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Legislative Business Begins

After a brief break, state House and Senate members returned to Raleigh this week for bill filing, committee housekeeping and an otherwise easy start to the 2017 legislative session, though early proposals of interest to local government include two that seek changes in eminent domain powers. (See item directly below for details.) The chambers are expected to shift into their regular mode of business and consideration of bills starting next week. The Associated Press reports that the Senate by next week might also have rules in place for vetting Gov. Roy Cooper's cabinet choices. That follows recent legislation requiring Senate confirmation of those 10 appointments (a change that Gov. Cooper is challenging in court). Two state legislators were among Cooper's recent cabinet picks. Former Reps. Larry Hall of Durham (chosen to lead the military and veterans affairs department) and Susi Hamilton of Wilmington (chosen to head the natural and cultural resources department) have already resigned their legislative seats, according to the AP. The legislature does not have a hard deadline for adjournment.


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House Eminent Domain Bill Returns, in Two Forms

As in years past, some of the first bills filed in this year's legislative session would affect the condemnation powers of state and local government, either with or without a constitutional amendment. First, HB 3 Eminent Domain Const. Amendment would put a constitutional amendment before voters to restrict the use of eminent domain powers, preventing state and local government from taking land for use by private developers. That bill contained identical language to legislation from prior sessions, but also included conforming statutory changes that would go into effect only upon voter approval of the amendment. It would also allow property owners to request jury trials in disputes to determine "just compensation" for their property. Sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included Reps. Chuck McGradyDavid Lewis, Chris Malone, and Ken Goodman, this bill mirrored a bill that cleared the House early in the 2013 legislative session with only eight dissenting votes, and again early in the 2015 legislative session with only five dissenting votes. The Senate, however, did not take up the bill in these past sessions. The League staff worked with legislators at the time to limit the negative effects on municipalities.

A second bill proposed this session by the same group of House members, HB 10 Eminent Domain Statutory Revisions, contained the same conforming statutory language as the first bill, but would change the law via legislative action rather than a voter-approved constitutional amendment. The proposal would expand the purposes for which public and private condemnors could utilize their eminent domain authority, including a more all-encompassing term for communications facilities, and facilities related to the distribution of natural gas. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Follow Important Legislation Via League's Bill-Tracker

Wondering how you can track General Assembly proposals of importance to cities and towns? Check out the League's bill-tracker. See what legislation we're monitoring, and what we're labeling as critical or of high importance. The League catalogs legislation by importance and subject matter. It also lists each bill's sponsor and to what committee it's been referred. This important resource for municipalities is found here or under the "Legislative Advocacy" tab on the League's website, nclm.org.

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Bill Deadlines for 2017

The legislative chambers have posted a series of deadlines for bill-filing this year.

In the House:

  • Bills recommended by study commissions must be to the bill drafting office by 4 p.m. Feb. 21 and filed in the House by 3 p.m. March 1.
  • Bills recommended by state agencies must be to bill drafting by 4 p.m. March 7 and filed in the House by 3 p.m. March 15.
  • Local bills must be to bill drafting by 4 p.m. March 15 and filed in the House by 3 p.m. March 29.
  • Public bills and resolutions unrelated to spending or finance must be to bill drafting by 4 p.m. March 30 and filed in the House by 3 p.m. April 12.
  • Public bills with spending or financial elements must be to bill drafting by 4 p.m. April 6 and filed in the House by 3 p.m. April 19.

In the Senate:

  • Local bills and resolutions must be to bill drafting by 4 p.m. March 7 and filed in the Senate by 4 p.m. March 15.
  • Public bills and resolutions must be to bill drafting by 4 p.m. March 17 and filed in the Senate by 4 p.m. March 30.

The crossover deadline -- the point at which any bill unrelated to finance or revenue must have passed at least one of the chambers to remain eligible for the two-year biennium -- is April 27.


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League Mourns Death of Samuelson

The League was deeply saddened this week to learn of the death of Ruth Samuelson, the former Mecklenburg County commissioner who served in the state House from 2006-2013. Samuelson passed away at the age of 57 on Monday following a bout with cancer. Those familiar with Samuelson knew her talent for teambuilding in political environments. "She rose steadily through the ranks, her conservative voice resonating even as legislators from both parties praised her gift for negotiating," relates her detailed obituary, which you can read in full here. It notes that Samuelson was on track to become the first female speaker of the House when she chose not to seek re-election in order to restore focus on family and home. "It is difficult to describe what the passing of Rep. Ruth Samuelson means to her friends and family in the North Carolina General Assembly," said House Speaker Tim Moore, as reported in this Charlotte Observer story about her service. The League extends its sincerest condolences, thoughts and prayers to Samuelson's family during this difficult time.


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Don't Let Time Run Away; Register Now for Town Hall Day!

Town Hall Day 2017 is just two months away. Have you registered? Join the League in Raleigh on March 29 for the best way to discuss with state policymakers how cities and towns of all sizes are contributing to North Carolina's economy and serving the citizenry. Register today to make sure your community is represented.

Town Hall Day is the League's signature advocacy event. It balances informative advocacy training and sessions with networking opportunities to maximize your time in Raleigh. The morning is reserved for one-on-one meetings at the Legislative Building, where the state House and Senate craft laws, while the afternoon allows for flexibility -- additional meetings with legislators, observing of legislative sessions, forums with executive cabinet officials, and an evening reception. Don't miss this chance to share your town's success stories and establish meaningful relationships with your elected officials. Click here for a video recap of 2016's Town Hall Day, which hundreds of municipal officials attended. Click here to register now.


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Pension Board Sets FY2017-18 Employer Contribution Rate

The Local Government Employees' Retirement System Board voted on Thursday to increase the employer contributions for the local government pension fund. The action takes the employer contribution rate to 7.5 percent for general employees and 8.25 percent for law enforcement officers (LEOs) for FY2017-18. The board's decision was in line with the Employer Contribution Rate Stabilization Policy it approved last year -- in which LGERS employer contribution rates increase 0.25 percent annually through FY2020-21.

In early 2016, the N.C. City & County Management Association Retirement Committee met with the treasurer's staff and recommended the policy, a recommendation that was approved by the League's Executive Committee. Adoption of this policy and these contribution rates will allow for predictability and stability in the contribution rates, while continuing to keep the local retirement system one of the best-funded systems in the country. Additionally, the policy includes a mechanism to automatically increase or decrease the contribution rate if circumstances change and the stable contribution policy results in significant over- or under-funding of the system.

Please note that the approved rates above are only for the pension component of your contribution rates. The death benefit contribution portion of the rate will need to be added to the approved rates. For LEOs, the 0.14 percent death benefit contribution is entirely offset by court fees, so the total LEO contribution rate will be 8.25 percent. The death benefit contribution for general employees can vary from unit to unit, so your unit's specific rate will need to be added to 7.5 percent to come up with your total contribution rate for general employees. More information on the decision as presented to the LGERS Board can be found here. All of the documents from Thursday's meeting can be found here. Contact: Sarah Collins


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Morganton Shows How it Helps Local Biz on 'Here We Grow'


Online at herewegrownc.org

When the City of Morganton shared its local economic development success story at herewegrownc.org this week, it gave a concrete example of how municipal government and private businesses can work together to create jobs and build community. The city of about 17,000 residents leveraged Here We Grow (FREE to League members, by the way) to explain exactly how its intentional efforts have resulted in new commerce. Curious? Click here to read about it. It's possible your town is enjoying similar outcomes. How do you do it? And how are you getting the word out? Whatever your local government is doing to grow jobs and the economy, Here We Grow is your megaphone. Need help crafting that story? Please reach out to Ben Brown or Scott Mooneyham on the League staff. Need a login for Here We Grow? Request one via email to about@herewegrownc.org.


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Water Infrastructure Authority OKs Largest-Ever Funding Round

The State Water Infrastructure Authority has approved more than $300 million in loans and grants, which according to a press release is its largest funding round to date. Drinking-water and wastewater projects will benefit nearly 160 cities and towns across the state. "Water quality improvement, public health protection and increased economic growth are not fully possible without reliable water infrastructure," said N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael S. Regan. Click here for full details on the funding and about two recently introduced grants related to system improvements. Click here to see all of the funded projects.


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Holly Springs Lit With Gigabit Internet Service

Holly Springs has gained access to superfast fiber-optic Internet -- a boon for residential access and local business development. A private company chose the Wake County town and two others elsewhere in the U.S. for pilot service, the News & Observer reported this week. The newspaper explained that fiber connects users to gigabit speed, which can sling data exponentially faster than traditional connections and is increasingly important to private businesses. "No more buffering, no more spinning wheels," said an official with the company, Ting, which picked Holly Springs because the town had already outfitted itself with a lease-ready fiber network. Meanwhile, a Kinston Free Press story about a tech and rapid-speed Internet focus in Pink Hill has won attention by a national publication. "In order to build downtown Pink Hill into a sustainable, walkable community, people need the ability to access high speed internet so that they can work and live in a small town," said one observer. Click here to read about it GovTech magazine.


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Data and Bluegrass? Preview the next Municipal Equation

Have an audio-peek into the next episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast. Out on Tuesday, this new episode will jam on the harmonious relationship between municipal datasets and -- you'd never guess -- bluegrass music. Yes, there's a link between mandolins, dobros and civic data -- and a national audience is watching. We'll tell you all about it on the next Municipal Equation, a podcast all about municipalities and the rewards, challenges and new concepts that make them what they are. Get all past episodes here, including Episode 16, about next-generation DNA technology at the Fayetteville Police Department. Free subscriptions are available on iTunes and Google Play. It's also on all the fine podcast streaming apps. Give feedback, suggestions and ideas for episodes to host/producer Ben Brown at bbrown@nclm.org.