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League Bulletin

April 5, 2019

​​WHAT HAPPENED: A big surge in bill filing. For perspective, last week we reported that the 177 new bills of the time represented an uptick. This week, we saw 335 bills entered, and indeed a number of them are of interest to cities and towns. They include new backing for the historic preservation tax credit, additional broadband proposals, sales tax redistribution, billboards and more.  ​
WHAT IT MEANS: The Senate's final filing deadline was a few days ago, so we expected a crunch at the end. But it certainly means more to follow and consider as the stew thickens. We've told you about our online bill tracker as, paired with this Bulletin, a great way to keep tabs on individual proposals that could impact your municipality. 
ON TAP: House members had a softer deadline this week, of April 3 to get money-related public bills to the drafting department. But they'll have to get full proposals into the filing system by April 23 for them to be considered. They have until April 16 for bills not dealing with money. Meanwhile, there's state budget development and the super late-night event at the Legislative Building meant to serve as a do-or-die cutoff for legislation -- "crossover," May 9, by which time most bills have to have passed at least one chamber to remain eligible.
THE SKINNY: Clearly, we're no longer writing about the long session ratcheting up. That's over with. We're full speed now at the General Assembly, where our team is covering the bases to bring you the kind of information and advocacy we can offer you in this Bulletin. Read on for plenty of details. 

Register now for CityVision2019, set for May 14-16 in Hickory. CityVision is the League's premier annual event, this year with two full days of engaging speakers, educational sessions with tools you can use, and networking opportunities that connect you to both new and established partners from across the state! 

Program highlights Include:

• Energetic keynote speakers focused on future readiness, regional partnerships, grants, broadband and technology, the opioid challenge, and conference takeaways
• Roundtable-style breakout sessions
• Mobile workshop
• Exhibit hall and networking

Don't miss this conference, which will be attended by municipal officials from all across North Carolina. Register today!​

​On next Tuesday, April 9, the Senate State and Local Government Committee​ is scheduled to hear damaging legislation that will restrict and undermine local tree ordinances. SB 367 Clarify Property Owners’ Rights would require that all local ordinances regulating the removal of trees be permitted only with the express authorization of the General Assembly. For the dozens of municipalities with local tree ordinances already created by local acts, those ordinances would have to be amended to allow property owners, in every instance, to remove trees interfering with construction so long as trees were replaced with tree saplings. 
The League opposes this bill and urges you to contact your state senator and let them know that SB 367 undermines local authority and harms local visions of community character that are critical to economic development and residents’ quality of life.
It is also important to understand that this legislation – like other state mandates affecting local development – has the potential to restrict the ability of local officials to protect the rights of existing property owners from neighboring development that could harm their property values.
With that in mind, please make the following points to legislators:​
• SB 367, by restricting local tree ordinances, damages local visions of community character that are crucial to economic development and residents’ quality of life.
• Local officials are best positioned to determine how local tree ordinances should be created and applied, as they are responding to local voters and property owners and understand the differing needs of their communities.
• SB 367 limits the ability of local officials to protect the rights of all property owners, including those whose homes border new development and could potentially lose value based on how that development proceeds.

Please contact your state senator this weekend and let them know of your opposition to SB 367 Clarify Property Owners’ Rights. Ask that they vote against this legislation in any committee or floor votes. You can find more about the General Assembly and your representatives here

Taking its first step toward passage into law, HB 399 Historic Preservation Act of 2019​, which would enhance and extend the state’s historic tax credit, cleared the House Commerce Committee on Wednesday and will now be considered by the House Finance Committee. The House committee’s action came as the Senate filed a bill that includes a provision that extends the tax credit for four years, potentially signaling that Senate leadership may not push back against the idea of the extension, even as differences may arise over the term of the extension and any changes to the tax credit. That provision can be found in Sec. 5.2 of SB 622 Tax Reductio​n Act of 2019

​In Wednesday’s committee hearing, Rep. Steve Ross of Burlington, a primary sponsor of HB 399, made the point that the historic preservation tax credit is most needed in the towns that have suffered jobs losses due to​ mill closings, and that it is helping to revitalize local economies. “There is really not a better economic development tool than we have right here,” Ross said.  The tax credit is currently scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and League members voted to make its extension a legislative priority back in November. R​ead about the League’s response​ to the legislation when it was filed. ​

The Joint Municipal Caucus held its first meeting of the year on Tuesday, using the occasion to provide an overview of the HB 431 FIBER NC Act​, which would achieve a key legislative goal of cities and towns by encouraging more public-private partnerships expanding broadband access. Rep. Steve Ross of Burlington and Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham – co-chairs of the caucus -- kicked off the meeting discussing the importance of legislators having knowledge of and backgrounds in local government in order to understand the complex issues facing local decision-makers. The caucus includes 33 members of the House and Senate, all with backgrounds in municipal government. Senator McKissick, in his comments, noted how the caucus can be a resource for cities and towns as members help other legislators appreciate the unique challenges facing local government. Rep. Josh Dobson, a primary sponsor of HB 431, provided members with an explanation of the legislation that led to a lengthy question-and-answer session examining aspects of the bill and how it would broaden local authority to enter into public-private partnerships with private internet service providers. The League thanks members of the caucus for their interest in the issue, and their focus on municipal-related issues generally, and also thanks Representative Dobson for his time and effort pursuing this crucial policy change. 

​At least 17 bills at this point in the long session mention or deal with broadband in some way, including new proposals this week at the General Assembly like SB 645 Local Gov'ts/Broadband Service Infrastructure​. From Sens. Jim Burgin and Ted Alexander, the bill would authorize cities and towns to build and lease broadband facilities and equipment "to attract investment in local economies, provide for educational and career opportunities, modernize farming technologies, and to provide for improved healthcare," the bill says. Also filed this week was SB 627 Expand GREAT Grant Program​, which would make local governments eligible to receive broadband infrastructure grants under the state's Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology, or GREAT, program. GREAT went into effect last year to boost rural broadband opportunities but did not consider municipalities the eligible parties for funds. 
Broadband expansion proposals, including the previously reported FIB​ER NC Act, are coming from both sides of the aisle as officials recognize how essential fast internet service is to modern living and business, and how that relationship will only grow in the future. Better policy for expanding broadband access across all communities is a central focus for cities and towns, having selected it as a legislative priority at least year's League Advocacy Goals Conference. The Burlington City Council approved a supportive resolution this week. And the Carolina Journal published an article​ exploring the movement of support for new ways of broadband boosting, including the public-private approach where local governments could build the infrastructure and private companies could use it on lease terms. "I know there are some who see this as an ideological issue of government getting involved,” FIBER NC Act sponsor Rep. Josh Dobson told Carolina Journal. “I don’t necessarily see it that way because it’s only the government providing the infrastructure. One out of every two students in Avery County that I represent does not have access to internet in their home. And that’s just unacceptable to me. I have not done my job when one out of every two students does not have access to the internet. We have to have an all options on the table approach.”

A new proposal has emerged to shift how North Carolina's local sales tax revenues are distributed. SB 650 Simplifying NC Local Sales Tax Distribution​ surfaced Thursday from Sens. Harry Brown of Jacksonville and Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine. It would change the current formula for how the state distributes locally levied sales taxes to counties, resulting in equally valuing the amounts at the tax’s point of collection and the county’s per capita measurement. It would also make incremental changes in each tax year until achieving that equal 50-50 formula in 2023. The bill would also eliminate adjustment factors made after that calculation that are in current law.
If this proposal feels familiar, cities and towns responded to a sales tax redistribution measure in 2015​ that could have cost cities and towns substantial revenue, but it didn't advance through the session, a credit to the communication that local officials had with their delegates on the context, need for more resources and the new challenges that year's bill would have created. 
​HB 570 and SB 536 Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform were filed this week and represent a culmination of a yearlong legislative study committee that was charged with looking at a variety of issues related to rates of public enterprise utilities. The committee eventually narrowed its focus to the pressing issue of the more-than $17 billion of water and sewer infrastructure needs statewide and the continued financial viability of certain utilities based on their infrastructure needs. The committee was very active, receiving presentations and participation from the League, UNC School of Government’s Environmental Finance Center, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Infrastructure, N.C. Local Government Commission, N.C. Rural Water Association, and N.C. Association of County Commissioners.

HB 570 and SB 526 would do many things to try to address water and wastewater utility viability, including creating a new grant program administered by the State Water Infrastructure Authority called the “Viable Utility Reserve Fund.” In creating that program, it directs what type of water and wastewater system projects can be funded, including assistance for physical interconnection of systems; rehabilitation of existing infrastructure; decentralization; and the study rates, asset inventory, merger and regionalization options. In order to fund that new grant program, the bill creates a $1 monthly surcharge to be paid by every wastewater and water customer of a public water or wastewater utility.  The utility would collect the surcharge on their regular billing schedule and remit it to the state, allowing the utility to take a percentage to cover administrative costs. The fund can also accept an appropriation of money from the state, but the proposal doesn’t specify one. Additionally, the proposal would set a method for assessing and reviewing when a water or wastewater system is consider to be distressed, and incudes studies of the requirements of sub-basin interbrain transfers and an voluntary option of historical charters for municipalities.
In committee discussions, there were many presentations and talks about the changing demographics of our state; the lessening of federal funding to utilities; the inability in some areas to charge ratepayers what is needed to keep the system in good condition; and the fact that merger, consolidation, and regionalization is often impracticable because a utility in good financial standing will not burden its existing ratepayers by merging with a struggling utility. There was a recognition that there needs to be a structure in place to give viability grants to utilities to get them back to a baseline where merger, regionalization, or a sale of the system could even be possible without mandating regionalization, merger, and interconnection. 

New bills churned like whitewater rapids at the General Assembly this week with more than 330 filings. The League, as always, is plugging ​any municipally significant proposals into our online bill tracker for easy studying. Among them is SB 619 Law Enforcement Agency Recordings​, which if passed would achieve a statewide goal of cities and towns. It would make several changes to the existing laws on the release and disclosure of law enforcement agency recordings, including allowing 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.
In problematic bills this week is SB 534 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws​, which would make numerous changes to the state’s billboard laws and lists  the factors for calculating just compensation to be paid if a sign is condemned, including potential future income the sign could earn. The bill would also set new standards for relocating existing signs and preempt any local ordinances to the contrary.
Also in the mix are House bills 57​3 and 622​. The respective bills would create a framework for evaluating whether post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by a qualifying first responder is a compensable injury under the employer’s worker’s compensation coverage. First responders who are employees of municipalities, as well as volunteer firefighters, would be eligible for this new benefit. It would also require employers of both paid and volunteer first responders to provide mental health educational training. 
In other new bills, S​B 620 Electric Standup Scooters rolled out this week and speaks to the popular use of e-scooters in many cities -- and to ways that local authorities can regulate these vehicles, such as with maximum speed in pedestrian areas and penalties for violations. The bill also addresses scooter-share programs and would allow local authorities to require the program operator to share data as a condition. Local authorities would be forbidden from imposing "any unduly restrictive requirement" on scooter-share programs. 
Meanwhile, an immigration-law bill we reported on last week passed the House. HB 370 Require Sheriff Cooperation with ICE​ would, among other things, allow a private right-of-action for people who claim their municipality or its police agency isn't complying with state immigration law. The bill now sits in the Senate Rules Committee.
Follow our bill tracker​ for a complete but digestible look at the proposals we're following for cities and towns. 

​The cities of Kannapolis and Marion are the latest to utilize Here We Grow -- a free resource for North Carolina's cities and towns to share about economic development successes -- with amazing stories of downtown turnarounds. In Kannapolis -- a city remaking its entire downtown in a project like no other (as featured in a recent League video) -- parties have broken ground on a mixed-use district set to bring huge variety and large investment figures. "This is not just about money; this project is about people," said Mayor Darrell Hinnant. Read the details at​. ​
Marion logged into Here We Grow to tell us about a compelling entrepreneurship program that was bound to find a larger audience, as it too is transforming an entire downtown. Sure enough, the N.C. Department of Commerce just deemed it “Best Economic Development Incentive Program” and gave area leaders a platform to show peers across the state how it’s rejuvenated business activity and excitment in the core district.
Your community could -- and should -- be the next to tell its story. Here We Grow is the best way to show what your municipality and all others across the state collectively are doing for the state's economy. Peruse the site and read stories from peer cities and towns for inspiration (and ideas you could duplicate where you live). New to Here We Grow? Send an email to to request login credentials and be the next to share your community's story. It's a free resource for League-member cities and towns, elevated by a recent content-sharing partnership with WRAL TechWire​. Don't wait. Be a part of it today. 

​N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein on Monday urged federal regulators to think again on a draft report they've put out on pain-management best-practices. "The report suggests providers can rely solely on their judgement instead of consulting evidence-based recommendations," says a press release from Stein's office. "By doing so, it weakens recommendations for opioid prescription duration and dosage." He said that, for some, one prescription is all it takes to stoke addiction and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously put out different guidelines on decreasing opioid misuse. "Moving away from the CDC Guideline at this critical time would undermine ongoing legislative initiatives, as well as refinements to standards of medical care,” Stein wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “As a matter of public safety, there is simply no justification to move away from the CDC Guideline to encourage more liberal use of an ineffective treatment that causes nearly 50,000 deaths annually."
The urgency of the opioid addiction crisis and what local governments can do about it are outlined in a recent video series​ from the League as part of an overall solutions toolbox.