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League Bulletin

February 6, 2015

Bills introductions continued and committee meetings increased as the activity at the Legislative Building picked up this week. So far, 46 bills have been filed in the Senate and 59 in the House. Those numbers will rise into the hundreds in coming weeks. Meanwhile, the House took the first floor vote on a substantive bill this session, passing legislation banning the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes (see below).

The pace will pick up even more soon, so please continue to stay in contact with your local legislative delegation, and feel free to contact the League's Governmental Affairs team.

With only four dissenting votes cast for the first of two required House floor votes, state representatives voted yesterday in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes. HB 3 Eminent Domain moved through a House committee and to the House floor in just two days' time this week. The bill is virtually the same as the version that passed the House last session with near-unanimous support (the Senate did not consider the bill last session). It would limit the exercise of eminent domain to those activities for which there is a "public use," a much-debated term in state and federal case law, and require compensation in eminent domain actions to be determined through a jury trial.

In addition to the constitutional amendment language, the bill also contains conforming statutory changes. If passed into law, the amendment language would appear before voters in the May 2016 primary election. Although the legislation is virtually identical to language approved by the House last year, it does not appear to be as restrictive as some bills filed in earlier years. Legislators, in 2006, already restricted by statute the taking of non-blighted properties in tracts where blighted properties occur for economic development purposes. In part, the bill would enshrine that restriction in the state constitution. The law that allows cities to condemn blighted properties would remain on the books, and the change also would not prevent municipalities from purchasing properties for economic development purposes. Contact: Erin Wynia

Morrisville Mayor Pro Tem and NCLM Board member Liz Johnson joined a group of bipartisan legislators at a Tuesday news conference to tout redistricting reform. Mayor Pro Tem Johnson was among those speaking at the Legislative Building in support of legislation filed this week -- HB 49 Independent Redistricting Commission and SB 28 Independent Redistricting Commission -- that would have an independent commission oversee the drawing of legislative and congressional districts. The League’s support for such measures was noted before the large media contingent there. In December, League members approved a legislative advocacy goal calling for a fair, transparent and nonpartisan means of creating legislative and congressional districts.

Mayor Pro Tem Johnson, in her comments, focused on how the current process has little regard for ensuring that communities with common interests are kept whole and effectively represented. “Regardless of whether your political party is the one in power or the one out of power, having district lines drawn in ways that keep communities of interest intact is critical for effective representation,” Mayor Pro Tem Johnson said. “No one is asking anyone to do the impossible and shed (their) political leanings. What we are asking for is a process and a criteria, set in law, that allows for, and in fact demands, that the politics be set aside in a very transparent way while the districts are drawn.” Read more about the news conference and legislation here and here. Contact: Scott Mooneyham

Legislators filed companion bills in the House and Senate this week that would restrict the types of aesthetic- and design-based standards local governments could apply to one- and two-family residential developments, unless those standards were agreed to by the developer. SB 25/HB 36 Zoning/Design and Aesthetic Controls contains language identical to the last version of the bill considered in 2013. The League opposes the bill in its current form, and will be working to mitigate the potential for harmful effects on existing homeowners in cities and towns. 

As one of the top priorities of the N.C. Homebuilders Association, the bill would prevent cities and towns from ensuring that infill development is consistent with the character of existing neighborhoods, potentially harming the property values of these existing homes. Finally, the bill would apply retroactively to previously-approved developments. The House assigned the bill to the House Committee on Local Government, while the Senate referred its bill to the Senate Rules Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia

In his State of the State address this week, Governor Pat McCrory called for renewed efforts to create jobs and to better connect residents and markets with roads and technology. Governor McCrory used the address to tout his plan for a $1.2 billion transportation bond and called for ways to ensure stable funding sources for transportation. Governor McCrory also called for the restoration of an historic preservation tax credit. On a number of fronts, the Governor's message on economic development and infrastructure investment parallels several legislative advocacy goals approved by League members in December. The League thanks the Governor for his work in these areas.

During the address, Governor McCrory recognized Winfall Mayor Fred Yates, citing both his and the town's resiliency following a tornado in April 2014. Read more about the Governor's address here.

Discussions between the League and key decision-makers in Raleigh continue regarding the loss of municipal privilege license tax authority. Within the past week, League staff members sat down with representatives from the Governor's office to discuss options for replacing the more than $62 million in revenue cities will lose statewide beginning next year. Legislative leaders recently said they are awaiting a proposal from the Governor, leading to the sit-down with the League. When the law repealing privilege license tax authority was passed last year, legislators and Gov. McCrory promised to replace the lost revenue. But cities across the state are already beginning budget discussions for the coming fiscal year, and no replacement revenue legislation has been proposed, leading to talk of service cuts and potential property tax increases for citizens.
At a joint congressional hearing this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained planned revisions to its proposed rule to clarify the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act (CWA). In addition to including clearer definitions, EPA stated that the final rule will exclude components of Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s).

If incorporated in the final rule, these changes would achieve League members' federal advocacy goal that calls for clarification of the EPA's proposed definition of "waters of the United States" and specifically requests the exemption of human-made ditches and MS4s. The League submitted comments on the proposed rule to EPA in October, requesting the same exclusions from the rule. Contact: Sarah Collins

After weeks of discussions and speculation, the head of the Federal Communications Commission announced this week that he will propose an order to pre-empt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that limit community-owned broadband systems. The proposal by FCC Chair Tom Wheeler comes after the City of Wilson and Chattanooga, Tenn., filed petitions seeking the action. The full commission is expected to vote on the proposal on Feb. 26, and most observers expect it to pass. If that happens, litigation is likely to follow.

The League filed public comments late last year in support of the Wilson petition. The League also opposed and worked to try to stop passage of the 2011 law that restricted the growth of the Wilson high-speed broadband system, Greenlight, and similar municipal-owned broadband systems in the state. Chairman Wheeler has said his proposal will improve broadband investment and competition, benefiting consumers. Read earlier League coverage regarding the Wilson petition and FCC consideration of it here. Read media coverage of Chairman Wheeler's proposal here. Contact: Kim Hibbard

Three House members filed a proposal this week that would eliminate all existing and future municipal extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) areas statewide, including any ETJs created by local acts. HB 51 Justice for Rural Citizens Act, sponsored by Reps. Pittman, Speciale, and Ford, expands upon a similar bill filed last session. The bill would eliminate the ETJs effective January 1, 2016, with the former ETJ area instead becoming subject to county ordinances and regulations. ETJ is a longstanding planning tool in North Carolina that frequently includes county involvement and helps ensure that municipal residents living near corporate limits are protected from problematic development next to corporate limits. This bill not only hurts individual property owners, but violates the wishes of the many counties that support ETJ as an important planning component. The League opposes this bill, which has been assigned to the House Committee on Local Government, and if favorable, then to the House Finance Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia
Register now to attend this year's Town Hall Day, scheduled for March 18. 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. The day will include a legislative briefing from the League's Governmental Affairs Team, meetings with House and Senate leaders, discussions with representatives of state agencies, and an evening reception with legislators and key state leaders. Click here to register and come be a part of this great event.

Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz is continuing her tour in support of restoring the historic preservation tax credit, with recent stops in Durham, Winston-Salem, Asheboro, Concord, Greenville and Statesville. The League and several other groups are supporting Secretary Kluttz on her tour, helping to arrange visits and continuing to lobby for passage of the tax credit.

We want to thank all League members who have helped set up events in their communities as a part of the effort. We would also like to recognize Sen. Jerry Tillman, Rep. Pat Hurley and Rep. Allen McNeill for being so supportive during the recent stop in Asheboro. Read more about that visit here.

Sen. Trudy Wade of Greensboro has filed legislation that would dramatically reshape the Greensboro City Council. SB 36 Greensboro City Council Changes would reduce the number of council members, change the mayor's powers, reduce at-large seats, and lengthen council terms. Mayor Nancy Vaughan and other members of the Greensboro City Council said they had not asked for the changes and were surprised by the introduction of the bill. Read more about the bill and reaction to it here.