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League Bulletin

March 15, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: To say the legislature continues to move slowly and methodically would be relatively true at this point in the long-session, but there's plenty to highlight. Appropriations committees received presentations on budget-writing considerations, an education bond bill worth nearly $2 billion saw action, and we're now past the deadline for lawmakers to get certain kinds of bills filed. Senators, for instance, had until Thursday to file local bills.

WHAT IT MEANS: Within the activity is movement on some of the 2019-20 advocacy goals that cities and towns across the state set just prior to the long-session.
ON TAP: Some deadlines remain. Members of the House have until March 28 to file local bills (if they met the prior deadline to get those bill requests to the drafting office). March 27 is their deadline to get requests for public bills and resolutions (those not dealing with revenue or spending) to drafting. (Public bills dealing with money have House deadlines in April.) We're past all filing deadlines in the Senate except for an April 2 last-call on public bills and resolutions. 
THE SKINNY: Again, a lot to talk about, but as deadlines pass and we move deeper into bill-vetting and budget talks, the priorities of cities and towns are in the mix of conversation. This Bulletin breaks down what we know right now. 

​The 127 new bills in the General Assembly this week partly represent a Thursday flurry of local acts filed in the Senate. Overall, the raft of new proposals included nods to the collective advocacy goals that North Carolina's cities and towns chose ahead of the long-session. For the Senate, Thursday was deadline-day for local bills, bringing in proposals like SB 256 and 257, which respectively would set up a local-option sales tax in Pineville (for public infrastructure and facilities) and Cornelius (for road construction and improvement). Those revenue sources would only go into effect following local voter approval. Another local option sales tax bill surfaced in the House (which has a March 28 final deadline for local bills) for street improvement in Hendersonville. Again, these measures line up with municipal advocacy goals. 
SB 263 Law Enforcement Recordings/Winston-Salem also met the Senate's local deadline. Applying only to Winston-Salem, it would change existing laws on the release and disclosure of law enforcement agency recordings. Among other things,​​ it would allow release or disclosure to the city manager, city council, or citizen review board if there is a confidentiality agreement and it is done in closed session -- which would also mirror a League-member goal. Other recent local bills include HB 311, filed in the House to authorize the City of Greensboro to convey city-owned real property in efforts to expand affordable housing (too, a goal topic). 
Additional goal-supporting bills on funding or appropriations received their first committee hearing and passed with no significant debate or concerns. They include: 
-HB 159 State Search and Rescue Funding, which would appropriate $2.3 million in recurring funds for each of the next two fiscal years to support search and rescue activities undertaken in partnership with local governments.
-HB 258 Expand Eligibility for Utility Account, which would give more counties eligibility for the Utility Account Program, which awards grants to local governments in qualifying rural areas for infrastructure projects, such as water and sewer, broadband, and transportation.
-HB 206 DOT Legislative Changes, which among other things would establish a program to fund improvements at large publicly-owned commercial airports.
Follow along with the proposals we're monitoring with our easy-to-use online Bill Tracker​

Gov. Roy Cooper has issued an executive order toward better internet access across the state, with first steps including a "Dig Once" policy that promotes installation of broadband infrastructure during state road construction projects. Executive Order 91 came out Thursday and additionally establishes a Governor's Task Force on Connecting North Carolina. Overall, "The order directs state government leaders to identify and remove barriers to affordable, high-speed internet access, eliminate the homework gap that results from students not having internet access, and facilitate private-sector deployment of last-mile infrastructure," a press release explained. 
The "Dig Once" policy is to be jointly developed by the state Department of Transportation and Department of Information Technology in consultation with stakeholder groups including the League. Per the order, it will go into effect this July to reduce broadband construction costs and time, "eliminating a major barrier to expanding high-speed internet access to many areas," the governor's office said. Governor Cooper argues it's "not optional" to accept unreliable, slow or non-existent connections anymore. "Too many North Carolinians lack internet access they need to apply for jobs, do homework or run a small business," he said. 
The League has assembled numerous resources, including a detailed report on the broadband gap with recommendations, at​

​League leaders and a band of North Carolina municipal officials joined a national, organized day of advocacy​ in Washington, D.C. this week that urged federal decisionmakers to act on mounting infrastructural and community development needs. With League-member officials​ numbering beyond 180, "More than 2,000 leaders from America’s cities, towns and villages are here in Washington, D.C., with a simple message: Rebuild With Us," said Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, president of the National League of Cities (NLC), which organized the day as part of its Congressional City Conference​​. Rebuild With Us is NLC's campaign asking Congress to pass comprehensive measures to not only rebuild the nation's infrastructure but reimagine it as well. Strong local-federal partnerships are important for getting it right, the organization says. To that end, North Carolina had an impressive showing on Capitol Hill with elected officials and staffers from small communities to its largest cities. Said League Executive Director Paul Meyer, who also attended, "We represented how diverse North Carolina’s municipalities are and how their needs vary. What these cities and towns have in common, though, is that their leaders are key partners in helping Congress make informed decisions on the maintenance and development of our communities. It was gratifying to watch our member cities and towns share their stories effectively.”
In related news, NLC has selected Durham as one of just eight U.S. cities to receive funding and technical assistance toward resiliency goals, which could help create new insights and standards for other cities around the nation.

​A​ pair of announcements this week from the N.C. Department of Commerce are all about the success of North Carolina's downtowns and their meaning to the state overall. The first one focuses on the N.C. Main Street and Small Town Main Street Awards Ceremony this week in Salisbury, which recognized 14 downtown revitalization projects, like the "Made on Main" work in Goldsboro, honored as "Best Public-Private Partnership in Downtown Revitalization." Fuquay-Varina, for another, won in "Best Adaptive Reuse Project," in a renovated, former EMS building now in use as successful private, downtown business. Kenny Flowers, assistant secretary for Rural Economic Development, said it's important these projects are publicized. "They demonstrate the kind of vision that local governments and their economic development partners, private developers, business owners, and private citizens need to improve their downtown districts and grow the local economy," he said. 
The awards coincided with the 2019 N.C. Main Street Conference in downtown Salisbury, itself a great success in partner-driven revitalization, according to Gov. Roy Cooper. "Creating the synergy of a strong downtown helps rural counties across North carolina, particularly when they come to events like this and see downtown Salisbury," the Salisbury Post newspaper quoted​ of the governor. 
Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce announced the selection of 24 communities in rural counties for Downtown Strong, a new program from the N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center providing downtown revitalization savvy to chosen incorporated rural communities. "Downtowns are the heartbeat of North Carolina," said Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland. "Downtown Strong will help small communities regain their economic vibrancy and position them to retain and recruit new businesses, create jobs and spur investment." A press release has more details and gives a full list of chosen towns. 

Gov. Roy Cooper has added more municipal experience to state entities. On Wednesday, his office announced​ the appointment of Goldsboro Mayor Chuck Allen to the N.C. Military Affairs Commission. Mayor Allen, who chairs the Wayne County Development Alliance and Goldsboro Metropolitan Organization, fills a role on the commission of a retired military resident living near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Also announced this week was Pollocksville Mayor Jay Bender as an at-large member of the Tryon Palace Commission. Bender also serves on the Civilian-Military Community Council and in several other leadership roles.