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League Bulletin

March 24, 2016

Due to tomorrow's Good Friday holiday, we are bringing you LINC'ed IN a day early. We will be back next week on our regular schedule, with all of the latest news important to cities and towns across the state. On behalf of the League staff, have a great Easter weekend!

In a swift 12-hour period yesterday, lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory introduced, debated and ultimately passed into law a measure to preempt local non-discrimination actions. The League opposed the measure for its limitation on local authority. "Placing limits on local decision-making authority ultimately is a limit on the political power of local residents," said League Executive Director Paul Meyer. "Those residents can and do hold local officials responsible for their decisions." The compacted lawmaking schedule came in a special one-day session, convened at the request of three-fifths of the members of each legislative chamber. Top lawmakers signaled the possibility of a special session in the weeks leading up, having voiced objection to one aspect of a recent Charlotte City Council ordinance that would require all businesses that serve the public to allow persons to use whichever bathroom is aligned with their gender identity. Yesterday's legislative debate featured emotionally charged testimony from supporters and detractors of the bill during House and Senate committee hearings. Further, Senate Democrats protested by walking out of the chamber prior to the full Senate vote on the bill. Senate leaders in both parties had already laid out many of the arguments heard throughout the day.

"We have a bill that makes it clear we are not going to put citizens in harm's way as a result of the reckless decisions of the Charlotte City Council," said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, referring to bill proponents' statements that leaving the ordinance in place would allow men into women's bathrooms for the purpose of committing sex crimes. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue raised concerns about the message such legislation would send to businesses that local governments and the state worked to recruit. "I worry about local governments and the impact on economic development from this legislation," said Blue. He also objected to the local preemption sections of the bill. "It smothers the ability of local governments to govern in a way that their citizens think they ought to," Blue said.

The new law would prohibit any municipal or county board from regulating places of public accommodation. Instead, the law reserved such regulatory authority for state government. In addition to addressing concerns about the bathroom aspect of Charlotte's ordinance, the new law also would also prohibit local governments from including any non-discrimination or employment practice-related conditions as part of local contract awards with vendors. The new law additionally would prohibit local governments from establishing a local minimum wage standard for private-sector employers.

While most of the debate centered on the bathroom provision, Charlotte's ordinance more broadly sought to prohibit discrimination on the basis of "marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression" in all places of public accommodation, as well as taxis. The ordinance also aimed to prohibit the city from awarding a contract to any business that discriminated along these lines. Contact: Erin Wynia

The Executive Committee of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, in an historic joint gathering with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, met with Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday to discuss issues of importance to local governments and to thank the governor for his leadership in such areas – including the Connect NC bond package and the recent reinstatement of historic preservation tax credits. At the first-of-its-kind roundtable discussion in the Executive Mansion, local government leaders including League President Lestine Hutchens, the mayor of Elkin, updated Gov. McCrory on legislative priorities and found agreement on the importance of fellowship among all levels of government to achieve common goals. Altogether, 14 county and municipal advocates attended.

"I think it's newsworthy and historic that the League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissioners sat together in a joint meeting at the governor’s table," said Mayor Hutchens. "So many times, we have been at odds with each other when there are so many areas where we can work together." Both the League and the Association are hopeful the legislature can grant new revenue options and flexibility as municipalities and counties work to deliver quality service to residents. Gov. McCrory is planning for more League-Association roundtables in the future.

Alongside Mayor Hutchens, League Board of Directors members in attendance included: Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny, First Vice President; Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod; Washington City Council Member William Pitt; and Cary Town Council Member Jennifer Robinson. League Executive Director Paul Meyer and Director of Public and Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams also attended. Gov. McCrory was joined by top staff members including Chief of Staff Thomas Stith, Deputy Chief of Staff Jimmy Broughton and Budget Director Andrew Heath. The League would like to thank Gov. McCrory and staff for their time.

NCLM leadership meets with Gov. Pat McCrory at the Executive Mansion on Wednesday.

Raleigh Democrat Josh Stein resigned from the state Senate on Monday after telling constituents he didn’t want his campaign for attorney general to limit service to his Wake County district. Stein, who was in his fourth Senate term, is facing off with another state senator, Republican Buck Newton, for attorney general this fall. Each beat primary opponents earlier this month. The Wake County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee is scheduled to select a replacement for the vacated Senate seat on April 16, said Austen High, the county party’s executive director. The legislature’s 2016 short session is set to begin April 25. According to the Associated Press, the executive committee’s eyes could fall on Jay Chaudhuri, the Raleigh Democrat who is running to succeed Stein and won the party’s primary nod. (Chaudhuri will face Republican Eric Weaver on the November ballot.) “I’m confident they will choose a powerful voice,” Stein said of the replacement search in comments he posted to social media on Monday. Read media coverage here.

Candidates are stacking up for the June 7 congressional primaries as the filing period winds to a close. Meanwhile, a primary has developed for a seat on the state Supreme Court. The deadline to file for either office is Friday, March 25. By Thursday morning, more than 40 names were in the hat for 12 of the state’s 13 congressional districts. The newly drawn District 13 – covering some or all of Davie, Davidson, Rowan and Iredell counties – was the most popular at the time, with seven candidates on file. Two Republicans currently serving in the legislature, Sen. Andrew Brock of Mocksville and Rep. John Blust of Greensboro, were among them. The new District 12, covering most of Mecklenburg County, had a crowded field as well. Six names were on the slate as of Thursday morning, including two House Democrats: Reps. Rodney Moore of Charlotte and Tricia Cotham of Matthews.

The Supreme Court primary developed in the past week when a third candidate filed for the seat. The State Board of Elections said if three or more candidates emerged during the filing period, a primary election would reduce the field to two candidates who would face one another on the November ballot. The contest is nonpartisan. Click here for full details about the June 7 congressional and Supreme Court primaries.

The N.C. Department of Transportation this month had good news for eight municipalities working to improve local biking and walking opportunities. Carolina Beach, Carthage, Cramerton, Fayetteville, Flat Rock, Laurel Park, Newton and Spindale won aid from the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant program that helps communities create comprehensive strategies that often involve facilities, services or regulations that encourage biking or walking. One county, Currituck, also won a grant. A committee of transportation planners from across the state selected the recipients from a pool of 17 applicants statewide, according to a DOT news release. Since the program’s creation 13 years ago, the state has awarded more than $4 million to 173 communities. Complete information is available here.

More than 60 League members participated in a joint webinar with Duke Energy on Monday to discuss issues surrounding municipal street lighting. The webinar was an opportunity to continue discussions that began after the League, in 2013, intervened in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate case before the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

In its presentation, Duke Energy updated municipal customers on developments in street light technology, including efforts to pilot networked lighting-control systems and other "smart" technologies that allow for dimming and timing of lights. The utility also gave an update on its proactive and its customer-requested conversion of street lights to LED in the Duke Energy Progress territory. Duke said more than 120,000 lights have been so updated. Municipal customers also received information on the new LED products the utility is offering. The next joint meeting will be held in-person in the early fall. Contact: Sarah Collins.