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Draft Legislation Could Thwart Local Government Prequalification Process

In a Wednesday meeting of the non-standing Purchase and Contract Study Committee, Committee co-chair Senator Neal Hunt distributed draft legislation outlining conditions that would need to be met in order for government units to prequalify bidders on public projects. A subsequently circulated proposed amendment to the draft legislation would significantly limit the items a unit's prequalification policy could consider. The amendment was the focus of most of the committee's debate, with several committee members raising concerns about the severity with which it would restrict the prequalification process. Acknowledging these concerns and the unsettled nature of the committee, Sen. Hunt pledged to retool the amendment, either by modifying it or abandoning it, by the committee's next meeting. In a different item also considered by the committee, in response to concerns from the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects regarding instances when aspects of an unselected bidder's design were used in the final project, the bill also contains language that bans government units from soliciting or considering designs as part of the selection process. League staff is working with the committee to identify solutions to these issues that are workable for municipal governments in advance of the committee's April 16 meeting.
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Changes Made to Senate Committee Chairmanships

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger announced this week changes to several key Senate committees. The moves come in the wake of the retirement of Sen. Pete Brunstetter, who was one of the Senate's top budget writers. Sen. Kathy Harrington and Sen. Brent Jackson will now serve as co-chairs of the Senate Committee on Appropriations/Base Budget, the Senate's full budget-writing committee, joining Sen. Neal Hunt (who has also announced his intent to retire) and Sen. Harry Brown. Additionally, former Fayetteville City Councilman Sen. Wesley Meredith was appointed as co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of Transportation, joining Sen. Bill Rabon. Full details of all the changes to Senate committees can be found here. "The North Carolina Senate is fortunate to be able to call on this group of capable, experienced legislators who share a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility and a focus on growing jobs and our economy," Sen. Berger said in a statement. "I am grateful to each of them for stepping forward to serve the people of our state in their respective new roles."
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Contact Your U.S. Representative Regarding CDBG Funding

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee is currently considering program funding for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2015. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is one of the programs being considered as a part of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill. A group of bipartisan legislators have signed a letter showing their support for allocating $3.3 billion to the CDBG fund next fiscal year. This funding is critical for local governments, and legislative support is needed as the program budget has been reduced by 25% since 2012. Please contact your U.S. representative and ask him or her to sign the letter of support by Friday, March 28. Currently no members of the North Carolina delegation have signed. For more information and talking points on the CDBG program, visit the National League of Cities (NLC) website.
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Legislators Examine Wastewater Discharge Compliance and Costs for Jordan Lake

Major wastewater dischargers in the Jordan Lake watershed, including League members from Burlington, Durham, Greensboro, and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, presented Wednesday to the legislative Committee on Jordan Lake.

This was the third of four interim study meetings regarding the Jordan Lake Rules (JLR), and committee co-chairs Sen. Rick Gunn and Rep. John Faircloth invited these affected wastewater systems to present. Each discharger's presentation focused on efforts to comply with the Jordan Water Supply Nutrient Strategy and the costs associated with that compliance. Legislators asked specific questions regarding whether the cost of upgrades included costs the utility would incur regardless of the limits on Nitrogen and Phosphorus eventually required by the rule, and although the answer varied depending on which discharger was asked, the incredible financial commitment made or planned by each utility to comply with the rules was clear.

In addition, committee members received a presentation from N.C. Division of Water Resources Director Tom Reeder regarding alternative options for managing nutrients in the lake and the viability of each option. Committee members asked whether the "Solar Bee" aerators were the best pilot program to apply to Jordan Lake and expressed interest in trying alternative options for pilots -- if cost effective and practical. None of these technologies have been used on the scale as large as Jordan Lake. (Read more from the News & Observer.)

This JLR study, authorized in the omnibus "Legislative Research Commission" group of interim studies, came as a response to legislation last session that delayed portions of the Rules and any recommendation from the committee would be eligible for introduction as legislation in the upcoming Short Session. This Committee meets again Wednesday, April 16 at 9:00 am and will include public comment.

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State Officials to Seek Funding for Drone Oversight Board

State officials plan to submit a request for a funding allocation in the state budget to establish a new board to regulate state and local government drone use in North Carolina, State Chief Information Officer Chris Estes announced to the House Committee on Unmanned Aircrafts Systems Monday. In his report, Estes suggested that the new board be responsible for developing policies for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), approving or denying all requests for UAS use and creating standards for their operation in North Carolina. The board would have to be created by state legislation, while the funding request will need to be approved as part of the 2014-15 Fiscal Year budget. As we previously reported, Estes first recommended the General Assembly authorize UAS use by state and local governments earlier this month.
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Free Federal Transportation Funding Webinar Next Week

Next Wednesday, March 26, the National League of Cities (NLC) and Transportation for America will discuss transportation funding in a free webinar beginning at 1:00 p.m. EST. The webinar will include a panel of participants from NLC, Transportation for America, and representatives from Indianapolis, IN. Participants will discuss ways to plan for current and future transportation needs, while addressing key issues like budget constraints and competing priorities. NLC will also provide an overview of the current transportation legislation at the federal level and what local governments can expect in the future. To register for the webinar, visit this website.
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Webinars Scheduled on Federal TIGER Grants

As previously noted in LINC'ed IN, $600 million is available nationally this year for federal Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. The U.S. Department of Transportation has scheduled a series of webinars to assist those preparing or considering preparing a TIGER application. There are three webinars remaining this month, including one today at 1:00 p.m. All the webinars are free, but space is limited and preregistration is required. For more information, including slides and records of webinars already held, visit the U.S. DOT website.