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Legislature's 'Short' Session Underway

General Assembly lawmakers have returned to Raleigh for the 2016 “short” legislative session, meant to be a weekslong stint primarily for adjustments to the state’s budget and work on a limited range of bills. While the new Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, or House Bill 2, received main-stage attention from the outset on Monday (more on that in this newsletter), several other items of interest to municipalities took shape. Bills filed this week deal with sales taxes, light rail, stormwater controls and police recording technologies like body cameras, among numerous other topics. Click here, or scroll to the bottom, for a list of highlight bills filed this week, with numbers and descriptions. And click here for a wide-ranging list of 2015 bills still in play.

Yet to be filed at the time of this writing was draft legislation on municipal service districts, or MSDs. A MSD is a specialized taxing district created to provide additional services to properties in the district. The draft, subject to change, sets out a process for a property owner to petition for a change to a MSD but does not obligate the municipality’s leadership to grant the petition. A copy of the draft begins on page 16 of a report viewable here. The deadline for lawmakers to file local bills is May 19, but they must have their proposals in at the bill drafting office by May 3. Click here for the full bill deadline list.

The session’s kickoff also introduced new lawmakers to the General Assembly. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat, is the sworn-in replacement for Josh Stein, who resigned in March. Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Blowing Rock Republican, took her oath on Wednesday to succeed Dan Soucek, who resigned from the Senate early this month. And Rep. Chris Sgro, a Greensboro Democrat, has taken his oath to serve out the unexpired term of the late Ralph Johnson. Awaiting an appointee is House District 105, in Mecklenburg County at the South Carolina border. Jacqueline Schaffer of Charlotte resigned from that seat just prior to the start of the session.


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Register Now for Town Hall Day

Register now to attend Town Hall Day 2016. Scheduled for June 8, Town Hall Day is the premier opportunity for League members to visit legislators and make known their views on issues important to municipalities. It represents the best chance to show strength in numbers and draw attention to the many serious legislative issues facing cities and towns.

For those already planning to attend, now is the time to contact your legislators and make appointments to see them that day. Late morning is likely the best time to schedule those appointments.


Town Hall Day will include:

  • A legislative briefing from the League’s Public and Governmental Affairs Team
  • Meetings with House and Senate leadership
  • Discussions with representatives of state agencies
  • Opportunities to meet individually with legislators from your district, attend committee meetings and observe chamber floor sessions
  • An evening reception with legislators and key state leaders

Nothing can replace the positive impact of in-person conversation on legislators’ votes. More than 400 municipal officials had their say at last year’s Town Hall Day, which generated plenty of media coverage as well. Make sure you don’t miss this year’s opportunity. Click here to register.


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'House Bill 2' Dominates Session Intro

The “short” session, protests, arrests, repeal bills, a possible referendum – each making headlines this week as related to the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, the new law commonly referred to as House Bill 2. The General Assembly gaveled in to its 2016 session Monday night in Raleigh amid daylong public demonstrations for and against the law on restroom access and local government authority, passed during a specially called one-day session in March. National news outlets traveled to the capital to monitor what otherwise marked the start of a brief, state-budget tweaking period with limited legislating. Before the first day ended, police arrested more than 50 demonstrators out of the hundreds that converged on Jones Street, according to media reports.

Eyeing the controversy, some lawmakers have floated the possibility of a referendum on HB2, the News & Observer reported after Republican Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville told a TV station that staffers were exploring a potential ballot question that could make HB2 language permanent in the North Carolina Constitution or eliminated altogether. With the idea just at conversation stage, it wasn’t clear whether such ballot language would focus on only the public bathroom provisions of the bill – which generated most of the initial attention – or other sections as well. HB2 in part requires individuals at public facilities, including schools, to use only the restrooms aligned with their biological sex as defined on their birth certificate. It also prohibits local governments from regulating discrimination in places of public accommodation and affects the requirements they can place on contractors. Senate leaders have told media that the referendum idea may be discussed over the coming weeks.

The General Assembly’s first week also saw a pair of HB2-repeal efforts. Filed on the first day was House Bill 946, which would strike out the language lawmakers approved in March and appropriate funds to the state’s Human Relations Commission. The bill now sits in a judiciary committee. A twin bill across the hall, Senate Bill 784, was referred to the chamber’s budget committee, though its second stop (if favorable) would be a panel that is known for never meeting – Ways & Means


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Governor Releases Detailed Budget Draft

Gov. Pat McCrory released his recommended budget update in full on Wednesday, calling it a boost for teachers in North Carolina per a 5 percent salary increase most would receive if the plan is adopted. The governor’s budget is a starting point as the House and Senate write their own proposals and must agree to any tweaks in the existing spending plan this year. As presented, Gov. McCrory’s draft includes full Powell Bill funding at $147.5 million, as included in last year’s budget; $1 million for the Main Street program; backing for the voter-approved and League-supported Connect NC bond package, which includes $309.5 million for local water and sewer improvements; and additional funds for transportation projects across the state. The plan also calls for adding $300 million to the state’s rainy day fund toward a balance of $1.4 billion, or close to 7 percent of programmed expenditures. The draft’s release followed a preview from Gov. McCrory and State Budget Director Andrew Heath last week, when they emphasized no tax or fee increases would be included. Click here to view the recommendation in full. Read media coverage here.

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League Leaders Urge CDBG Funding Increase

League leaders are urging support among North Carolina’s elected federal officials toward a funding increase for the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG), a critical but underfunded piece of the federal government’s efforts to help cities, towns and counties in North Carolina meet citizens’ needs. “Specifically, CDBG is one of the most effective Federal domestic programs to spur economic growth and job creation,” League President Lestine Hutchens and Executive Director Paul Meyer wrote in a letter to the state’s 13 U.S. House members and both U.S. senators. Hutchens and Meyer noted the program is vital as ever as communities compete for jobs and endeavor to meet critical infrastructural needs.

The CDBG funding level currently stands at $3 billion, they pointed out, comparing that to the $4.4 billion of fiscal year 2001. The White House's recently released fiscal year 2017 budget would cut CDBG funding to $2.8 billion – far below the $12 billion the program should receive when adjusting for inflation. “The trend and direction of CDBG funding is very concerning,” Hutchens and Meyer wrote. Click here to see the letter in full. The League would also like to thank Elizabeth City Councilman Tony Stimatz for his attention to and outreach on the issue.


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911 Board Funding Restraints for Back-up PSAP Implementation

Last week, the N.C. 911 Board discussed how it will handle the onslaught of funding requests it is likely to receive from 911 call centers, also known public safety answering points (PSAPs), needing to implement plans for back-up capabilities. Legislation from last year granted an extension to the 2014 statutory requirement that primary PSAPs have a means for taking 911 calls in the event that they cannot be received and processed in the primary PSAP, but the extension was only for one year and only if the PSAP has made "substantial progress" toward implementation of a back-up plan by the original July 2016 deadline.

The 911 Board’s funding mechanism to assist in changes to a PSAP's needs is typically a “reconsideration request,” and board members noted there are not enough funds available to distribute through those requests to cover the costs that each PSAP with an approved back-up plan will incur through implementation. There was a suggestion that the Board could provide funding for back-up plan implementation through its grant cycle if those funds were prioritized for PSAP back-up capabilities. Such a change in prioritization would have to be recommended by a committee of the Board and it is likely such a proposal will be discussed at the Board’s next meeting.

However, 911 Board Executive Director Richard Taylor stated there shouldn’t be an expectation that 911 funds will cover all the costs of back-up capabilities, noting that local governments with primary PSAPs should also expect to use general fund dollars to meet the requirement. It was also noted that approved back-up plans have been posted to the N.C. 911 Board website in order to assist jurisdictions that are still working to complete theirs and want an example of an approved plan. Contact: Sarah Collins


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SolSmart Helps Local Governments Maximize Solar

A new initiative that launched Wednesday aims to recognize municipalities for excellence in solar power and offers no-cost technical assistance to achieve it. The SolSmart program, from partners including the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities, helps local governments remove regulatory barriers to solar expansion and implement best practices to harness economic opportunity. According to NLC, the hard costs of solar have dropped dramatically over the years, but it could be better. “In fact, prices have fallen so much that permitting, inspection, interconnection fees, zoning approval, project delays, and other ‘soft costs’ now account for more than half of the price tag for an average residential solar system – a share that continues to grow,” the group wrote in a blogpost. It added that varying regulations and costs from town to town may slow the solar industry’s expansion, program facilitators say. More information about  SolSmart is at www.solsmart.org.

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N.C. Home to Most Desirable U.S. Metros

Metro areas in North Carolina rank highly in U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 “Best Places to Live,” an analysis that eyes desirability, job market strength and quality of life. Ranked fourth in the nation was the Raleigh-Durham metro, charting just ahead of Colorado Springs, Colo. The publication, offering detailed profiles of each metro area ranked, described the Triangle as rooted in research and technology with a lure of nearly 80 new residents a day. “The Raleigh-Durham metro area also encompasses beautiful green spaces, family-friendly museums and a growing art and music scene defined by monthly gallery walks, summer concerts and music festivals like Hopscotch,” the profile said. Also ranking highly, at 15th – one better than San Diego – was Charlotte, “a city that's equal parts old-fashioned southern charm and high-energy cosmopolitan bustle.” It described the Queen City as a melting pot, attracting people from all over the world. “It's a standalone destination city now, no longer living in the shadow of Atlanta or Charleston, South Carolina.”

Winston-Salem clocked in at 39th best for a steady but not breakneck growth rate that has allowed the Forsyth County city to maintain its roots, U.S. News said. “This slow-and-steady growth has preserved the city's small-town feel while allowing for improvements like repurposing the old textile and tobacco factories into loft apartment spaces, and building the new $48.7 million baseball park downtown,” said the W-S profile page. “Due to the heavy interest in residential and corporate development, the city has become a fertile land for entrepreneurs and small businesses.” Fifty-first in the nation was Greensboro, also described as a mix of growth and well-kept charm. “There is no shortage of arts, entertainment, recreation, shopping and restaurants to keep locals busy,” said the Gate City’s profile. “Greensboro is home to the region's largest hospital, and it boasts 170 well-kept public parks and gardens.” Click here to see the full, national list, which includes metrics like cost-of-living, weather, housing prices and commuting patterns for each metro ranked.


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First Week Sees 146 Bills Filed

The opening week of the 2016 Short Session saw lawmakers filing 146 bills, many of them recommended by interim study and oversight committees. The Senate and the House aligned their bill filing deadlines for this session, requiring budget, finance, and study bills to be filed by May 10 and local and pension bills to be filed by May 19. Bills of interest to municipalities filed this week included: