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Session Adjournment for Real?

State lawmakers returned to Raleigh on Thursday for legitimate floor sessions and votes, almost two weeks after leaving town without a formal agreement on adjournment. The reconvened session appeared as if it would lead to the passage of a handful of bills and an agreement to at least adjourn until November, when Senate leaders want to meet to consider a Medicaid reform plan. As legislators met on Thursday, it was far from clear that they would do much more than come to an agreement about a formal adjournment. Senate leaders had said in the days leading up to Thursday's sessions that they expected no substantive legislation to pass.

Then on Thursday, senators took four House bills, stripped them of their contents and used three to give the House separate adjournment options. They also passed a bill fixing an education-related budget provision, but tied its passage in the House to the approval of a controversial local tax measure. And the Senate approved an appointments bill. On Friday, they sent an agreed-upon, 47-page regulatory reform bill to the House. There was also a surprise in the House, where there has been more of a push to consider a final raft of legislation before adjournment. The Senate's version of HB 369 Criminal Law Changes, which the House had rejected more than a month earlier, was revived through a couple of procedural votes and then given approval just before noon Friday. It is now headed to Gov. Pat McCrory to be signed into law. The legislation is significant for municipalities because it addresses a burdensome E-Verify rule affecting all purchases and contracts. (Read previous coverage here.)

It was far from clear what other surprises might be in store before legislators adjourn, but adjournment did appear likely to occur today or Saturday. League staff continues to monitor the developments as the session appears to near its completion. We thank all of you for your involvement seeking outcomes beneficial to municipalities and their residents. Read media coverage here and here. Contact: Scott Mooneyham


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Legislators Move on Simplified Version of Regulatory Reform

Legislators took a final stab at regulatory reform legislation as they met again late this week, rolling out a 47-page conference report to SB 734 Regulatory Reform Act of 2014 that avoided many of the most controversial regulatory provisions that had been in earlier versions of regulatory bills. The Senate voted to approve the bill, but it still requires House approval and Governor Pat McCrory's signature to become law. The legislation would immediately repeal a de facto moratorium on local environmental ordinances that the League had worked to have reversed. Gone from the bill was a provision opposed by the League that would completely repeal the protest petition process.

Provisions included that could affect cities and towns:

  • Sec. 15, which gives counties the ability to enforce floodplain ordinances on bona fide farms in municipal extraterritorial jurisdictions. Read previous coverage here.
  • Sec. 16, which would restrict local review protocols when unforeseen, proposed land uses do not conform to existing uses in an area. It would not apply to zoning permits. Read previous coverage here.
  • Sec. 46, which excuses developers from having to build additional stormwater controls when the U.S. Postal Service requires retrofitting for subdivision cluster mailboxes. Read previous coverage here.
  • Sec. 45, which changes the rules related to gravel and built-upon area regarding stormwater programs. It did not include a study of these issues. Read previous coverage here.
  • Sec. 54, which, for areas east of Interstate 95, changes the ratios at which land must be mitigated when development affects isolated wetlands. Read previous coverage here.

With most of the controversial measures removed, the Senate quickly approved the bill in a 35-1 vote on Friday morning. The House had yet to follow suit by noon Friday, but the bill had been calendared. During floor debate, Sen. Trudy Wade said the legislation will "help industry and help us move forward in the state." Contact: Erin Wynia


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Senate Move May Signal Coal Ash Deal

The Senate recalled and took a procedural vote on a bill regulating coal ash Thursday night before reappointing conferees, a move that may signal a coming deal on the issue before legislators adjourn. A deal on SB 729 Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 had fallen apart in the final days before legislators left town in early August. Besides the potential effects on water supplies, the coal ash bill is critical to municipalities because of a provision clarifying state law regarding compliance boundaries affecting municipal wastewater and inactive hazardous waste facilities. Read background on the potential effects of the legislation on municipalities here. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Senate Ties Teaching Assistant Fix to Local Sales Tax Bill

The Senate attempted this week to revive local sales tax legislation that would cap a handful of urban counties' future authority to raise local-option sales taxes. The Senate tied the passage of HB 1224 Local Sales Tax Options/Economic Development Changes to a separate budget fix bill intended to give school districts flexibility to avoid cutting teaching assistant jobs. The budget fix would be triggered if the House approved HB 1224, legislation that its members had earlier balked at passing. HB 1224 also included a new jobs recruiting fund that Governor Pat McCrory wants, but which several House members oppose. 

As legislators met on Thursday, it was far from the clear that the Senate maneuver would work. House members did not immediately indicate that they would take up the Senate bill. The League opposes HB 1224, raising concerns that it does not represent a comprehensive approach to local funding needs and only considered one-half of the local government equation to economic development and job creation. The Senate did include a study of historic preservation tax credits in the bill. Contact: Chris Nida


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FCC Seeks Comments on Wilson Petition

The Federal Communications Commission is continuing to seek public comment regarding the City of Wilson's petition asking that the federal agency pre-empt a state law that restricts expansion of the city's broadband network. Let the agency know where you stand regarding community-owned broadband and the 2011 state law, opposed by the League, which restricts it. You can enter comments here. Read already-entered comments here.

Wilson and Chattanooga, Tenn., each filed separate petitions late last month asking the agency to use authority granted under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The cities filed the petitions in response to comments by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicating that he was contemplating pre-emption of state laws like North Carolina's because of the need to promote broadband competition. The initial phase of the public comment period runs through Aug. 29. Media coverage regarding the petitions can be found here and here. Contact: Kim Hibbard


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EPA Adds to NC's Impaired Waters List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave public notice Wednesday of its decision to add 52 waters back to North Carolina's 303(d) impaired waters list. This notice came after EPA announced its partial approval of the state's submitted 303(d) list.

The 303(d) list is named after Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to evaluate the health of their waters and “list” those exhibiting impairments every two years. Impaired waters most often become subject to water pollution restrictions for the affected watershed, usually in the form of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Local governments, as the holders of wastewater and stormwater discharge permits, bear responsibility for reducing their discharges to waters under a TMDL, often a costly requirement.

EPA's decision to add waters to North Carolina's list comes as a result of EPA favoring a so-called “one in three” listing methodology for toxic parameters over North Carolina’s “90% confidence limit” methodology, which was selected by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) last year. The public comment period regarding EPA's decision ends September 12. Comments can be submitted via electronic mail at hopkins.marion@epa.gov; EPA is not taking oral comments. Contact: Sarah Collins


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Cape Fear River Testing Shows No Toxic Algae

State officials say testing in the lower Cape Fear River has found none of the toxic blue-green algae that forced city officials in Toledo, Ohio, to shut down that city's water supply. The Division of Water Resources conducted testing last week near water intakes for the regional water system for Wilmington and New Hanover County and near an intake for Brunswick County. The testing was conducted after students from UNC-Wilmington say they found the presence of the algae in earlier tests. Local utility officials say the water supply was not in jeopardy. Read more media coverage here and here.
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Governor Signs League-Supported Moped Registration Bill

The League has achieved another of its 2013-14 Municipal Advocacy Goals with Governor Pat McCrory's signing of HB 1145 Insurance and Registration for Mopeds last week. The legislation will require moped operators to register their vehicles with the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) effective July 1, 2015. The bill also authorizes a study by the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee of whether moped operators should be required to have insurance in order to use the vehicles on public streets and highways. The League thanks the bill's sponsors and conferees for their leadership on this important issue. Contact: Whitney Christensen
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Submit Your Legislative and Regulatory Proposals

The League continues to seek proposals for legislative and regulatory advocacy goals for the 2015-16 biennium. These proposals are an integral part of the process for determining the League's Municipal Advocacy Goals for the upcoming legislative session. Click here to submit your proposals. The deadline is Aug. 31. Proposals may be sent by elected officials or staff members from member municipalities, and each proposal should indicate whether the governing body of the municipality has voted on and approved the proposal. 

As a note, the League may also request that you visit one of our policy committees to further explain your suggested goal, as a part of the goals selection process.  This is your policy process - please give this thoughtful consideration and participate so the League may speak for you! Contact: Cara Bridges


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Lee to Finish Goolsby Term

The Republican candidate seeking to replace Sen. Thom Goolsby will finish out his term after the two-term senator decided to resign from his seat. Michael Lee, an attorney who had served on the state Board of Transportation and state Ports Authority Board, was selected by New Hanover County Republican Party leaders to complete the remainder of Goolsby's term. Lee had already won the GOP nomination for the seat after Goolsby decided not to seek another term. He faces Democrat Elizabeth Redenbaugh.
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EMC Votes for Temporary Buffer Rules to Proceed to Public Notice

The N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) yesterday expressed general support for the substance of a temporary buffer rule, even while criticizing the process that led to the rulemaking. The Commissioners' comments came during a special meeting yesterday to discuss the rule, which was mandated in SL 2014-95. The session law required the EMC to adopt the “Mitigation Program Requirements for the Protection and Maintenance of Riparian Buffers” rule no later than October 1, 2014, and that the temporary rule must be substantively identical to the recommended rule text contained in the April 10, 2014 Consolidated Buffer Mitigation Rule Stakeholder Report.

The EMC voted to send the proposed temporary rule out for public comment. The comment deadline is September 12 and a public hearing will be held on August 28 -- both cursory procedures since the EMC has been instructed to adopt a rule identical to the report. The League supports this rulemaking effort because it will ease the ability of cities and developers to compensate for any disturbances made to buffer zones along water bodies. Contact: Sarah Collins