS and UAV use by government entities in North Carolina. Currently, North Carolina State University's Next Generation Air Transportation Center (NGAT) is the only government entity approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the State CIO to use UAS and UAV technology in North Carolina. Estes also recommended that the General Assembly establish standards for data collection, management, and retention, and also create a UAS Governance Board.