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League Bulletin

February 3, 2017

The newly appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) favors rules that preempt local government actions, according to this Route Fifty article earlier this week. Federal law allows the FCC to preempt any state or local law that prohibits, or has the effect of prohibiting, the ability of any entity to provide telecommunications services. President Donald Trump elevated longtime FCC Commissioner and lawyer Ajit Pai to the top commission post last week. In a speech to a telecom trade group in November, Pai stated, "The FCC must aggressively use its statutory authority to ensure that local governments don't stand in the way of broadband deployment." Local activities targeted by the FCC would likely include zoning measures, access to rights of way, and fees charged for right of way management.

The League and other local government organizations, such as the National League of Cities, will advocate for local control in multiple upcoming proceedings before the FCC, including filing comments in response to a petition by infrastructure provider Mobilitie. In addition, the League may nominate individuals for a broadband advisory committee formed by Chairman Pai on Tuesday that will likely lay the groundwork for future FCC actions to preempt local governments in this area. We welcome your participation in these efforts, and if you are interested in working with the League to submit comments, or in serving on the FCC advisory committee, please email Erin Wynia.

For cities and towns wondering what legislation the League is following in this biennium of the General Assembly,
check out the League's online bill-tracker. Hundreds of bills will be filed this session, and with this tool you can see what we're actively monitoring, and what we're labeling as critical or of high importance. The League catalogs legislation by importance and subject matter. The tracker 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,

A bill to provide property tax relief to disabled veterans in North Carolina is making news in communities worried that a good cause might also strain revenue for public services. Some lawmakers are expressing similar concern. HB 2 Provide Certain Property Tax Relief would, as filed, expand the property tax exemption for disabled veterans and creates a new property tax exemption for surviving spouses of certain emergency personnel, such as law enforcement. The proposal comes from Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary with cosponsors Reps. Jason Saine of Lincolnton, Jon Hardister of Greensboro and Rena Turner of Statesville, who've commented that the bill would help veterans who sacrificed in service to their country. As noted in the Fayetteville Observer, disabled veterans currently are exempt from taxation on their homes' first $45,000 of assessed value. The new proposal would expand the exemption to the home's full value. In veteran-populous localities, that could create a noticable hole in revenue. The same newspaper later reported that Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville didn't want to see the bill carry such consequences and emphasized that it could soften in scope through the legislative committee process. "I think I speak for the whole delegation that we're on your side," Representative Szoka told local officials. The bill is currently in the House State and Local Government II Committee. Click here and here for more news coverage.

The state House has a new member. Democratic Party officials in New Hanover and Brunswick counties have picked Wilmington attorney Deb Butler to fill their district's vacancy in the chamber. "I will do my dead-level best to serve you with honor and dignity," the Wilmington StarNews quoted of Butler following her selection. Her move to the House fills a vacancy left by former Rep. Susi Hamilton, who resigned last week to serve as the state's new secretary of natural and cultural resources. Click here for news coverage.

Rep. John Bell

State House Majority Leader John Bell highlighted the varying needs and qualities of localities across the state in a recent Insider story profiling his service and priorities. The news service on Tuesday reported that Representative Bell, of Goldsboro, had traveled the state prior to the 2016 election and gained valuable context. "What works in Kinston may not work in downtown Charlotte. What works in Pasquotank County does not work in Raleigh," the publication quoted of Representative Bell. "Everywhere is different, that's the great thing about our state. It's very unique, there's all different dynamics throughout our state." They include the urban-rural complexion. Rep. Bell said a goal for legislators right now is to make sure urban areas can "prosper and grow" while ensuring strength for rural areas. He also said a personal goal is to make sure areas still hurting from Hurricane Matthew or the western wildfires get the relief they need.

Register today!

Each year municipal officials join League staff for a great day of lobbying at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh. Town Hall Day, set for March 29 this year, is the best way to discuss with state policymakers how your town is contributing to North Carolina's economy and serving the citizenry at home. 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.

As a legal challenge pends over whether Gov. Roy Cooper's cabinet secretaries need Senate confirmation, leaders from that chamber have rolled out a confirmation schedule. The first slated for scrutiny is former Rep. Larry Hall, who resigned his House seat after the new governor named him secretary of military and veterans affairs. A law passed in December created a new procedure for filling the governor's cabinet seats, making appointments subject to the "advice and consent" of the Senate. Governor Cooper is challenging that as unconstitutional. Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon of Southport, a co-chairman on the cabinet nominations panel, told media outlets including the Associated Press that the confirmation hearings aren't meant to be a political obstacle. The focus, he said, would be on whether the governor's picks are qualified for the post, don't have conflicts of interest and plan to follow the law. Governor Cooper is quoted as saying he wants his cabinet secretaries to work with legislators "at every turn" in the course of duty.

The federal government is asking for comment from cities and other stakeholders on its draft Smart Cities and Communities Federal Strategic Plan. "The plan is intended to guide and coordinate federal initiatives that support smart city efforts, including smart grids, citizen services, connected transportation, and more," notes the National League of Cities, which planned to submit comments related to its recent report on "Trends in Smart City Development." The draft plan comes from the National Institute for Standards and Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. From the draft's summary: "Smart city/community solutions are intended to enable new capabilities and opportunities—all in the face of limited budgets. The possible applications are numerous: Citizen services, smart grids, intelligent transportation systems, and remote healthcare, to name a few." Comments on the draft plan are due Feb. 28 to

The deadline to apply for the North Carolina Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program has been extended to March 20. The program, formed by the N.C. Rural Center with the N.C. Small Business and Technology Center and the N.C. Community Colleges Small Business Center Network, is meant to support small businesses impacted by October 2016's Hurricane Matthew. Click here for information.

What do Dobros and datasets have in common? We're about to find out. On the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast, we talk with A'yen Tran and Jer Thorp of the New York-based Office for Creative Research to hear about their folksy initiative -- a finalist in the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge, no less -- to strengthen civic engagement via bluegrass music. Mystified? Well, the modern wave of data in municipal policymaking can sometimes mystify, too, at least when put in the form of charts and graphs for public consumption. Could data-fied mountain string music -- and lessons from the past that changed the history of bluegrass -- strike a new chord? Listen and learn why this novel approach is a Knight Cities finalist. Click here for all past episodes.