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League Bulletin

April 22, 2016

The N.C. General Assembly is scheduled to convene its 2016 “short session” on Monday for business that could last weeks or months. It makes now the right time to reach out to your local delegates so they're apprised of issues your town is facing. Short sessions are held in even-numbered years to follow up on matters – notably the state budget– from “long sessions” held in odd-numbered years. Short sessions come with restrictions on the kinds of legislation the General Assembly may consider. Generally allowed are bills dealing with spending, local acts, election law, redistricting, constitutional amendments, study committee recommendations and leftovers from the previous long session, among other categories. Click here for a wide-ranging list of 2015 bills still in play. But new ones are in store, too, with some of interest to the municipal sector. LINC’ed IN in recent weeks has reported on legislative proposals from study committees to address police body cameras, the economic tier system, municipal service districts, transportation, stormwater controls and drinking water standards among other possibilities. The deadline for lawmakers to file local bills is May 19, but they must have their proposals in at the bill drafting office by May 3. Click here for the full bill deadline list.

During the legislative session, you can still expect to receive all the latest news impacting North Carolina's cities and towns from the League every Friday. That email will be under the LeagueLINC Bulletin heading during session rather than the LINC'ed IN email you have been receiving for the past several months, but it will remain the only weekly wrap-up of the issues most important to all of North Carolina's municipalities. All of our updates will continue to be linked on the League's website as well.

Register now to attend Town Hall Day 2016. Scheduled for June 8, 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. 

Town Hall Day will include:

  • A legislative briefing from the League’s Public and Governmental Affairs Team
  • Meetings with House and Senate leadership
  • Discussions with representatives of state agencies
  • Opportunities to meet individually with legislators from your district, attend committee meetings and observe chamber floor sessions
  • An evening reception with legislators and key state leaders

Nothing can replace the positive impact of in-person conversation on legislators’ votes. More than 400 municipal officials had their say at last year’s Town Hall Day, which generated plenty of media coverage as well. Make sure you don’t miss this year’s opportunity. Click here to register.

Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday gave the public an aerial view of his recommended budget that lawmakers will consider in the 2016 session. The $22.3 billion plan would represent a 2.8 percent total spending increase without raising taxes or fees, the governor told media during a morning press conference that did not come with line-by-line details. The full budget recommendation will be available for public inspection on April 27, according to State Budget Director Andrew Heath. “This was intended to be a bit more of a high-level overview of some of the priorities in the budget,” Heath said Friday. Those priorities include ensuring Connect NC bond projects move as planned. Connect NC is a $2 billion package overwhelmingly approved by voters in the March primaries. Including $309.5 million for improvements to local water and sewer systems and $75 million for state parks, among other focuses, Connect NC fulfills a League goal to see municipalities afforded resources they need to accommodate growth and provide an exemplary quality of life. “We’re moving to the execution phases and we anticipate having some projects that we can begin shortly,” said Heath. He added the governor’s budget would also fund $1 million in grants for main streets and invests $2.3 million in agri-business. Additional pay for teachers and state employees is another focus of the plan. Read media coverage here.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told media this week that he doesn’t support proposals to repeal the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, the new state law colloquially referred to as House Bill 2 that places certain restrictions on local government authority but has received most attention for its regulation of public restroom access. As reported by the News & Observer, Berger’s remarks followed a federal court’s ruling the previous day that favored a transgender teen in Virginia regarding school restroom preference. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the female-born but male-identifying Gavin Grimm, who argued that denying him access to the boy’s restroom at school violates Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally supported education sites. North Carolina’s new law in part requires individuals at public facilities, including at schools and universities, to use only the restrooms aligned with their biological sex as defined on their birth certificate. The Associated Press reported that Gov. Pat McCrory was seeking input from state lawyers on how that court decision may impact HB2, which is undergoing a legal challenge. Earlier this month, following public and business reactions to the law, Gov. McCrory issued an executive order to expand LGBT protections to state employees and requested a reinstatement of right to sue in state court for discrimination, per HB2’s prohibition on that. According to the Raleigh newspaper, Berger during press questioning said his team “will listen to the governor’s proposal” but added that he wasn’t convinced the bill needed changing. Passed during a special session of the N.C. General Assembly in March, HB2 also prohibits local governments from regulating discrimination in places of public accommodation and affects the requirements they can place on contractors.

Left to right: NCLM Grassroots Initiative & Civic Engagement Associate Will Brooks, Association of Social Democratic Municipalities Secretary General Onur Eryuce, NCLM Director of Research and Policy Analysis Chris Nida, NCLM Legislative and Regulatory Counsel Sarah Collins. Photo credit: Ben Brown

Municipal and finance representatives from Turkey and Romania visited with League staff on Friday to learn about the organization’s promotion of good government and services to municipalities across the state. Turkey’s Onur Eryuce, secretary general of the Association of Social Democratic Municipalities, said his group formed roughly five years ago to build a dialogue between member municipalities in Turkey and European Union stakeholders, much like the League’s founding goal of developing a “cooperative approach to all municipal problems of statewide import.” Eryce said his group represents 122 municipalities that range in population from 30,000 to 4 million – in all about 15 million people. Eryuce, prior to visiting the League’s Raleigh offices, met with counterparts in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Miss., on a tour that will soon see him in San Francisco. He appraised the League and similar organizations as important for advancing common interests and sharing innovative ideas. “This is something wonderful,” he said. Eryce’s visit was complemented later in the day by a League conversation with Dan Manolescu of Bucharest, Romania, who like Eryce was on an engagement tour made possible by the Eisenhower Fellowships, which focuses on global collaboration.

Photo courtesy City of Wilson

Wilson is one of the best small U.S. cities in which to start a business. That’s according to research site WalletHub, which released a report this week that weighed factors like small business growth and office space affordability. Analysts looked at the “business-friendliness” of 1,268 small cities, defined as 25,000-100,000 in population. Wilson ranked 12th, with a strong rating in the “business costs” category that took into account office space, median income, corporate taxes and cost of living. Wilson came in just ahead of Irondequoit, N.Y., and behind Enid, Okla. Ranked best was Holland, Mich., home of the world’s largest pickle factory. The list lands just ahead of National Small Business Week, May 1-7, recognizing the contributions of entrepreneurs and small business owners in the U.S. Click here for the complete findings and here to learn more about what’s happening in Wilson in 2016. Meanwhile, Wilmington has landed on the American Lung Association’s new, national top-25 for cleanest air. In the breakdown, the Port City ranked first among “cleanest metropolitan areas in the country for 24-hour particle pollution.” Several other North Carolina cities, including Goldsboro, Asheville and Fayetteville, were on the association’s list of cleanest for short-term particle pollution. In other news, Raleigh and Charlotte scored spots on a new, national top-50 of “Best Cities for Millennials in America.”

At least three police-chief arrivals and departures made headlines in North Carolina this week, starting in Hickory, where Chief Tom Adkins has announced his retirement after three decades with the city’s department. The Hickory Daily Record on Sunday reported Adkins had set June 30 for his final day on the force. “Tom has been an integral member of city staff and has led the department with integrity and humility,” Hickory City Manager Mick Berry said in a statement. Adkins, an advocate of community policing, told the newspaper he wants to remain involved with criminal justice in some way. “You know, they always talk about how this profession gets into your blood and you always are passionate about service,” Adkins said. “I do not think it will totally be out of my system, but I know that, in my heart, that this police department is strong in the community.” Meanwhile, a new chief is coming to Morrisville. The town announced Monday that Patrice Andrews would begin June 6 as police chief following her service as a commander at the Durham Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division. WRAL has more. At the Legislative Building on Jones Street in Raleigh, Jeff Weaver has retired as chief of police, a role he held for more than 14 years, the Associated Press reported. In related General Assembly news, longtime House Principal Clerk Denise Weeks is postponing her previously announced retirement at the request of legislative leaders, who are soon to call the 2016 short session to order.
Voters may begin balloting for the congressional and N.C. Supreme Court primaries scheduled for June 7. The absentee voting period started Monday as State Board of Elections officials encouraged voters to prove wrong the projections of a low turnout. According to a board press release, the standalone congressional primary of 1998 brought out just 4 percent of registered voters. To keep momentum going from the March statewide primaries, which brought out 35 percent, the state board ordered counties to carry all absentee ballot requests from that election forward to this one. That meant county elections officials on Monday had to prepare more than 55,000 ballots for mailing, with plenty more expected before the May 31 ballot-request deadline for civilians. Click here for a request form. “Voting by mail helps ensure that graduation ceremonies and summer travel won’t keep you from participating,” said State Board Executive Director Kim Strach. The legislature scheduled the June primaries after federal judges prompted the redrawing of congressional districts. Votes cast for congressional seats in the March primary are subsequently void. The June 7 primary also includes a primary for N.C. Supreme Court. Read more here.
Newly released study results may link local government services and human lifespan. The findings published last week by the Journal of the American Medical Association primarily highlighted an increased life expectancy in affluent communities amid less fortunate trends in low-income circles. But local-level factors stood out. Low-income persons living in otherwise wealthy cities experience longer lives, according to the study, which eyes a possible connection to elevated public services or community health habits and related outreach. But the study, found here, also raises questions for further investigation, Maureen Berner of the UNC School of Government points out. In a blogpost about the study, she noted uncertainty over the precise local characteristics impacting differences in longevity. “Is it infrastructure or community cohesion? Built environment or services?” she asks, adding: “What local actions, therefore, can improve the situation? The study will generate a tremendous amount of new research. However, clearly the focus will be on the local level. Local conditions, and therefore how we plan, govern and manage our communities in the face of those conditions – are having an impact on human lives.”