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Session Nearing Its Conclusion

In a hectic start-stop mode, the 2013 Long Session of the General Assembly is close to wrapping up. It is our understanding that if outstanding issues related to tax reform and the budget are resolved this weekend, the session will wrap up either late next week or early in the following week. This time of the session is the most mysterious, as numerous highly controversial matters are dispatched by the legislature in short order. Some of these impact cities and towns in significantly negative ways, and your Government Affairs Team is working hard to defeat or amend all of these late-breaking proposals. We need your help in successfully doing so. Please be on the watch for Action Alerts, as time is of the essence! 
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Tax, Budget Negotiations to Continue Over Weekend

Sen. Tom Apodaca, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, told reporters yesterday that Representatives and Senators would be negotiating on tax reform and the State budget over the weekend. This meeting comes on the heels of House and Senate leadership traveling to the Governor's Mansion this week to discuss tax reform with the Governor. The goal is to reach consensus on both issues by early next week, raising the possibility of the General Assembly session adjourning by the end of next week. There is no indication of what a final tax reform package may look like, but the most recent Senate proposal would have cost cities and towns money, primarily through the elimination of local government sales tax refunds. Please continue to contact your House and Senate members and ask them to ensure that municipal revenues are not cut in any agreement reached and to continue to preserve transitional hold harmless payments. Contact: Karl Knapp
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Permanent Grandfathering for All Billboards Considered 'Regulatory Reform'

City authority to bring existing non-conforming billboard sites into conformity with revised zoning plans would be eliminated through the version of SB 112 Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform approved by the House of Representatives Thursday night, should the Senate concur in the House changes. Section 9b of the bill allows owners of all permitted billboards to rebuild their signs forever, irrespective of their non-conforming status. Many ordinances allow for the gradual phasing out of non-conforming uses by prohibiting repair or reconstruction of the non-conforming structure under certain circumstances. This approach allows for different or new economic development opportunities to sprout in parts of cities currently incompatible with the presence of the non-conforming billboards. No other business use receives special grandfathering of this sort under North Carolina law. The preemption of city authority in SB 112 was described by the bill sponsor as "clarifying changes." The News & Observer has more on the billboard provisions of this bill.

As part of the debate, Rep. Becky Carney's amendment to delete these provisions from the bill was defeated (vote record here), and an amendment by Rep. Chuck McGrady to soften the blow of the proposed change was never considered by the House through the use of a procedural maneuver by Rep. Tim Moffitt (vote record here). 

However, during the debate a very significant amendment was introduced by Rep. McGrady at the request of the League. The amendment, which was approved by the House, prevents the elimination of all local control over billboards (including zoning). Contact: Paul Meyer


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Regulatory Reforms Strike Down Local Authority

Both the House and Senate passed regulatory reform bills in the past week and a half that include provisions restricting the decision-making capabilities of municipal officials. While the League appreciates legislators working to lessen the intrusion into local authority in some aspects of these bills, the League remains opposed to provisions that limit local decisions. Both the House and Senate efforts now need only a favorable concurrence vote to be sent to the Governor for his consideration.

With a little over one day of debate this week, the House approved a revamped version of SB 112 Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform. Throughout multiple debates in that short timeframe, the League worked to improve one provision already approved by the Senate in May that would restrict the ability of cities and towns to pass environment-related ordinances that are more stringent than a corresponding state or federal law. In the final version approved by the House last night, cities would be required to seek approval of these ordinances from the applicable state agency regulating that field. Cities would not have to justify their ordinances to the satisfaction of agency officials if the ordinance was passed to address a serious threat to public health, safety, or welfare related to local conditions; a condition necessary to achieve discounted flood insurance rates for that jurisdiction; or was required by a federal law, among other exceptions. This bill was also amended on the House floor to include a study of water and sewer districts, a provision that already passed the House earlier this session. 

The House's regulatory reform bill came in response to an environment-only regulatory reform measure approved by the Senate last week. In less than 24 hours, HB 94 Amend Environmental Laws 2013 passed through a committee and two Senate floor votes last week. Significantly, the Senate approved a floor amendment that added a provision to shift liability for certain development plans from the designing engineer to a professional engineer working on behalf of a municipality, if the city suggests changes to the design that constitute the practice of engineering. This provision limits the discretion of municipal officials who conduct development plan reviews, and it is likely to slow development approvals. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Protest Petitions Repealed Through Regulatory Reform

In another provision of SB 112 Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform, the House repealed two statutes related to zoning protest petitions (G.S. 160A-385(a) and G.S. 160A-386). Under the existing statutes, affected landowners may petition against zoning changes. If the petition is deemed valid, the city council may only change the zoning status with a three-fourths majority vote, as opposed to the customary simple majority.  

By eliminating these statutes, the protest petition process will be eliminated. The League is neutral on this provision of SB 112, but we will continue to monitor it as it directly affects planning and zoning in municipalities. Contact: Paul Meyer


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Charlotte Airport Bill Could Become Law Next Week

The full House gave initial approval to SB 81 Charlotte Airport Authority yesterday, clearing the way for possible final approval of the bill as early as next week. Early this week the City of Charlotte opted not to accept legislators' offer of a study of the issue, based largely on the fact that 8 members of the 12-member study committee would be legislative appointees. As a result legislators opted to move forward with their latest version of the bill, which would transfer control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport to a newly-established regional airport authority on Jan. 1. Four members of that authority would be appointees of the Charlotte mayor and city council, with the remaining members representing Mecklenburg and its surrounding counties, plus one representative appointed by the other members of the authority. The League opposes this bill, as it has with other legislative efforts to make decisions regarding the control of locally owned assets. If the House gives final approval early next week as expected, the bill would move to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate will likely concur with the bill and, as a local bill, it will become law without needing to be signed by the Governor. Contact: Paul Meyer
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Bill Requiring Durham to Provide Services Moves to Senate

On Monday the House gave its final approval to SB 315 Municipal Services, a statewide bill designed to require the City of Durham to provide water and sewer service to the 751 South development in southern Durham County. The bill, which would also legislatively annex the development property into the City of Durham in 2023, is in effect for only 60 days after passage, with the intention being to limit wide application of the legislation. Even so, the League continues to oppose legislative decisions regarding the provision of local services. Representatives offered amendments to the bill on Monday, including one requiring the developers of the property to report on their job creation efforts, but legislative maneuvering prevented any of those amendments from being voted on directly. The Senate will next vote to concur on the bill, but the bill was moved off of the calendar this week and is currently scheduled for a Monday vote. If approved by the Senate the bill would be sent to the Governor to be signed into law. Contact: Paul Meyer
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House Counters Senate Jordan Lake Proposal with Delay

The House Environment Committee took an alternate approach yesterday to the Senate's May proposal to strike down the Jordan Lake Rules. In a close 12-9 vote, House committee members approved a version of SB 515 Jordan Lake Water Quality Act that would instead delay implementation of certain rules until July 2016. The legislature first passed the Jordan Lake Rules in 2009 and have delayed various parts nearly every session since then. Yesterday, both Senate and House bill sponsors told the committee to expect two other measures to complete their overall plan: one that would pay for a study of buoy technology that was touted as a way to purify the lake water, and another that would authorize a legislative study of measures to improve water quality in the lake. Some committee members voted against the measure, stating their opposition to the anticipated technology study -- which was not part of the bill being debated -- being expected to draw away $2 million from the already-reduced funds in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (read more in this WRAL report). The bill next heads for a full House vote. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Eminent Domain Amendment Inserted Into Boating Safety, Wildlife Law Bill

A bill that previously dealt only with penalties for violating boating safety and wildlife laws now includes a provision that would put a constitutional amendment regarding eminent domain authority before voters in 2014. A substitute version of SB 636 Wildlife Resources Comm. Penalty Changes was presented in the House Judiciary B Committee Wednesday, adding the constitutional amendment language to the legislation. The amendment before voters in November 2014 would allow the use of eminent domain only in cases involving a "public use," as opposed to the current statute which allows it in cases involving "public purpose." The new version of the bill would also allow the wages of local elected officials to be garnished when a monetary judgment against them is found in favor of the city. Contact: Chris Nida
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NCLM Questions Witnesses in Duke Rate Case

The League presented its case, questioned witnesses, and gained concessions in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate increase hearing before the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) this week. The League's intervention in this case is supported by the over 100 League members who belong to the NC Municipal Energy Group; read more about the efforts supported by this group. As a result of the League’s and other groups’ interventions in the case, Duke made a major concession that will likely result in a lower rate for water and wastewater facilities. In addition, under cross-examination by the League, the utility committed to devising an LED street lighting schedule by the end of the year. On this issue, NCUC Commissioner ToNola Brown Bland -- a former Greensboro assistant city attorney -- specifically highlighted municipal leaders’ comments at public hearings held throughout the state over the past two months. She noted that without an LED rate schedule, cities in the Duke service area are precluded from making the most efficient use of electricity, and she asked to know what Duke is doing in response. This line of questioning may indicate that even after the resolution of this rate case, the NCUC will pay more attention to the League’s requests to work with Duke in designing programs that benefit municipalities. Also at the hearing, the League presented one witness who testified about LED lighting schedules, while another two witnesses testified as a panel, pressing for an interactive forum with Duke and municipal leaders to address methods of lowering municipal energy costs. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Abortion Provisions Appear in Senate and House

Last week, the Senate voted to approve HB 695 Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act. The bill originated in the House as a means to prevent the application of foreign law in family courts. Before approving the bill, the Senate added in certain provisions that would affect abortion clinics in the state. Under these provisions, municipalities may not provide insurance coverage for abortions greater than what is provided by the State health plan. The State health plan provides for abortions only in cases of rape or incest or where the health of the mother is endangered. Governor McCrory stated earlier this week that he would veto that bill unless certain concessions were made. This article by WRAL further elaborates on the Governor's comments regarding the potential veto.  

In an attempt to address the Governor's concerns, the House made some alterations to the Senate's proposal and inserted the new provisions into SB 353 Health and Safety Law Changes. The local government health coverage provision did not change. After a three-hour debate by the full House on Thursday, the bill was approved and sent to the Senate for concurrence. Contact: Paul Meyer


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Governor Appoints New Environment Board Chair

Just in time for this week's meeting of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC), Governor Pat McCrory appointed Charlotte attorney Benne Hutson as the new chair of the board. The EMC makes most of the significant environmental regulatory decisions affecting cities and towns, and the League looks forward to a cooperative relationship with Hutson guiding the Commission's agenda. Hutson replaces EMC commissioner Steve Smith as chair; the League is pleased to continue working with Smith, who will continue to serve on the board through the remainder of his term. In the near term, we also expect the Governor to make appointments for the five board seats that are currently expired, including one designated for a local government representative. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Greenway Standards Bill No Longer a Greenway Standards Bill

A bill that would have required the N.C. Department of Transportation to establish construction standards for greenways was modified in committee this week, becoming legislation dealing with license plates for automobile dealers that was quickly approved by committee and the full House. SB 653 DOT/Oversight Standards for Greenways became SB 653 Clarify Dealer Plates in the House Transportation Committee before being sent on for approval. The establishment of greenway standards was chosen by League members as a Municipal Advocacy Goal for the 2013-14 session, but this latest development leaves legislators with little opportunity to address this goal in 2013. Contact: Chris Nida
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Local Bill Would Allow for Discussions Outside Quasi-Judicial Process

The Senate gave its approval to HB 538 Apex Land Use Changes Wednesday, sending it to the House for concurrence with changes made by the Senate. The local bill applying to the Town of Apex would give members of the Town Council the ability to communicate with parties impacted by required quasi-judicial hearings. The restriction of ex-parte communication would still apply to the Apex Board of Adjustment. The House did not vote on the bill before adjourning for the weekend, meaning a concurrence vote could come next week. Contact: Paul Meyer
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Governor Acts on Bills Affecting Cities

Last week, Governor McCrory signed two bills into law which will impact municipalities in the state, including SB 264 Abate Nuisances/Drug Sales From Stores. The League's Government Affairs team has worked closely with legislators in support of this bill, as it will give municipalities the ability to use nuisance abatement authority when illegal activity is not the sole purpose of the building or place. The passage of this bill achieves one of the Municipal Advocacy Goals for the 2013-2014 biennium. Prior League coverage of the bill is available here.

HB 785 Cost-Sharing/Transportation Improvements, signed into law on July 3, authorizes the NCDOT to create a pilot program to test cost-sharing on transportation improvements. The proposed formula would appropriate costs of transportation projects to various parties, including the DOT, counties, cities, and private developers. Prior League coverage of the bill is available here.