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Recap: Sine Die at the General Assembly

The General Assembly dropped its final gavel of the 2016 short session in the late hours of July 1 after addressing a number of provisions of municipal interest, in some cases improving them before approval or dropping potentially harmful measures. The roughly 10 weeks of legislating closed as League staff worked diligently with lawmakers to ensure the best possible outcomes on proposals that were in circulation. The League would again like to thank all lawmakers who worked with the League and individual municipalities to better understand their concerns and hear how healthy cities and towns benefit the entire state.

To recap some of the activity in the final stretch of the 2016 session:

  • HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes: Passed - After weeks of intense pressure and negotiations by municipal officials and land-use law practitioners across the state, legislators ultimately set most of HB 483 to the side. Instead, just hours before adjourning for the year, they signed off on a proposal that granted statutory vested rights for multi-phase developments for a period of seven years. The vested rights period would begin upon site plan approval for the initial phase of the multi-phase development, a term defined in the bill. The legislature approved it on July 1. Click here for previous League coverage of the bill's earlier language.
  • HB 100 Local Government Immigration Compliance: Did not pass - The legislature adjourned without final consideration of this bill, which sought to block local governments from school and Powell Bill funding if found to have "sanctuary" policies for immigrants in the country illegally. The League opposed the measure, pointing out that it contained no apparent provisions for hearings or discovery. Further, in tying local road funding to a law unrelated to street construction and maintenance, the bill could penalize local taxpayers in ways unrelated to the issue. The League was also unaware of any municipalities in violation of law. The bill went to the House Rules Committee on June 28 and never resurfaced.
  • SB 481 Fund Small Businesses/DOR Rulings/City Rt of Way: Passed - The League worked with bill sponsors and other stakeholders to delay until July 1, 2017, implementation of a provision that would prohibit cities from charging utility companies fees for work in municipal rights-of-way. That amendment ensured that cities that had already passed budgets containing revenues from these fees wouldn't have budget holes at the start of the new fiscal year. The same bill also includes legal exemptions that enable small businesses to crowdfund, or raise capital from everyday investors in North Carolina. The legislature approved it on June 29.
  • SB 326 Local Gov'ts/Bldgs/Structures/Inspections: Passed - Places restrictions on the ways cities run rental registration programs. Cities around the state have used these programs successfully to force absentee landlords to address repeated housing violations on their properties, improving the quality of available housing and protecting the public safety of neighboring tenants and property owners. (Click here to read the League's previous coverage of the bill and changes made.) The legislature approved it on July 1.
  • HB 630 Drinking Water Protect'n/Coal Ash Cleanup Act: Passed - This was the second coal ash-related bill that passed and was a compromise reached after Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed SB 71. The League requested the earlier bill include some assurance that a public water system's solvency be taken into account when electric providers provide alternate drinking water supplies to property owners near the coal ash impoundments. HB 630 included language to protect those public water systems. The legislature approved it on June 30.
  • HB 972 Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record: Passed - The passage of this bill followed League-member presentations to an interim legislative study committee on the many complex issues related to law enforcement agencies' use of body-worn cameras. That feedback helped to shape the final proposal, which didn't mandate the use of body cams. The bill addressed needed statutory clarification on whether these recordings would be considered public record or a personnel record. The legislature approved it on June 30.
  • Regulatory Reform Package: Did not pass - The chambers left without agreement on a large regulatory reform package. Individual reg reform bills that would have impacted cities and towns went to negotiating tables without resolution, including SB 303 Regulatory Reform Act of 2016 and HB 593 Amend Environmental and Other Laws. HB 763 Military Operations Protection Act of 2016 also sat incomplete by the time lawmakers left town.
  • SB 667 Elections Omnibus Revisions: Passed - A League-opposed provision in this bill sets sight on even-numbered-year municipal elections by 2020. Section 5 directs the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee to study implementation options and recommend any related legislation. The bill passed on July 1.
  • SB 897 Asheville City Council Districts: Did not pass - The House voted down this Senate proposal to change how Asheville City Council members are elected, with individual legislators arguing that it shouldn’t be the General Assembly’s call. Officials with the city had argued that any such changes in the form of local elections should be decided locally.
  • HB 550 Raleigh Apodaca Service Dog Retirement Act: Passed - This bill would authorize towns and counties to transfer ownership of police dogs and other public service animals to their caring handlers. The title is a tribute to Raleigh Apodaca, the late K-9 companion of retiring Sen. Tom Apodaca, who sponsored the bill. Individual bills over the years have allowed certain agencies to transfer service animals over to specified parties, including two bills this session that applied to Cleveland and Wake counties. The Apodaca bill sets out standards for transfers anywhere in the state. The legislature passed it on June 30.

The legislature also, in Friday's last laps, sent the governor a $22.3 billion budget that included several positives for North Carolina municipalities, including a continuation of Powell Bill funding at the level approved last year -- $147.5 million statewide. In addition, the budget:

  • Funds downtown revitalization in nearly 60 municipalities
  • Directs the Department of Environmental Quality to allocate funds for water resources programs that include projects in several cities and towns around the state
  • Provides community colleges with money to create a continuing education program for local government and public authority finance officers
  • Gives additional funding for state water and wastewater infrastructure grants
  • Continues the state's film grant program; gives additional money to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund
  • Sets up a study on the benefits of beach nourishment and the impact of the coastal economy
  • Increases receipts for the Local Government Commission to fund an additional position to assist local governments with financial matters.

The budget went to the governor after strong, bipartisan approval in the House and Senate. Thanks so much to the General Assembly for its consideration of municipalities in the budget's development. The League is now assembling its End-of-Session Bulletin to provide a detailed record of all legislation of interest to cities and towns and how each proposal fared. Click here for up-to-date information on bills that are pending on the governor's desk or already signed into law.


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USDOJ Seeks Suspension of HB2

The U.S. Department of Justice wants to see the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, or House Bill 2, suspended from enforcement as the federal agency challenges it in court. It filed for a temporary injunction Tuesday night with an argument that HB2 is substantially damaging to the state and LGBT individuals. According to a media report, it's possible USDOJ's case applies only to government agencies and employees, as its filing doesn't specifically discuss the portion of HB2 that prohibits municipalities from passing citywide anti-discrimination ordinances, such as the one the Charlotte City Council passed earlier this year to allow transgender individuals the right to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The legislature held a special session in March to overturn that ordinance via HB2, which prohibited such local action statewide. Click here to read more media coverage of USDOJ's new filing. Click here to read the filing itself. WRAL also reported this week that HB2 could cost Raleigh as much as $40 million in convention business, per cancelations that cited HB2.


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Wilmington Port Welcomes Its Largest-Ever Vessel

A $35 million-per-year allocation from the General Assembly can be thanked for one of the biggest customers the Port of Wilmington has received to date. According to the Wilmington StarNews, the Hanjin Baltimore is a container vessel nearly 1,000 feet long and 140-feet wide and is symbolic of the kind of traffic the port will receive in the future following the expansion of the Panama Canal. The State Ports Authority had asked the legislature to help fund improvements that would accommodate the larger "post-Panamax" ships coming through. Ports officials said that's vital to keep up with business and compete with other states' ports, all in all a positive for North Carolina's economy. According to a Ports Authority news release, port activities here contribute statewide to 76,000 jobs and $700 million annually in state and local tax revenues.

The Wilmington newspaper on Tuesday reported that the legislature's allocation, which began last year, made the Hanjin Baltimore's visit possible and would help to fund the purchase of two new cranes and berth improvement. The port wants to double its traffic in the coming years. Said Chief Commercial Officer Greg Fennell, "If there was ever a doubt that we could not accept a post-Panamax vessel, this ship puts that debate to rest." Click here for video of the ship passing Bald Head Island.


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League's Podcast Puts Infrastructure in Focus

Episode Two of the Municipal Equation podcast landed this week with national, state and local voices weighing in on the challenges that municipalties face with infrastructure funding. According to a recent report from the National League of Cities, the burden of paying for infrastructure keeps sliding to local government. Why? And, more importantly, is there anything we can do? This episode exlores the infrastructure deficit and the tools that municipalities can explore to trim it down. Click here to listen and here to see recent News & Observer coverage of the podcast's launch, which began with the inspiring survival story of Winston-Salem City Councilmember Denise Adams, a League board member who was also the cover feature in the latest issue of Southern City. Municipal Equation is made possible by the North Carolina League of Municipalties. It's available for free subscription on iTunes and can be streamed on most podcast apps, like Stitcher, TuneIn, Overcast and Google Play. Producer/host: Ben Brown.


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World Looks to Asheville for Flood Risk Solutions

Governments and businesses across the world are looking to Asheville for smarts and solutions when it comes to weighing flood risk, according to a report in the Citizen-Times newspaper. It describes "cutting-edge three-dimensional software mapping models" developed at UNC Asheville that are helping policymakers far and wide to better understand flood vulnerabilities for planning purposes. "Risk is a huge, hot topic right now," said Geoff Taylor, a Charlotte-based engineer involved with the project, as reported in the news story. It added that the mapping technology could serve as the foundation for government emergency-response planning against disasters like the flooding seen last month in West Virginia, where more than 20 people died and more than 1,200 homes were destroyed. Click here to read the full story.

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N.C. Cities Pay Best for Software Engineers

Four North Carolina cities are ranked among the top in the nation for software engineering careers. Marketplace website Glassdoor crunched numbers on cities across the nation to compile a top-25 list of those where software engineers earn the most and found Raleigh in an impressive fifth place. The website examined cost-of-living data in each city and weighed them against the local software engineer salary-base to determine a "real adjusted salary." After the math, Glassdoor found the salary to be $94,142 in Raleigh, where the cost of living is 4.4 percent below the national average. The site counted 416 related job openings in Raleigh at the time of the study. The site also ranked Durham and Chapell Hill together as 12th in the nation, with a real adjusted salary of $88,143 and a cost of living at 4.7 percent below the national average. Charlotte came in at 18th, with a real adjusted salary of $85,653 and a cost of living at 6.6 percent below the national average.