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League Bulletin

April 26, 2019

​WHAT HAPPENED: A Senate out on spring break. A House back from spring break. A final bill-filing deadline. The withdrawing of a controversial bill we've been talking about. State budget work. (And many a mind on a certain hockey team.) 
WHAT IT MEANS: Maybe the Carolina Hurricanes, angling for a Stanley Cup, are an appropriate symbol this week, given the eye-of-the-storm feeling on Jones Street with its deceptive quietude. As lawmakers enjoyed their break and left calm hallways at the Legislative Building, budget work continued inside legislative offices while big, busy deadlines moved in. 
ON TAP: A gust of work, most likely, as budget-prep continues and thoughts are on "crossover," currently set for May 9, according to the legislative calendar. Generally, that's when bills need to have passed the House or Senate to remain eligible (and always makes for a high-pulse​ late night at the General Assembly). 
THE SKINNY: It's about to get busy, and we saw winks of that this morning (Friday) as budget committees got together to roll out proposals for the big draft (including some of interest to cities and towns and discussed in this Bulletin) that the House hopes to vote on and send the Senate soon. Other bills will move with urgency under the crossover cutoff. (Meanwhile, Let's Go Canes!)

An omnibus proposal related to local building inspection processes would require an initial local review of residential building plans within 15 days of plan submission. The proposal, HB 675 2019 Building Code Regulatory Reform, advanced yesterday after a hearing by the House State & Local Government Committee. Unlike the mandatory review of plans for commercial structures, local review of residential plans is optional. However, property owners in jurisdictions providing this service receive discounts on flood insurance rates. Also, among other items, the bill would disallow local governments from mandating a minimum square footage for residential structures. Please send feedback on these items and others in the bill to NCLM Chief Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia​.

A bill opposed by cities and towns for its impacts to local tree ordinances has been withdrawn, according to reports. Sen. Tom McInnis, who sponsored SB 367 Clarify Property Owners' Rights, announced in a statement that he had received comments from both sides of the issue and could not reach consensus, according to the Pilot newspaper of Southern Pines. "This bill has been robustly debated and discussed,” the newspaper quoted of Sen. McInnis, citing his statement. The League had urged members​ to contact their legislators in opposition to the bill for its impacts on local authority and for the preservation of locally decided character and quality of life. The Pilot newspaper previously covered​ concerns from residents and municipal leaders about the bill. The League thanks its members for their quick attention to this issue and Sen. McInnis for thoughtfully considering the feedback. 

Increased Powell Bill funding -- an important advocacy goal of cities and towns -- is just one early feature of the House budget expected on the voting floor before long. House appropriations committees -- covering individual budget topics from transportation to public safety to education to information technology and more -- reconvened this week (and on Friday morning, as of this writing) to go over proposals for the broader draft spending bill. While full details are ahead, the committees' reports reveal some components of the House budget of interest to cities and towns. 

In Powell Bill funds, the House transportation budget​ includes $162.3 million in fiscal year 2020 and $177 million in fiscal year 2021 for municipalities to maintain road infrastructure. That's an additional $14.75 million next year, and then another $14.75 million on top of that for the following year. The transportation recommendations also include a restoration of funds in the State Maintenance Assistance ​Program, or SMAP, which supports transit systems -- another municipal advocacy goal addressed. Further, the plan adds $75 million in recurring money for commercial airports, again speaking to a public transportation goal.  

The House budget is a recommendation that must conform with Senate priorities for a final draft the legislature can approve and send the governor for consideration. The League will be working to summarize the full budget when released and will share its components with cities and towns. 

Mirroring action last week on an identical Senate bill, a proposal by electric membership cooperatives to expand rural broadband service received a supportive vote by the House Energy and Public Utilities Committee​ on Thursday. Committee members praised the cooperatives for stepping forward with a solution to a critical economic development issue facing the state. The twin bills, each supported by over three-quarters of House and Senate members, would clear out statutory hurdles and allow cooperatives to partner with private entities in providing broadband service. This concept is similar to the public-private partnership model that would be authorized by the League-supported FIBER NC Act.​ If enacted, the FIBER NC Act would realize one of the top goals of municipal officials this session.

A bill to study water rate structures of municipalities swiftly moved through a House committee hearing and both of its floor votes Thursday. HB 522 Study Outside Water Rates​ would authorize an interim legislative study of the rates, with a particular focus on the differences in rates set for customers inside a municipal jurisdiction or outside its jurisdiction. In the public utilities committee hearing, committee member Rep. Derwin Montgomery​, a former city council member, commented that because municipal residents assumed the financial risks associated with building a system and invested in it over time, they should enjoy the benefit of lower rates. The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

A bill filed on deadline in the House seeks to eliminate the state Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) system of selling and distributing spiritous liquor in favor of a privatized sale and distribution system overseen by the N.C. ABC Commission. HB 971 Modern Licensure Model for Alcohol Control from Rep. Chuck McGrady​ surfaced April 25, the final day for new House bills. In the process of establishing a new system, this bill would abolish all local ABC boards and remove many related authorities from the ABC Commission’s current powers. It would also remove from local law enforcement the authority to investigate establishments with ABC permits, leaving that authority with state agents. Local governments could hold referenda under this bill asking voters to approve retail sales of "off-premises spiritous liquor," in places such as grocery stores, stand-alone liquor shops, and restaurants, subject to the same conditions currently in state law for ABC store elections. The bill currently sits in the House ABC Committee

The League is moving to a new office on May 2, and we need your help to make sure there are no disruptions in mail delivery. If you are visiting us in Raleigh or sending general inquiries to our office, please use the following address effective May 2:
434 Fayetteville Street, Suite 1900, Raleigh, NC 27601
Please note that all payments made to NCLM should continue being mailed to the designated lock box address that is indicated on the invoice. If you are unsure about which address to us, just ask us!
That's not the only transition happening at the League. As we prepare for CityVision 2019 in Hickory​ -- pre-registration is closed but you can still register on-site -- we're peeling back the cover on a brand new logo, tagline and overall feel that we can't wait to share. Stay tuned!