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League Bulletin

May 3, 2019

​WHAT HAPPENED: Our calm-before-the-storm analogy last week carried itself out with gusts of work at the General Assembly, moving more legislation than anyone could cover in a single newsletter. Big topics for cities and towns were in the mix, though -- billboards, workers' comp, land-use litigation and more -- and we'll highlight them in the articles below.

WHAT IT MEANS: For one, "crossover" is right ahead -- May 9, as currently scheduled, when most bills need to have passed either the House or Senate to remain eligible. Meanwhile, we've got the House budget proposal, which rolled out amid a thick committee schedule. 

ON TAP: You guessed it -- the fast-pace work continues in deadline spirit. And at the time of this writing, debate toward a second floor vote on the House budget proposal was underway.

THE SKINNY: More happened than anyone could cover in a single, weekly newsletter, but that's why we make it as easy as possible for you to follow legislation of interest to cities and towns. Our online bill tracker​ affords you status updates on bills that you can view by topic, date of last action or level of importance. Read on for highlights of this week's most pressing issues and a tailored breakdown of the House budget proposal.

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.   

Earlier this week, the House Transportation Committee gave its approval to HB 645 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws, legislation that would undermine local control of billboards. This harmful legislation – as well as a companion bill in the Senate, SB 534 -- would allow billboards to be placed within municipalities where current zoning would not allow them and could increase the costs to local taxpayers when billboards are required to be removed because of road building or other public infrastructure projects. 
The League opposes this legislation and urges you to continue to contact your state House members and tell them to vote against HB 645 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws. Tell them this bill will undermine local control of billboards and, by doing so, undermine the visions of local residents that are so important to community character and local economies.
With that in mind, please let your House member know:
- This legislation would allow billboards to be placed where current zoning would prohibit them, and increase costs to taxpayers when billboards are required to be removed due to road building and other construction.

- Local control of billboards is necessary to ensure that all property owners are protected. That local control reflects the individual visions of cities and towns and their residents, which are typically tied to their local economies and how they wish to pursue economic growth and attract jobs.
- Local officials take into account the interests of all local business owners when it comes to the location of billboards.

Ask that House members vote against this legislation should it come to the floor and that they urge their colleagues to oppose it. A one-page flyer​, easily printed for redistribution, explains the League’s take on the legislation.

The N.C. House this week rolled out its proposed budget in HB 966 2019 Appropriations Act, which was expected for a second House floor vote on Friday after preliminary approval Thursday​. The plan in its current form includes numerous provisions for local governments and many that address the advocacy goals of cities and towns -- increased Powell Bill money, infrastructure support, efforts against opioid misuse, online sales-tax clarity and much more. The League has assembled a breakdown of relevant items in the proposal, divided up by topic ("General Government," "Transportation," "Statewide Items," and so on). The League has also released a document outlining the House plan in comparison to the budget recommendation that Gov. Roy Cooper recently proposed. 
At a glance, the House budget (as of this writing): 
-puts nearly $85 million into the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund, with lots of it angled toward local government;

-includes a mechanism to increase local sales tax revenues by ensuring the local sales tax applies to all online sales and is collected by the seller;

-extends the historic rehabilitation tax credit by four years to Jan. 1, 2024;

-provides a non-recurring $20 million to the Workforce Housing Loan Program to assist with the development of multi-family affordable housing units across the state; 

-allocates a non-recurring $5 million in each year of the biennium to boost substance-use treatment and recovery options and help to reduce opioid misuse; 

-gives funding to fully implement the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, also known as the "Raise the Age" law; 

-marks more than $48 million in Community Development Block Grant funds, with portions reserved for neighborhood revitalization, economic development and infrastructure;

-packages funds for water and wastewater needs;

-and appropriates an additional $14.75 million to the Powell Bill program in fiscal year 2019-20, and an additional $14.75 million beyond that in 2020-21, for total appropriations of $162.25 million in 2019-20 and $177 million in 2020-21, with  a specification that 80 percent of the increased funds be used for street resurfacing.
There are several other provisions and adjustments of note in the House proposal, which would eliminate the appropriation for the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund in fiscal year 2019-20 (but would keep it at $31 million for the following year). The House proposal is only that -- a proposal in a process toward a debated and agreed-upon spending plan that the full General Assembly can send to the governor for consideration.

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 e​mergency 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.