Legislation that would mandate that municipalities provide and pay for a new retirement benefit for firefighters called a “separation allowance” will be before the House Pensions and Retirement Committee this coming Tuesday. HB 278 Parity for First Responders, as it is currently drafted, contains no state funding source, meaning municipal taxpayers would be forced to pay the entire cost of this new retirement benefit.If you have the opportunity to talk with your House members this weekend, please urge them to oppose HB 278 unless a funding source is added to the bill. League members adopted a policy goal in November to oppose this benefit unless funding is provided.Adding a new retirement benefit for firefighters would cost cities and towns approximately $9 million per year initially, with costs increasing thereafter. Consideration of this legislation comes as municipalities will be required to make substantial contribution rate increases to the Local Government Employees Retirement system, to which firefighters belong, with additional costs anticipated to reach $300 million annually within five years.With that in mind, let your House members know:- HB 278 creates an unfunded mandate on local government employers, and without a state funding source, will pose a significant burden on municipal taxpayers.- The “special separation allowance” created by HB 278 is in addition to firefighters’ pension benefits.- Cities and towns already have the authority in law to offer this benefit if they choose to. If the state wants to mandate this benefit, it should pay for it. - This proposal is coming at a time when local governments are having to substantially increase their contributions to the local government retirement system to keep it solvent. Municipalities’ funding of the current retirement system has allowed it to remain one of the best-funded in the country, allowing all classes of employees to be secure in their retirement.NCLM staff will continue to track this legislation and inform members regarding its movement. The League has made a handy one-page explanation of the bill for printing and redistribution.
Two separate bills that would change local government workers’ compensation laws cleared the House this week in unanimous votes. HB 520 Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act was approved by the House on Thursday. It would create a presumption under law that firefighters who are diagnosed with nine forms of cancer contracted the illness due to work conditions. Before House committee debate this week, NCLM Legislative Counsel Sarah Collins testified that the legislation would increase cost to local governments and local taxpayers, would treat one class of local government employees differently than others, and by doing so, may be unconstitutional. HB 622 Provide WC for PTSD in First Responders, also approved on Thursday, would allow workers’ compensation benefits for all first responders and emergency workers who are deemed to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, but that change would not presume the condition was caused by job conditions. Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration.
The House and Senate churned through dozens of bills each this week, setting them up to “cross over” from their originating chamber to the other chamber. All bills meeting the crossover deadline are eligible for consideration during the remainder of the session. A few bills of interest to municipal officials are listed below, but please check the League's bill tracker to find out how other bills affecting cities fared this week. - SB 313 Perf. Guar. to Streamline Afford. Housing: Passed two Senate committees; must pass a floor vote to remain eligible.- SB 378 Local Economic Development Modifications: Passed one Senate committee in an updated form; must have one more committee hearing and a floor vote to remain eligible.- SB 584 Criminal Law Reform: Passed two Senate committees in an updated form; calendared for a Senate floor vote Monday, which it must pass to remain eligible.- HB 135 Government Immigration Compliance: Passed one House committee; must pass three more committees and a floor vote to remain eligible.- HB 348 Whistle-Blower Protection/Municipal LEOs: Passed one House committee in an updated form; must have two more committee hearings and a floor vote to remain eligible.- HB 492 Simplify Builder Inventory Exclusion: Passed two House committees and a floor vote in an updated form, therefore remaining eligible.- HB 871 Fair Contracts: Passed one House committee in an updated form; must pass one more committee and a floor vote to remain eligible. (SB 569 Fair Contracts was updated to reflect the language in HB 871; it passed two Senate committees and is scheduled for a floor vote Monday, which it must pass to remain eligible.)- HB 873 System Development Fee/Clarify Time of Charge: Passed two House committees and a floor vote in an updated form, therefore remaining eligible.
Multiple senators committed yesterday to continued negotiations involving all stakeholders affected by SB 355 Land-Use Regulatory Changes, including city officials. The promise for an inclusive stakeholder process came during a hearing on the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which then voted to advance the bill in order to meet next week’s crossover deadline. City officials hold great concerns about SB 355, a complex piece of legislation that makes wide-ranging changes to local land use approvals. At a prior hearing on the bill this session, representatives of large developers expressed concerns about the proposal as well. As written, the bill would incentivize development-related litigation at local taxpayer expense and weaken protections for neighboring property owners of new developments. Further, senators added language to the bill yesterday that would reorganize the state’s planning statutes, a proposal contained in HB 448/SB 422 Planning/Development Changes. The bill is expected to pass the Senate soon in its current form, but then enter negotiations before the House considers it. The League thanks bill sponsors Sens. Dan Bishop, Paul Newton, and Sam Searcy for pushing stakeholders to work together to address the many concerns held with the bill.