In a typical week at the General Assembly, the Legislative Building on Jones Street in Raleigh clears out by Thursday afternoon so lawmakers can return to their home districts for the weekend. Not this time. Giving every indication that they'd like to finish business altogether and adjourn for the year, Senate committees laid out an unusual Friday schedule with agendas covering miscellaneous bills including one that would set penalties for illegal-immigration-related "sanctuary" policies in local government. (More on that in this newsletter.) Another would concern constitutional amendments on eminent domain, an income tax rate cap, and hunting and fishing. Friday's business was still in progress at the time of this writing, meaning some details here may change.
But, meanwhile, the Associated Press on Thursday reported that House and Senate leaders were indeed on the homestretch of state budget negotiations -- the primary focus of the legislative "short session" -- and that an agreement could land by Monday. Details, however, remained in flux over tax cuts and state employee raises, which are two of the most talked-about pieces of the House and Senate plans. McClatchy newspapers reported that adjournment could come within the next two weeks, though it's still a question as to whether House Bill 2 will receive any changes. "There's clearly conversations still happening, but as far as what will happen, nobody really knows at this point," House Speaker Tim Moore was quoted as saying.
Read on for more legislative details and other items of interest to municipalities.
Despite doubts expressed by members of both political parties, two Senate committees advanced this week a harmful land use bill opposed by the League due to its impact on taxpayers and property owners, as well as its chilling effect on local government land use decisions. Please continue to contact your senators to explain the effects of HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes, which would incentivize litigation at local taxpayer expense, weaken protections for neighboring property owners of new developments, and undermine infrastructure performance guarantees that protect new property owners and local taxpayers.
Asheville City Attorney Robin Currin, who litigated land use cases in private law practice for more than two decades prior to her current position, testified on behalf of cities before the Senate Judiciary I Committee on Tuesday. High Point City Attorney Joanne Carlyle spoke before today's Senate Commerce Committee in support of the League's position. Both city attorneys told committee members that the bill would dramatically increase the legal causes of action in this area, a move that would cost taxpayers and create a greatly elevated risk for many local boards making land use decisions. Members of the judiciary committee echoed those concerns, asking bill sponsors to slow down the proposal and work on modifications. In particular, the League thanks Sens. Michael Lee, Floyd McKissick, and Gladys Robinson for raising questions about the proposal during the committee debates. The League would also like to thank Senate leaders for meeting with staff to discuss the concerns. After receiving a favorable vote by the Senate Commerce Committee this morning, the bill moves next to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations. Click here for more background on the bill. Contact: Erin Wynia
A House bill that originally dealt with jury duty has been expanded to include unique penalties upon local governments for lenience on immigration law. HB 100, which was on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Friday afternoon agenda, would block local governments from school and Powell Bill funding if they have so-called “sanctuary” policies for immigrants in the country illegally. The League is not aware of any municipalities that are out of compliance with current law. The General Assembly last year passed legislation against local-level sanctuary policies, including the acceptance of identification cards provided by nonprofit organizations to such immigrants. The current legislative proposal would establish the penalties for local governments not complying, including a block on road funding for the year that follows a supposed violation. The League believes that tying Powell Bill dollars to a law unrelated to street construction and maintenance appears unprecedented and would penalize local taxpayers in ways that have nothing to do with the issue.
Other facts about the bill:
The approach of this expanded bill is similar to that of a Senate bill we reported on in the May 13 Bulletin. That bill, SB 868, did not advance from its first committee assignment. Subsequent committee discussions have not shed light on any cities or towns that might be out of compliance with current law. The League would like to thank Sen. Norman Sanderson for taking the concerns of cities and towns into consideration. Read media coverage of the bill here and here.
House debate centered on whether an appropriate balance had been struck between transparency and privacy -- with some House members expressing frustration that there isn’t a presumption that the recordings are public. However, many members recognized the measure was a step in the right direction, noting that currently there is not a law that would require release. Bill sponsors Reps. John Faircloth and Allen McNeill received bipartisan recognition for their hard work on a complicated topic, and many House members noted the broad stakeholder involvement during the interim study committee.
Municipal officials' access to these recordings was also discussed, and it was explained that the exception that allows for the release of the recordings within a law enforcement agency for administrative purpose would allow for recordings to be released to a city/town manager or attorney. The House will hold another vote on the bill before it is sent to the Senate. Read more here and here. Contact: Sarah Collins
The House jumped in to support and advance a provision originally proposed by the Senate just over a week ago that would effectively prohibit municipalities from charging utility companies fees related to work in municipal rights-of-way. Before the House Rules Committee inserted the language into SB 481 Fund Small Business/DOR Rulings/City Rt of Way, the League worked with private utility stakeholders on an amendment that would push the bill's effective date to July 1, 2017. This improvement would ensure that cities who already passed budgets containing revenues from these fees would not have a budget hole at the outset of the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Friday. The League thanks legislators for supporting this amendment, and for ensuring that if the language ultimately becomes law in another vehicle -- such as HB 593 Amend Environmental & Other Laws (Section 19), currently under consideration by the Senate -- that the amended version would move forward. The House plans a Monday vote on SB 481, while the Senate has yet to calendar a floor vote on HB 593. For a short explanation of these fees, please read this article in last week's LeagueLINC Bulletin. Contact: Chris Nida
A Senate panel on Friday advanced legislation that would change how Asheville City Council members are elected. That's despite opposition from city officials including Mayor Esther Manheimer, who extended her concerns to the Senate Redistricting Committee on Friday. SB 897 Asheville City Council Districts would provide for six electoral districts there in a change from at-large elections currently held. The bill's sponsor, Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, has said the bill is meant to provide for better representation around the city, but city officials including Manheimer say that should be a local decision. Manheimer at Friday's committee meeting did however thank Apodaca for his time communicating with the city about the bill and extended her hope that an alternative might be possible. Click here for past media coverage of the bill.
The House and Senate did not let up their brisk committee and floor calendar paces this week, advancing a host of bills of interest to cities and towns, including:
The League is pleased to announce the launch of a new conversation tool for hometown leaders, innovators, challenge-spotters and problem solvers -- via a quality podcast series the League debuted this week. It’s called Municipal Equation, a biweekly show that gets to the core of our cities and towns and creates an exchange of ideas meant to help you make your hometown a better place. The podcast -- available here (preferred browsers: Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari), here, and for subscription on iTunes here -- covers all of the variables that make life in a municipality unique to any other locale.
At times, Municipal Equation will focus on personalities, like trailblazing local leaders or young urban planners with novel ideas. At others, we’ll drill down on big challenges, like infrastructure funding or the growth of a talent-base. We’ll meet authors of books and reports that put new spins on how we see our cities and towns. And we’ll examine the technologies and ways of living that might be on the horizon. Bottom line: Municipal Equation is a great place of idea-sharing with plenty of takeaways for local leaders, residents and reporters.
Listen to the latest episodes on the League’s website or on its SoundCloud page (http://soundcloud.com/municipalequation). In addition to iTunes, the podcast is available on Stitcher, Google Play, Overcast and other podcast apps. In Episode One, Municipal Equation captures the tough, edge-of-death story of Denise D. Adams, a Winston-Salem City Council member and League board member (who is also featured in the latest issue of Southern City). Episode Two will focus on infrastructural challenges -- with new findings and perspective from national, state and local voices. Plenty more is ahead.
The podcast is produced and hosted by League Advocacy Communication Associate and former reporter Ben Brown. Get in touch with him to pitch ideas for the show from your hometown.
It's easily one of the more heartwarming local-government bills of the 2016 General Assembly -- one that would authorize towns and counties to transfer ownership of police dogs and other public service animals to their caring handlers. What's more, the bill memorializes a recently departed K-9 campanion -- Raleigh Apodaca, the English bulldog of Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca. "He was the smartest of our three children," WRAL quoted the frequently jocular Hendersonville lawmaker as saying. Raleigh passed away last September, according to the news outlet's coverage of the Raleigh Apodaca Service Dog Retirement Act, or House Bill 550. The Senate passed it unanimouly this week, and it's now before the House.
Individual bills over the years have allowed certain agencies to transfer service animals over to specified parties. This bill sets out standards for that statewide. It would allow retiring police dogs, for instance, to go to the home of the officer who worked with the animal, or to the surviving spouse if such is the case. Organizations or programs dedicated to the aid or support of retired service animals are eligible, too. Click here to read the bill.
Cary is the nation’s second-most successful city, according to a new set of rankings from career-help website Zippia. It determined the “unarguable, totally objective 10 most successful cities in America” by analyzing data like poverty level, median household income and unemployment for nearly 300 places across the country that have populations exceeding 100,000. “There’s a reason Cary is one of the fastest growing communities in the country,” Zippia posed. “It’s safe, it’s beautiful, the people are friendly… Okay, there are a lot of reasons. But more than anything, this place is SUCCESSFUL. And by that, we mean, these guys are makin’ money. $91,481 per year, to be precise (median income). Other than that, though, Cary also has the ninth lowest poverty rank and the 10th lowest unemployment rank. Ku-dos.” Frisco, Texas, near Dallas, topped the list.
Meanwhile, one of southeast North Carolina’s biggest attractions is vying for the best in its category. The Battleship North Carolina, parked across from downtown Wilmington, is a nominee for “Best Museum Ship” in USA Today’s “'10 Best' Readers’ Choice 2016” awards. “The first of ten fast U.S. battleships that saw service in World War II, the USS North Carolina was decommissioned in 1947 and was narrowly saved from scrappers in 1960,” the publication explains. “Today she sits anchored in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, N.C., where visitors can walk her decks and learn the stories of the crew who served on board.” The ship -- nicknamed "Showboat" -- is competing with nine other historic naval vessels across the country. Click here to vote.