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League Bulletin

May 1, 2015

The crush of legislative "crossover" came and went this week, with the House taking up roughly 70 bills over a 10-hour period that ended with a 2:30 a.m. adjournment on Thursday morning. The Senate took a more leisurely approach, but still approved about 50 bills on Wednesday and Thursday. The crossover deadline requires that bills without financial implications be passed by either the House or the Senate in order to continue to be eligible for consideration during the two-year biennium.

For municipalities, the hectic week's results were a mixed bag. Favorable bills like HB 730 County Provide 911 Dispatch Services got the necessary approval of one chamber; unfavorable ones like SB 25 Zoning/Design and Aesthetic Controls did as well; and the League worked to amend other bills to bring about positive results. (Read about the two bills cited and other legislative outcomes below.) If the past is any indication, the coming week should see fairly light legislative calendars. The League Governmental Affairs team will now focus on the municipal-related bills that are still eligible and be working them in the respective chambers where they now reside. And, of course, we will be calling on your help to discuss these bills and the issues raised by them with your legislators.

After seeing the statewide municipal condemnation bill he sponsored voted down in its first committee hearing this week, Rep. Jonathan Jordan converted the bill to a local act affecting Watauga and Ashe counties. The House ultimately approved this local bill yesterday. Speakers during the second committee hearing on HB 875 Restrict Municipal Eminent Domain noted that the local measure would undermine a multi-million dollar Boone water project that is currently underway to extend lines to Blowing Rock. The bill would do so by granting the county commissions in the two affected counties the power to veto any condemnation action by a municipality outside its corporate limits, such as the condemnations needed to secure easements for water lines. Therefore, the bill is likely subject to the same arguments that it violates the N.C. constitution as in another pending legal challenge involving a Boone local bill.

Before reappearing as a local bill, HB 875 affected every county in the State in a similar way. The bill was strongly opposed by the League members because it would slow down or stop initiatives such as economic development projects. Additionally objectionable to League members, the bill singled out municipal condemnations, leaving out the condemnation actions by private condemnors, such as private electric and gas utilities or railroads. The League thanks the members of the House Local Government Committee that voted in opposition to this measure Monday. In particular, the League thanks committee members Reps. Steve Ross, Mitchell Setzer, and others who questioned the need for and policy behind the statewide proposal. The local bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia

HB 730 County Provide 911 Dispatch Services passed the House Wednesday, addressing a top legislative priority adopted by League members to prevent municipalities from being additionally charged for county services which are funded through county property taxes. The bill would make clear that counties cannot charge municipalities for 911 service when municipal taxpayers already pay county property taxes to help fund that service. An amendment was added to clarify that an existing contract between a city and a county would remain effective until it expires or is terminated. The League extends it sincere thanks to Rep. Jason Saine of Lincolnton for his sponsorship of and work on this bill. Contact: Sarah Collins

The Senate gave its approval this week to legislation that would restrict the ability of municipalities to enact aesthetic-based standards for home building design. SB 25 Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls now moves to the House, where League staff will continue to work to try to amend the bill to establish additional exceptions protecting existing homeowners from incompatible development. In its current form, the bill would prevent municipalities, with a few limited exceptions, from imposing design and aesthetic controls for residential structures. These would include exterior color, roof style, location of windows and doors, and other structural elements.

Read earlier League coverage here. In any conversations with House members, please let them know that League-supported compromise language is critical to protecting the character of existing neighborhoods and existing home values, and will have no effect on the new, large subdivision tracts that are the primary focus of the home-building industry. To receive a copy of the amendments promoted by League staff and members over the past two months, please contact Erin Wynia.

The latest omnibus regulatory reform bill before state lawmakers, HB 760 Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, received initial approval in the House early Thursday morning but will not get a final vote until next week. An amendment related to the state's renewal energy program made the bill no longer subject to this week’s crossover deadline, and it is currently calendared for a final House floor vote on Tuesday.

Among several other provisions, this bill would (1) eliminate local governments' ability to implement stormwater programs that exceed the state's model stormwater ordinance, even if those local deviations are required by federal regulations; and (2) restrict the ability of local governments to exceed state riparian buffer rules, even when required by federal regulations. Speaking before the House Committee on Regulatory Reform, Representative Chris Millis said it is not his intent to limit a local government's ability to comply with regulations such as total maximum daily loads (TMDL), nutrient sensitive water requirements, or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The League hopes to work with bill sponsors to ensure that the cost of compliance with these regulations is not shifted to local taxpayers. Contact: Sarah Collins

Legislation that would eliminate city authority to charge businesses a registration fee passed the House this week, but not before the bill sponsor committed to working with the League on this issue as the bill moves through the Senate. HB 739 Repeal Business License Fees eliminates cities' authority to charge "a reasonable fee" associated with the licensing of businesses operating in their jurisdiction. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Brawley, said on the House floor that he had agreed to work with the League and its Director of Government Affairs, Rose Vaughn Williams, on the bill as it is considered in the Senate, including possibly maintaining the fees for businesses with a physical location inside of a city. The League thanks Rep. Brawley for his willingness to work with cities on this issue.

While a relative handful of cities collect fees under this authority now, a number of cities have expressed interest in beginning business registration programs in order to track businesses operating in their city for public safety purposes such as fire inspections. Such data was previously collected through use of the privilege license, the authority for which expires as of July 1. Cities had considered using the fee authority that HB 739 eliminates as a method for offsetting the cost of administering such programs. A summary of HB 739 prepared by legislative staff notes that any fee charged under the statute in question must be tied to that administrative cost. Contact: Chris Nida

The League thanks Reps. George Robinson, John Fraley, and Dan Bishop for shepherding HB 836 Local Government Regulatory Reform through the House this week. The bill contained numerous provisions--most of them requested by the League--designed to ease the regulatory burden on local governments. Importantly, one provision would clarify the steps local finance officers must take to "pre-audit" expenditures. The pre-audit certification requirement ensures that a local unit of government has sufficient funds to pay its bills. However, a series of court cases last year made it difficult, if not impossible, for local governments to comply with the outdated statute's requirements. If the Senate approves the measure, this bill would modernize the pre-audit statutes so that finance officers can comply with the law. Contact: Erin Wynia

A second Senate committee and the full Senate gave their approval this week to legislation clarifying local government authority to offer incentives for historic preservation projects. League Government Affairs Director Rose Vaughn Williams, speaking before the Senate Finance Committee, again reiterated the League's position that SB 472 Local Incentives for Historic Rehabilitation, though helpful to cities and towns, should not been seen as a substitute for a state historic tax credit.

Read previous League coverage here, and continue to look for more stops from Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz as she tours the state to push for passage of a state historic tax credit. Contact: Scott Mooneyham

HB 616 Local Governmental Employees’ Retire. COLA, which would provide Local Government Employees Retirement System (LGERS) retirees with a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), passed the House on Wednesday. The bill will now be considered by the Senate.

This legislation comes after the Local Government Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees voted in January to provide a fiscally responsible COLA to retirees by relying solely on existing funds available through the system's recent investment gains. Specifically, the Board approved the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners supported COLA of 0.625 percent.

The higher COLA called for in this legislation would increase each participating local government's contribution rate for general employees. That rate had been previously set at 6.67 percent, but would rise to approximately 6.77 percent under the bill. Contact: Sarah Collins

A proposal described by the bill sponsor as one designed to give development interests additional legal advantages when challenging the land use decisions of local governments received favorable consideration by the House this week. While primary bill sponsor Rep. Jonathan Jordan allowed a private-sector development attorney to make the bulk of the bill presentation during its committee hearing, he stated that he sponsored the bill because local governments currently hold considerable sway over developers that seek rezonings or development agreements. His proposal, HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes, flipped that perceived advantage on its head, greatly expanding the legal remedies available to aggrieved parties and the fees their attorneys could potentially collect by bringing such legal actions. These enhanced remedies, which would incentivize litigation at the expense of the municipal and state taxpayers who would bear the burden of increased court actions, included an ability to bypass review by a local board of adjustment and an automatic award of attorney's fees. The League appreciates the work of Rep. Rick Glazier to amend the bill to reduce the impact of some of its most harmful provisions, as well as statements by Reps. Pat Hurley, Chuck McGrady, and Robert Reives that questioned the need for this proposal. The proposal now moves to the Senate for consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia

The House Committee on Transportation is scheduled on Tuesday to begin considering HB 927 Reestablish NC as the "Good Roads State," a bill intended to further stabilize state transportation revenues moving into the future. No committee vote is expected, but the bill could make significant changes to local Powell Bill dollars. It would provide three years of additional Powell Bill money for road resurfacing, but those gains may be offset by reductions in the gas tax that affect the local distributions. In combination with Gov. Pat McCrory's proposal for a $1.2 billion transportation bond, legislative efforts to improve and stabilize funding streams for state and local transportation infrastructure support a handful of League policy goals.

The League is part of a coalition led by the NC Chamber that is promoting legislation intended to put state transportation funding on more solid ground moving forward. At a meeting of the coalition earlier this week, House Transportation Committee co-chairs Reps. John Torbett, Paul Tine and Philip Shepard spoke about HB 927 and the need for long-term solutions to provide for transportation needs. The League thanks the Transportation Committee co-chairs for their continued focus on this critical need. As you meet with legislators, please continue to discuss the need for legislation that provides for long-term investments in transportation infrastructure at the state and local level. Contact: Rose Vaughn Williams.

Operators of 911 centers, or public safety answering points (PSAPs), would need only to have made substantial progress on developing back-up 911 call-taking capability by July 1, 2016, under a bill passed by the House prior to the crossover deadline. Last session, the League worked with legislators on a bill requiring PSAPs to develop backup call-taking capability by July 1, 2016, after which their 911 funding could have been withheld if they were not in compliance. League-supported language in that 2014 bill required primary 911 centers have only back-up capability, and not have to build costly, new back-up facilities, as was initially proposed.

HB 512 Amend/Clarify Back-Up PSAP Requirements prevents the funding from being withheld as long as the PSAP has made progress toward implementing its plan for back-up 911 call-taking by July 1, 2016. The League thanks the bill sponsors for easing implementation of the back-up PSAP requirement, and thanks the N.C. Association of County Commissioners as well for their work on this bill. Contact: Sarah Collins

A measure that would give aggrieved property owners and neighbors unprecedented legal advantages in challenging local historic commission decisions failed to receive a full hearing this week after a House committee adjourned without taking a vote on the bill. According to public comments made by bill sponsor Rep. Mark Brody, HB 799 Zoning/Changes to Hist. Preserv. Procedures originated with a complaint from a contractor in the midst of renovating a historic property in the Guilford County town of Oak Ridge. Before the committee adjourned, an Oak Ridge council member testified against the bill, providing details about the ensuing legal dispute and telling the committee that at least one of the legal remedies proposed in the bill violated the N.C. constitution's right to a fair and open trial.

While such measures sometimes reappear in omnibus bills such as regulatory reform legislation, or are revived with some other procedural move, the bill did not advance in time to meet the legislature's April 30 crossover deadline and therefore may not receive further consideration this session. The League would like to thank Town of Oak Ridge officials for appearing at the General Assembly and speaking on the legislation. Contact: Erin Wynia

HB 811 Law Enforcement Body-Worn Camera/Study, which calls for a study of a variety of issues regarding the implementation and use of police body-worn cameras, passed the House on Wednesday. This bill serves as a companion to HB 713 Body & Dash Cam Recording/Public Access, which passed the House last week and clarified that video from police body and car dashboard cameras are "records of criminal investigations." Contact: Sarah Collins

Instead of taking up over 100 pages of proposed legislation to completely rewrite the State's planning and land use statutes, the House opted to convert HB 548 Zoning/Modernize & Reorganize to a study yesterday. The rewrite initiative originated within the N.C. Bar Association (NCBA) Zoning, Planning, & Land Use Section, which promoted the years-long effort as a "good government" bill. League members worked with the NCBA beginning last fall to spot and remedy any unintended consequences and ensure that the proposal remained policy-neutral. If the Senate agrees to the study, an 18-member task force would spend the interim continuing to debate the measure, with a report due no later than May 1, 2016. The 18-member task force would include a representative from the League. Contact: Erin Wynia
Legislation that would make certain types of cancers in firefighters presumed to be occupational diseases, and thus covered by workers' compensation insurance, did not pass out of the House prior to Thursday's crossover deadline. HB 666 WC/Firefighters'/Presumptive Cancer was heard in the House Committee on Pensions and Retirement, but was reported out "without prejudice" -- meaning with neither an unfavorable nor favorable recommendation -- and not heard again. The League spoke in opposition to HB 666 in that meeting, expressing concern that making the diseases listed in the bill presumably occupational could affect the accessibility and affordability of workers' compensation insurance and drive up insurance costs for many cities and, ultimately, their taxpayers. The League worked with firefighters representatives and bill sponsors on the legislation before its hearing but was unable to reach a final agreement. Workers' compensation can still currently cover occupational diseases, but HB 666 would have shifted the burden of proof from proving diseases were occupational to proving that they are not occupational diseases. Though HB 666 is likely ineligible for future consideration this session, this idea could still reappear this legislative session, and the League looks forward to continuing to work with all interested parties if that occurs. Contact: Rose Vaughn Williams
A bill that further clarifies state agency and local government authority to use unmanned drone aircraft was approved by the House this week. The passage of HB 4 Clarify Unmanned Aircraft System Law follows the General Assembly's approval of a budget provision last year that sets up procedures for law enforcement's use for drone aircraft under certain circumstances. The latest bill could speed up the acquisition of drones by allowing purchase approval prior to the development of an operators test that was required under the previous law.
Legislation altering the governing relationship between the City of Fayetteville and its city-owned utility, the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, cleared the House this week and now moves to the Senate. HB 392 Fayetteville Charter/PWC Changes is intended to resolve a governance dispute between the city and its utility. A provision affecting annexation in the city was altered before final passage. The original bill would have prevented the city from requiring voluntary annexation as a condition for extending water and sewer service to areas outside its corporate limits; the new version would apply that prohibition only for the extension of water.

Legislative crossover week also saw lawmakers take action on a number of other bills with implications for municipalities. The bills affect a range of municipal activities, from policing to environmental oversight. Among the bills acted upon:

  • SB 182 Automatic License Plate Readers, approved by the Senate, now moves to the House. It would allow state and local law enforcement agencies to utilize automatic license plate reader technologies to assist in investigations; sets out boundaries for retention of this information as well as public reporting requirements of collected data by the state or local governmental unit.
  • SB 345 Limit Storage Duration for Damaged Vehicles, approved by the Senate, now before the House. In its initial form, it would have limited the fees that law enforcement agencies could charge the owners of vehicles impounded as a result of a crash; in the version approved, it would limit the time that such vehicles could be held without a court order.
  • SB 699 Protect LEO Home Address/Other Information, approved by the Senate, now before the House. It would create an exception from the state's public records laws that allows a sworn law enforcement officer to request annually that their employer withhold certain personal information from public records.
  • HB 74 Study MPO/RPO Oversight, approved by the House, now before the Senate. It calls for a legislative study commission to examine the oversight and roles of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Rural Planning Organizations.
  • HB 148 Insurance Required for Mopeds, approved by the House, now before the Senate. It would require moped operators to carry insurance coverage for liability purposes.
  • HB 352 Standard of Proof/Public Safety Dispatchers, approved by the House, now before the Senate. It would set the legal standard at "clear and convincing evidence" for evaluating a PSAP dispatcher's official job performance when that person is sued in a court of law.   
  • HB 419 Protect Officers from Retaliation, failed to receive a favorable report before House Judiciary II Committee. It would have enumerated employment protections for law enforcement officers who are whistleblowers.
  • HB 527 Municipal Elect'n/Even-Numbered Yrs/Stanly Co., approved by the House, now before the Senate. It would change all municipal elections in Stanly County to even-numbered years.
  • HB 672 STI and Ferry Tolling Revisions, approved by the House Committee on Transportation. It would clarify that MPOs and RPOs determine the local input portion of the STI transportation formula; tweaks the criteria used by the STI workgroup to determine statewide transportation project priorities.
  • HB 708 Preservation of Historic/Heritage Trees, approved by the House, now before the Senate. It would allow local governments to create advisory commissions to coordinate with state agencies when a state agency action would impact a tree designated as "historic" or "heritage" by the local government.
  • HB 795 SEPA Reform, approved by the House, now before the Senate. An amendment added to this bill directs the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to establish an environmental assessment process intended to avoid negatively affecting federal funds distributed by the state for water infrastructure projects.     
  • HB 804 Kelsey Smith Act, approved by the House, now before the Senate. It would allow law enforcement officials and public safety answering point (PSAP) officials to request cell phone location information from private wireless providers, in certain emergency circumstances.