A packed presser. From left: Rep. Susan Martin, Rep. Kelly Alexander, Zebulon Mayor and League President Bob Matheny, Rep. Chuck McGrady. Photo credit: Ben Brown
The General Assembly's press conference room filled to capacity on Wednesday to signal the momentum behind a bipartisan bill from Hendersonville's Rep. Chuck McGrady to reform how North Carolina's justice system interacts with youths. Supported by the League's Executive Committee and commonly referred to as "raise the age" legislation, HB 280 Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act would chiefly amend law to consider 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles, not adults, when charged with crimes, except in certain felony cases.
Rep. McGrady, citing his long tenure as a summer camp director, explained that teenagers are in a formative stage of life that often doesn't fit our justice system's standards for adults. "I knew before I got to the General Assembly, both as a parent and as an employer, that 16- and 17-year-olds were not adults," Rep. McGrady said, adding that North Carolina is one of only two states prosecuting youths of that age as adults. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts Director Marion Warren, on hand at the press conference, thanked Rep. McGrady for the proposal, which at the time of this writing had 40 sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including fellow primary sponsors House Rules Chairman David Lewis and Reps. Duane Hall and Susan Martin. The bill would also institute new law enforcement officer training requirements and standards related to juvenile justice issues and create a new Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee, whose membership would include one police chief.
N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts Director Marion Warren remarks on the bill to full attendance from media and coalition partners. Photo credit: Ben Brown
Warren, standing with Zebulon Mayor and League President Bob Matheny, thanked North Carolina's local governments for their support of the bill. Warren highlighted recent data showing 97 percent of convictions of 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina are for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. "We put an albatross or a millstone around the youth of our state when we give them an adult conviction," Warren said. "Now, they did what they did ... (but they're given) a permanent mark that is an economic disincentive to the youth of our state."
Rep. Hall, an attorney, said "raise the age" legislation has been pushed without success for decades, but the coalition of backers is now unprecedented size. "Why do we think we're finally going to do it this time?" Rep. Hall posed. "...The answer is it seems like absolutely everyone's been on board. I've never been to a press conference where people showed up 30 minutes early because they want to be here to be part of it." It wasn't just House support visible on Wednesday; senators were on hand as well, including Sens. Shirley Randleman, Tamara Barringer and Terry Van Duyn. Also present were private sector supporters including the N.C. Chamber. "Grassroots support show you what the real focus of this initiative will be," Warren said. Click here for media coverage.
House Speaker Tim Moore (center) pictured with League 1st Vice President Michael Lazzara (left) and President Bob Matheny during a recent visit. Photo credit: Rose Vaughn Williams
Top officials in state government are on the agenda for Town Hall Day on March 29, including Gov. Roy Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore. This crucial day of advocacy for towns and cities also will highlight those municipalities that have uploaded stories to the League's Here We Grow website promoting municipal investments that foster economic growth, with a special treat for those municipalities -- a customized handout featuring their local story. Those stories, and the local investments that help generate jobs and create a great quality of life in North Carolina, will again be a significant part of the day's advocacy.
Besides the Governor and House Speaker, appearances by cabinet leaders and other policymaking notables, in addition to your own appointments with legislators from your area (call them and make those appointments NOW if you haven't already), are set to make Town Hall Day 2017 an unbeatable event for connection and advocacy.
Gov. Roy Cooper. Photo source: Official Flickr account
Indeed, Town Hall Day is the signature legislative advocacy event for municipalities. Nothing can replace the positive impact of in-person conversation on legislators' votes. Just this week, municipal officials with the League's Legislative and Regulatory Action Committees were meeting with legislators on the need for the state's support with infrastructure, broadband and revenue options. Hundreds of municipal officials had their say at last year's Town Hall Day.
Don't miss this year's opportunity. Click here to register and here for a video interview with League President and Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny about the importance and growth of Town Hall Day. And if you haven't done so yet, contact League staff or go to the Here We Grow website to put your story up on the site so that your municipality can be featured on this special day. Town Hall Day 2017 will be one for the books -- and it's just ahead!
A new version of HB 2 Provide Certain Property Tax Relief that debuted in the House this week would provide a state reimbursement for any revenue losses suffered by local governments as a result of increasing the property tax exemption for disabled veterans. Cities and towns thank the bill's sponsors, especially Rep. Nelson Dollar, for responding to municipal concerns regarding the revenue impacts of this legislation. As originally filed, the bill would have increased the property tax exemption for fully disabled veterans from the first $45,000 of property value to 100 percent of the property value. That was projected by legislative staff to cost local governments upwards of $25 million statewide, primarily concentrated in cities and counties surrounding the state's military bases.
The version of the bill discussed in the House Committee on State & Local Government II this week allows for the state to "hold harmless" any county for revenue losses suffered as a result of increasing that exemption. The county tax assessor would request the hold harmless payment from the secretary of the Department of Revenue, and the county would then distribute to any affected cities within its borders the revenue lost. The bill also provides a full property tax exemption for the surviving spouses of local law enforcement officers and firefighters, among others, who are killed in the line of duty. The bill will be referred to both the House Finance and House Appropriations Committee before it makes its way to the full chamber. Contact: Chris Nida
A measure filed yesterday would place severe restrictions on a city's ability to assure public safety and address other community concerns regarding small cell wireless installations. HB 310 Wireless Communications Infrastructure Siting, based on model national legislation, would wipe out most tools that cities currently utilize to ensure safe siting of communications infrastructure in the public right of way. The bill eliminates most municipal zoning authority related to these installations, forces an expedited review process that leaves city officials little time to go over designs and spot safety concerns, and limits the amounts a city may charge applicants for application reviews and use of the right of way.
Small cell technology usually consists of antennas and accompanying equipment, including a power source. Quickly becoming the industry standard, the technology typically attaches to existing public buildings, infrastructure in the public right of way (like streetlights or electric distribution poles), or new monopoles. This latest technology allows wireless carriers to meet surges in demand in highly-trafficked areas, such as busy street intersections or sports stadiums.
The League opposes the bill in its current form and believes the measure is premature. Small cell wireless technology is a new and still-evolving technology now utilized only in dense urban areas. To prepare for its buildout, over the past year, North Carolina cities and towns have undertaken a large-scale education campaign in partnership with wireless industry stakeholders. This campaign has enhanced city officials' ability to accommodate the industry. As the League told the Federal Communications Commission in comments submitted last week, the collaborative efforts include a small cell wireless forum held last October in Raleigh, as well as three free additional forums to be held later this month in Wilmington, Greensboro, and Charlotte (register here). In addition, city officials and wireless industry representatives are now negotiating ordinance language that cities across the state may use as a model for updating local processes. Municipalities urge legislators to allow city officials to continue these collaborations with the industry outside of the legislative context prior to considering the need for any statutory updates, such as those proposed in HB 310. Contact: Erin Wynia
All over the country, municipalities big and small are taking steps to make their city operations smarter, faster and more efficient. Join local officials from across your region for a two-hour forum to learn about wireless technologies that can help achieve those aims. Brought to you by the League, you'll hear from industry and government experts on public safety initiatives such as FirstNet, good government practices such as the Internet of Things and smart cities, and next-generation wireless capabilities enabled by small-cell technologies.
Building on information the League has already shared about these technologies through its Municipal Equation podcast episodes on smart cities and a digital mindset in local government, the forum will provide timely information about how all of these applications take advantage of your connected cities, counties, and regions. We are offering three different locations for this forum to make it more convenient for you to attend.
The forum will offer a free two-hour program followed by a reception with legislators from your area. Register now to attend one of the following events, which will begin at 10 a.m. (Note: The previously announced Charlotte forum has moved to Huntersville).
For registration questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
An issue of growing importance -- or already paramount -- for many cities and towns in North Carolina is underscored in recently filed companion House and Senate bills with uncommon momentum. The bipartisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act (SB 175 / HB 243) seeks a multipronged crackdown on opioid abuse, and at least one sponsor told his local newspaper this week that it could see unanimous approval among lawmakers. The companion bills include, among many other things, a requirement that supervising physicians personally consult with physician assistants and nurse practitioners who prescribe schedule II-V controlled substances for long-term use and establishing limits for initial prescriptions.
The proposals come from Sens. Jim Davis, Tom McInnis and Bill Rabon; and Reps. Greg Murphy, Ted Davis, Chris Malone and Craig Horn. Nearly 90 lawmakers are co-sponsoring the bills, collectively, and State Attorney General Josh Stein is calling it a priority. Stein explained further: "This legislation will help prevent future addictions in a few ways. It’ll reduce the number of pills prescribed – keeping them out of medicine cabinets and preventing them from being misused. It’ll reduce prescription fraud by requiring e-prescribing, and it’ll prevent doctor shopping by requiring doctors to check a prescription database to see what else their patients are taking. Importantly, it also provides much-needed funding for treatment to help people who are currently suffering from substance use disorder."
Municipalities across North Carolina are taking stands against opioid misuse. They include Fayetteville, whose Task Force on Substance and Opioid Abuse was featured in the January-February edition of Southern City. It's also a focus of the National League of Cities, which in November 2016 released a report alongside the National Association of Counties on how local governments are responding to the crisis. Click here and here for additional media coverage of the new legislative proposals.
In an unprecedented attempt to restrict a class of property from utility fees, HB 275 No Stormwater Fees on Taxiways or Runways would exempt airports from paying the stormwater utility fee for the impervious surface from runways and taxis. To qualify for the exemption, the airport must use the amount of savings for attracting business to the airport. The remainder of the airport that is comprised of an impervious surface (such as a parking area) would still be taken into account.
Stormwater utilities use their collected fees to implement flood prevention efforts and other stormwater management measures that protect private property. The cost of the utility fees lost from airports will be borne by other ratepayers. There doesn’t seem to be a rationale in exempting airports over other ratepayers, since taxiways and runways are paved surfaces just like rooftops and parking lots; water runs off them like it does any other impervious surface, creating the potential to cause flooding.
League members adopted an advocacy goal stating that the management of a public utility is best determined by the local owning entity due to their consideration of financing, engineering, and regulatory responsibilities. In that spirit, the League believes the implementation details of a stormwater utility fee should be left to the discretion of the local government.
Two proposals emerged this week from the House and Senate regarding the pension benefits that law enforcement officers would receive if they retire after 25 years of service, instead of 30 years. However, the two chambers approached the issue differently.
The retirement system that provides benefits to employees of cities, towns, counties and other entities of local government is the Local Governmental Employees' Retirement System (LGERS). It's funded by investment earnings, employee contributions, and employer contributions. Employers and employees make these contributions so that, upon an employee’s retirement from either system, he or she is able to receive a consistent, defined benefit based on salary and years of service.
SB 199 Law Enforcement Officer Retirement/25 Years provides that law enforcement officers would receive their full pension benefit after 25 years of service. This proposal would result in increased costs to the retirement system since it decreases the period the officer is working/contributing to the system and increases the period for which he receive the pension benefit. These costs will be paid by the employers of LGERS through a significant increase in the contribution rate they pay to the pension system for law enforcement officers. Additionally, this proposal would extend the period that a retiring officer would be eligible for his special separation allowance -- a benefit that is unique to law enforcement and is used as a gap filler until social security benefits can be received. The cost of extending that benefit would be borne solely by the budget of the local government employer.
HB 284 25-year LEO Retirement Option is instead intended to be cost neutral for employers by providing a reduced benefit for law enforcement officers that choose to retire after 25 years of service, regardless of age. It additionally provides for the ability for the employer to offer a separation buyout to an officer who chooses to retire prior to reaching eligibility for the special separation allowance.
The League is still analyzing the impacts of both these proposals, but strives to minimize mandates by state government that require the expenditure of local taxpayer funds that are not voluntarily agreed to by the local elected body and to defend the fiscal integrity LGERS.
Bill-filing is ratcheting up on Jones Street. How are you to keep pace? When it comes to the issues that matter to cities and towns, our bill-tracker has you covered. Get the details on new bills like HB 320 Study Electronics Recycling; HB 115 Retirement Technical Corrections Act of 2017 (which among other things reduces the procurement procedures required of governmental units to comply with the 2015 Iran Divestment Act); and SB 188, the latest "sanctuary cities" bill in the Senate. For each of the many bills we track, we give you a staff analysis of effects, the sponsor, the last action taken, and level of importance to municipal government. Find the bill-tracker here or under the "Legislative Advocacy" menu at nclm.org.
News that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) might be on the chopping block under the Trump administration got a quick response from local government organizations this week. It's one of multiple funding sources reportedly slated for elimination or reduction under President Donald Trump's budget plans. "(CDBG) funds are the heart, lungs and backbone of cities and counties, small, medium and large. By eliminating or cutting them, the administration mortally wounds the places where the majority of Americans live, work and play." That's from a joint statement issued Thursday by U.S. Conference of Mayors CEO Tom Cochran, National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase and National League of Cities (NLC) CEO Clarence E. Anthony.
News outlets reported the previous day that the White House was eyeing more than $6 billion in cuts from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers CDBG. The entire $3 billion that CDBG is budgeted to receive this fiscal year would be cut entirely under President Trump's forthcoming budget proposal, according to the reports. "On behalf of the elected officials of America’s cities and counties across this nation," Cochran, Chase and Anthony said, "we urgently request a meeting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson to discuss our utmost concern before any proposal is sent to Congress." Click here to read their letter in full.
Separately, outlets including Route Fifty are reporting that the president's proposals aren't hopeful for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, or TIGER grants, which are used by state and local governments. The City of Wilson in 2015 landed a $10 million TIGER grant for a project to make pedestrian traffic safer and to encourage business investment.
We reported last week that NLC had called on President Trump to attend the upcoming Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., so cities could communicate their priorities with context.
Click here for full details on the Congressional City Conference
It'll be difficult to miss North Carolina's municipal colors in Washington, D.C. over the next few days. Nearly 200 municipal leaders from the Tar Heel State will join League Executive Director Paul Meyer and Associate Executive Director of Public & Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams at the National League of Cities' 2017 Congressional City Conference in the nation's capital. The program runs March 11-15, and NLC expects at least 2,000 city leaders from across the U.S. "NLC's legislative conference convenes the nation’s local leaders to network, learn and advocate on Capitol Hill for various legislative priorities important to cities," says NLC. Topics of discussion will include economic development, technology and data use, the opioid crisis, sustainability and climate change, transportation, community relations and leadership development. Speakers on the agenda include U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Secretary for the Department of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin, and more. Click here for the schedule.