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Legislature Eyes the Homestretch

In a typical week at the General Assembly, the Legislative Building on Jones Street in Raleigh clears out by Thursday afternoon so lawmakers can return to their home districts for the weekend. Not this time. Giving every indication that they'd like to finish business altogether and adjourn for the year, Senate committees laid out an unusual Friday schedule with agendas covering miscellaneous bills including one that would set penalties for illegal-immigration-related "sanctuary" policies in local government. (More on that in this newsletter.) Another would concern constitutional amendments on eminent domain, an income tax rate cap, and hunting and fishing. Friday's business was still in progress at the time of this writing, meaning some details here may change.

But, meanwhile, the Associated Press on Thursday reported that House and Senate leaders were indeed on the homestretch of state budget negotiations -- the primary focus of the legislative "short session" -- and that an agreement could land by Monday. Details, however, remained in flux over tax cuts and state employee raises, which are two of the most talked-about pieces of the House and Senate plans. McClatchy newspapers reported that adjournment could come within the next two weeks, though it's still a question as to whether House Bill 2 will receive any changes. "There's clearly conversations still happening, but as far as what will happen, nobody really knows at this point," House Speaker Tim Moore was quoted as saying.

Read on for more legislative details and other items of interest to municipalities.


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Two Senate Committees Advance Harmful Land Use Bill

Despite doubts expressed by members of both political parties, two Senate committees advanced this week a harmful land use bill opposed by the League due to its impact on taxpayers and property owners, as well as its chilling effect on local government land use decisions. Please continue to contact your senators to explain the effects of HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes, which would incentivize litigation at local taxpayer expense, weaken protections for neighboring property owners of new developments, and undermine infrastructure performance guarantees that protect new property owners and local taxpayers.

Asheville City Attorney Robin Currin, who litigated land use cases in private law practice for more than two decades prior to her current position, testified on behalf of cities before the Senate Judiciary I Committee on Tuesday. High Point City Attorney Joanne Carlyle spoke before today's Senate Commerce Committee in support of the League's position. Both city attorneys told committee members that the bill would dramatically increase the legal causes of action in this area, a move that would cost taxpayers and create a greatly elevated risk for many local boards making land use decisions. Members of the judiciary committee echoed those concerns, asking bill sponsors to slow down the proposal and work on modifications. In particular, the League thanks Sens. Michael Lee, Floyd McKissick, and Gladys Robinson for raising questions about the proposal during the committee debates. The League would also like to thank Senate leaders for meeting with staff to discuss the concerns. After receiving a favorable vote by the Senate Commerce Committee this morning, the bill moves next to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations. Click here for more background on the bill. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Expanded Bill Would Penalize Cities for Immigration Law Noncompliance

A House bill that originally dealt with jury duty has been expanded to include unique penalties upon local governments for lenience on immigration law. HB 100, which was on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Friday afternoon agenda, would block local governments from school and Powell Bill funding if they have so-called “sanctuary” policies for immigrants in the country illegally. The League is not aware of any municipalities that are out of compliance with current law. The General Assembly last year passed legislation against local-level sanctuary policies, including the acceptance of identification cards provided by nonprofit organizations to such immigrants. The current legislative proposal would establish the penalties for local governments not complying, including a block on road funding for the year that follows a supposed violation. The League believes that tying Powell Bill dollars to a law unrelated to street construction and maintenance appears unprecedented and would penalize local taxpayers in ways that have nothing to do with the issue.

Other facts about the bill:

  • The state attorney general is to launch an investigation upon receipt of an unverified "statement" by anyone who simply believes a local government is not in compliance with "a state law related to immigration."
  • There is no hearing.
  • There is no discovery opportunity.
  • The attorney general, or his designee, is the investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.
  • Any person who resides in the jurisdiction is given the right to sue for declaratory or injunctive relief. 
  • If the attorney general finds a city or town is guilty, it is to lose all of its public transportation funds for a year. If the attorney general then decides (again based on no set criteria and without a hearing) the city has not cured the problem within 60 days, then the city loses all its transportation funding for another fiscal year.
  • The local government only has a right to an appeal where required by the U.S. or state constitutions.
  • The bill also takes away an exception placed in law last year to allow law enforcement to use otherwise prohibited IDs if that is the only ID available to them at the time. This exception to the law was supported by the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

The approach of this expanded bill is similar to that of a Senate bill we reported on in the May 13 Bulletin. That bill, SB 868, did not advance from its first committee assignment. Subsequent committee discussions have not shed light on any cities or towns that might be out of compliance with current law. The League would like to thank Sen. Norman Sanderson for taking the concerns of cities and towns into consideration. Read media coverage of the bill here and here.


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House Gives Initial Approval to Body-Camera Legislation

After significant debate, the House gave initial approval to legislation regarding the release of law enforcement recordings -- including those from body-worn cameras. HB 972 Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record addresses any audio and video recordings of a law enforcement agency, with some exclusion, and makes it clear that these recordings are neither a public record nor a personnel record. The proposed legislation then provides a detailed framework for when that recording may be viewed or released and to whom, providing statutory guidance to law enforcement officials and courts.

House debate centered on whether an appropriate balance had been struck between transparency and privacy -- with some House members expressing frustration that there isn’t a presumption that the recordings are public. However, many members recognized the measure was a step in the right direction, noting that currently there is not a law that would require release. Bill sponsors Reps. John Faircloth and Allen McNeill received bipartisan recognition for their hard work on a complicated topic, and many House members noted the broad stakeholder involvement during the interim study committee.

Municipal officials' access to these recordings was also discussed, and it was explained that the exception that allows for the release of the recordings within a law enforcement agency for administrative purpose would allow for recordings to be released to a city/town manager or attorney. The House will hold another vote on the bill before it is sent to the Senate. Read more here and here. Contact: Sarah Collins


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Utility Permit Fee Prohibition Moves Fast

The House jumped in to support and advance a provision originally proposed by the Senate just over a week ago that would effectively prohibit municipalities from charging utility companies fees related to work in municipal rights-of-way. Before the House Rules Committee inserted the language into SB 481 Fund Small Business/DOR Rulings/City Rt of Way, the League worked with private utility stakeholders on an amendment that would push the bill's effective date to July 1, 2017. This improvement would ensure that cities who already passed budgets containing revenues from these fees would not have a budget hole at the outset of the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Friday. The League thanks legislators for supporting this amendment, and for ensuring that if the language ultimately becomes law in another vehicle -- such as HB 593 Amend Environmental & Other Laws (Section 19), currently under consideration by the Senate -- that the amended version would move forward. The House plans a Monday vote on SB 481, while the Senate has yet to calendar a floor vote on HB 593. For a short explanation of these fees, please read this article in last week's LeagueLINC Bulletin. Contact: Chris Nida


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Asheville Council Districts Bill Advances

A Senate panel on Friday advanced legislation that would change how Asheville City Council members are elected. That's despite opposition from city officials including Mayor Esther Manheimer, who extended her concerns to the Senate Redistricting Committee on Friday. SB 897 Asheville City Council Districts would provide for six electoral districts there in a change from at-large elections currently held. The bill's sponsor, Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, has said the bill is meant to provide for better representation around the city, but city officials including Manheimer say that should be a local decision. Manheimer at Friday's committee meeting did however thank Apodaca for his time communicating with the city about the bill and extended her hope that an alternative might be possible. Click here for past media coverage of the bill.


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Other Bill Action

The House and Senate did not let up their brisk committee and floor calendar paces this week, advancing a host of bills of interest to cities and towns, including:

  • HB 392 Fayetteville Charter/PWC Changes: This bill, which started last session without the support of the Fayetteville City Council, moved closer to a final vote this week with changes agreed to by both the council and the city's Public Works Commission (PWC). The commission oversees all electric, water, and sewer services in the city, and these consensus changes affect the membership and operations of PWC. The bill must receive a favorable vote by the Senate Finance Committee before advancing to a full chamber vote.
  • HB 407 Housing Authority Transfers: The Senate introduced new language this week to allow cities the option to transfer the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a public housing authority to a regional council of government. The bill received favorable votes by two committees and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
  • HB 763 Military Operations Protection Act of 2016: The Senate adopted numerous revisions to this bill before sending it to the House on a nearly party-line vote. The House assigned the bill to the House Rules Committee. Read background on this proposal here.
  • HB 593 Amend Environmental & Other Laws: This omnibus regulatory reform bill took one more dip in a Senate committee this week before advancing on a nearly party-line vote. Little of interest to cities changed as a result of that Senate Rules Committee meeting (read about those municipal-oriented proposals here). However, the committee approved changes to a public records provision (Section 18) that would allow public agencies to exclusively fulfill public records responsibilities by making public records or computer databases available online in a downloadable format. With the committee's new addition to this provision, the agency must allow a person to inspect those online records in any alternate formats that exist. The House must make the next move on this bill, voting on whether or not to concur.
  • HB 1035 LGC/Training for Local Gov't Finance Officers: Two Senate committees signed off on this bill this week, advancing it to the full Senate for a vote. The proposal would allow the Local Government Commission (LGC) to require local government finance officers and other employees with finance duties to attend a training related to those duties. Senate Finance Committee questions centered on the cost to participating local governments of this training, which the State Treasurer's Office said should be as close to free as possible.
  • HB 1044 Law Enforcement Omnibus Bill: The Senate received this bill from the House this week and gave it the first of two planned committee hearings, making one change that does not affect municipalities. The proposal makes largely non-controversial changes to public safety statutes, as detailed in last week's LeagueLINC Bulletin. Next, the Senate Finance Committee will consider the bill.
  • HB 1074 Schools Test for Lead/HS Dropout Pilot Prog.: House members heard this proposal for the first time yesterday in the House Committee on Regulatory Reform, giving it a favorable report and advancing it to the full House. The bill requires any school or daycare center built before 1987 to test for lead in drinking water and remove all sources of lead if tests exceed federal drinking water standards, a requirement that may necessitate the involvement of the local water supply system serving that school.
  • HB 1128/SB 879 Cornelius Limits: Both the House and Senate acted on this proposal this week, moving forward slightly different versions that would add doughnut hole parcels to the jurisdiction of the Town of Cornelius. The Senate version of the bill would also modify a pre-existing agreement in Mecklenburg County for the provision of police services in unincorporated areas of the county. The House passed its bill yesterday with only one dissenting vote, while the Senate requires one more committee hearing of its bill before a full chamber vote.
  • SB 303 Regulatory Reform Act of 2016: The Senate voted Tuesday not to concur with House changes to this bill, one of three omnibus regulatory reform bills debated so far this session. The bill contains many provisions of interest to municipalities, including several changes to land use laws as well as other changes and proposed studies of environmental laws. It is likely that legislative leaders in both chambers will appoint a conference committee to work out differences on this bill as well as the other two regulatory reform proposals, HB 169 Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016 (discussed here last week) and HB 593 Amend Environmental & Other Laws (discussed above in this article).
  • SB 734 Statewide Standing Order/Opioid Antagonist: The Governor signed this bill Monday, making North Carolina one of three states to allow pharmacies to dispense naloxone without a prescription. The drug reverses overdose effects from drugs such as heroin and other painkillers. The law will make it easier for law enforcement officers and other first responders to treat overdoses.
  • SB 770 NC Farm Act of 2016: After passing out of the Senate Monday night, the House Agriculture Committee took up this omnibus provision yesterday for discussion only. The committee's debate centered on a provision (Section 12) that would exempt all agricultural withdrawals from any future capacity use area designation, allowing these withdrawals to occur with no regulation. House members worried about the long-lasting effects to surface water supplies if one class of withdrawers could avoid regulation. The bill also contained the building inspections changes, which would clarify the types of minor heating, plumbing, and electrical work that may be performed without a local permit (Section 13, beginning on pg. 10). The proposal must next receive a favorable vote by both the House agriculture and finance committees.
  • SB 821 GSC Technical Corrections 1: In a sure sign that the end of session has neared, the Senate began consideration of what typically becomes one of the last proposals considered in any given legislative session, the technical corrections bill. In giving the proposal its first of three Senate hearings Tuesday, senators added language to the bill intended to streamline the purchasing and contracting requirements placed on state and local units of government with last year's Iran Divestment Act. As the bill receives consideration by various committees, it will likely greatly expand. The Senate Finance Committee will hear the bill next.

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"Municipal Equation": League Launches Its Own Podcast

The League is pleased to announce the launch of a new conversation tool for hometown leaders, innovators, challenge-spotters and problem solvers -- via a quality podcast series the League debuted this week. It’s called Municipal Equation, a biweekly show that gets to the core of our cities and towns and creates an exchange of ideas meant to help you make your hometown a better place. The podcast -- available here (preferred browsers: Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari), here, and for subscription on iTunes here -- covers all of the variables that make life in a municipality unique to any other locale.

At times, Municipal Equation will focus on personalities, like trailblazing local leaders or young urban planners with novel ideas. At others, we’ll drill down on big challenges, like infrastructure funding or the growth of a talent-base. We’ll meet authors of books and reports that put new spins on how we see our cities and towns. And we’ll examine the technologies and ways of living that might be on the horizon. Bottom line: Municipal Equation is a great place of idea-sharing with plenty of takeaways for local leaders, residents and reporters.

Listen to the latest episodes on the League’s website or on its SoundCloud page (http://soundcloud.com/municipalequation). In addition to iTunes, the podcast is available on Stitcher, Google Play, Overcast and other podcast apps. In Episode One, Municipal Equation captures the tough, edge-of-death story of Denise D. Adams, a Winston-Salem City Council member and League board member (who is also featured in the latest issue of Southern City). Episode Two will focus on infrastructural challenges -- with new findings and perspective from national, state and local voices. Plenty more is ahead.

The podcast is produced and hosted by League Advocacy Communication Associate and former reporter Ben Brown. Get in touch with him to pitch ideas for the show from your hometown.


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Apodaca's Service Animal Bill Warms Hearts

It's easily one of the more heartwarming local-government bills of the 2016 General Assembly -- one that would authorize towns and counties to transfer ownership of police dogs and other public service animals to their caring handlers. What's more, the bill memorializes a recently departed K-9 campanion -- Raleigh Apodaca, the English bulldog of Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca. "He was the smartest of our three children," WRAL quoted the frequently jocular Hendersonville lawmaker as saying. Raleigh passed away last September, according to the news outlet's coverage of the Raleigh Apodaca Service Dog Retirement Act, or House Bill 550. The Senate passed it unanimouly this week, and it's now before the House.

Individual bills over the years have allowed certain agencies to transfer service animals over to specified parties. This bill sets out standards for that statewide. It would allow retiring police dogs, for instance, to go to the home of the officer who worked with the animal, or to the surviving spouse if such is the case. Organizations or programs dedicated to the aid or support of retired service animals are eligible, too. Click here to read the bill.


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Analysis: Cary is Second-Most Successful City in U.S.

Cary is the nation’s second-most successful city, according to a new set of rankings from career-help website Zippia. It determined the “unarguable, totally objective 10 most successful cities in America” by analyzing data like poverty level, median household income and unemployment for nearly 300 places across the country that have populations exceeding 100,000. “There’s a reason Cary is one of the fastest growing communities in the country,” Zippia posed. “It’s safe, it’s beautiful, the people are friendly… Okay, there are a lot of reasons. But more than anything, this place is SUCCESSFUL. And by that, we mean, these guys are makin’ money. $91,481 per year, to be precise (median income). Other than that, though, Cary also has the ninth lowest poverty rank and the 10th lowest unemployment rank. Ku-dos.” Frisco, Texas, near Dallas, topped the list.

Meanwhile, one of southeast North Carolina’s biggest attractions is vying for the best in its category. The Battleship North Carolina, parked across from downtown Wilmington, is a nominee for “Best Museum Ship” in USA Today’s “'10 Best' Readers’ Choice 2016” awards. “The first of ten fast U.S. battleships that saw service in World War II, the USS North Carolina was decommissioned in 1947 and was narrowly saved from scrappers in 1960,” the publication explains. “Today she sits anchored in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, N.C., where visitors can walk her decks and learn the stories of the crew who served on board.” The ship -- nicknamed "Showboat" -- is competing with nine other historic naval vessels across the country. Click here to vote.