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Panel Takes Up Dueling Economic Distress Proposals

A legislative subcommittee yesterday began hashing through dueling proposals to replace the state's current three-tier system of measuring economic distress. Staff from the legislature's Program Evaluation Division (PED) and the N.C. Department of Commerce presented legislators with different approaches to revise these measurements. The state currently uses the tier system's rankings when deciding how to fund applications to its CDBG, Industrial Development Fund, Economic Infrastructure, and Building Reuse programs. Municipalities submit project applications to all of these funding programs.

At times, legislators appeared to mediate between the staff presenting the two competing proposals. Ultimately, the subcommittee members, each of whom serve on both of the legislative committees taking up the economic distress measure issue during this interim, directed legislative staff to draft a bill that blended features of both PED's and Commerce's proposals. In the concept developed by the subcommittee, the proposal would include a state-level oversight board led by Commerce that would develop policies for targeting state resources to economic development activities. It would also adopt Commerce's proposal to replace the current tier system with an index which would take into account causes of distress such as an area's unemployment rate, median household income, average annual wage, and population without a high school diploma (read more in this presentation).

Due to the high number of outstanding issues to be resolved, the subcommittee will meet at least one more time to consider this proposal. Once approved by the subcommittee, the proposal would then advance to the full PED Committee before ultimately being considered by the legislature's leading economic development committee, now slated to meet March 17. Any proposal approved by this committee would be eligible for introduction during the legislative short session that begins April 25. Contact: Erin Wynia


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After Charlotte Council Vote, Legislators Consider Special Session

Following a Monday vote by the Charlotte City Council to update the city's anti-discrimination ordinance, House Speaker Tim Moore announced that his chamber might consider asking Gov. Pat McCrory to call a special legislative session to respond prior to the April 25 short session start date. In public statements this week, both the governor and legislators raised objections to one aspect of the city's ordinance, which would require all businesses that serve the public to allow persons to choose a bathroom based on the gender with which they identify.

More broadly, the Charlotte ordinance would prohibit discrimination on the basis of "marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression" in all places of public accommodation, as well as taxis. Secondarily, the ordinance would prohibit the city from awarding a contract to any business that discriminated along these lines. Importantly, unlike other similar ordinances across the country, the Charlotte ordinance does not regulate private-sector employment or housing practices. Absent legislative action overturning a portion of the ordinance, the ordinance would take effect April 1.

The Charlotte Council voted 7-4 to approve the ordinance change Monday after a three-hour public hearing with 140 speakers. In advance of the vote, McCrory warned the council that approval would cause "immediate" action by the legislature to remove the statutory authority under which the council took action. Other House members weighed in on the vote as well, including Speaker Moore, House Majority Leader Mike Hager, and Charlotte Rep. Dan Bishop. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Changing Demographics Could Alter Transportation Priorities

Members of an interim House committee considering long-term transportation priorities expressed surprise at the latest demographic figures for the state, spurring discussion about whether the state's current transportation priorities will meet North Carolinians' needs 25 years from now. Data presented by the Carolina Population Center that drew the most attention from legislators included:

  • Next year, the number of millennials in North Carolina will outweigh the number of baby boomers
  • Only one percent of the state's expected growth will take place in non-metro areas
  • Growth rates in the state for the past five years were even more concentrated in urban areas than had been predicted, especially in the Triangle region
  • The state continues to age at a fast rate, driven by a large influx of retirees; by 2035, more than 20 percent of residents will be over age 65

In response to this information, Rep. John Fraley questioned how state leaders should balance transportation investments, pointing out the demands on the state's highways and other transportation networks caused by a concentration of jobs into a few urban centers. He also noted the tension with the types of investment needed in areas of the state that are experiencing rapid population declines along with a population that is aging. Rep. Becky Carney framed the question for the committee as examining the state's transportation needs within job centers, which she said likely differed from the need to connect the state as a whole for the transportation of goods.

The committee will continue its look at the state's long-term transportation needs March 7, where the League is slated to present the vision of cities regarding state-level transportation investments for the next quarter-century. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Treasurer's Office Releases Iran Divestment Act Guidance

The N.C. Department of State Treasurer this week released a memo detailing the impact of the Iran Divestment Act on local governments. That act, which became Session Law 2015-118 last year, impacts both the state and local government contracting processes. For local governments, anyone bidding on or entering into a contract must certify that they are not on the State's Final Divestment List for Iran (which will be able to be found at www.nctreasurer.com/iran), and local governments are prohibited from entering into a contract with any entity on the Final Divestment List (with limited exceptions). More information can be found in this Treasurer's Office memo. Contact: Chris Nida
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Congressional Districts, Election Plans Still Before Federal Court

One week after legislators approved new congressional districts and moved the primary date for that set of races to June 7, it remains uncertain whether the changes will hold. This week, a federal judge gave the plaintiffs who had challenged the districts until Monday to outline their objections to the new plan. Those plaintiffs immediately responded to the new plan by filing a court brief this past Monday stating preliminary objections. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to stop the lower court action that led to the new lines. Meanwhile, initial media analysis of the new districts suggests that some of them will be more competitive.

One part of the changes enacted during last week's legislative special session would affect all North Carolina elections held this year: There will be no primary runoffs. Instead of a 40-percent requirement to advance to the general election, a plurality of the vote will determine winners this year. Read more about the machinations around the congressional districts here and here


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Legislators Mull Congressional Bids Under New Maps

At least two North Carolina legislators are eyeing runs for Congress under the new congressional district plan adopted by the General Assembly. Sen. Andrew Brock of Mocksville has announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the new 13th District. Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro also has indicated that he is "strongly leaning" toward running for the seat and would face Brock in the GOP primary if he decides to run.

Those plans are contingent on whether the new districts withstand court scrutiny. The voters who successfully challenged the earlier congressional lines have already filed preliminary objections to the new plan, with more formal objections expected to go to a federal judge on Monday. Read more about the statements by Brock and Hardister here and here.


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Rep. Johnson Suffers Mild Stroke

Rep. Ralph Johnson of Greensboro suffered mild stroke this week. A statement from his election campaign said that he remains alert, conscious and "eager to get back to work for the people of the 58th District." The League wishes Representative Johnson a speedy recovery.


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Obama Administration Pushes Back on Sanctuary City Policies

The Obama administration is enacting a new policy that will squelch some of the so-called sanctuary cities polices which discourage local cooperation with federal immigration deportation. The move comes less than a year after North Carolina legislators approved legislation to prevent cities here from adopting ordinances that provide limited safe harbor to undocumented immigrants and restrict local law enforcement officers from enforcing federal immigration law.

Under the new federal policy, the federal Bureau of Prisons will put prisoners finishing any state or local sentences into immigration custody by default when federal immigration authorities seek deportation, even if local or state officials want the immigrant to finish a state or local sentence. The policy puts additional restraints on local or state governments that adopt sanctuary policies. In North Carolina, the handful of municipalities that adopted sanctuary policies were primarily focused on avoiding immigration status checks on victims or witnesses to crimes in order to encourage cooperation in fighting crime. Read more about the new federal policy here.  


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Drones One Step Closer to Take Off

The Federal Aviation Administration looks like it is moving another step closer to approving drone flights for non-commercial and commercial use. This week, the FAA asked a task force composed of public- and private-sector stakeholders to produce a report by April 1 with recommendations on how to safely allow full-scale flight operations. The action follows the creation of a federal registration program for owners. North Carolina legislators, over the past two years, have approved laws governing the unmanned aircraft in anticipation of FAA action. Read more about that latest state law here and find out more about the FAA action here.