Editor's note: This edition of the League Bulletin comes to you a day early, considering our office closure tomorrow, Friday, July 3.
WHAT HAPPENED: Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a slew of bills the General Assembly sent him in wrapping up the current leg of state lawmaking, including measures affecting or of interest to cities and towns.
WHAT IT MEANS: We've included breakdowns below, but system development fees, the Viable Utility Reserve, local states of emergency, transportation money, and package delivery robots are among topics.
ON TAP: A small stack of legislation remains pending on the governor's desk as of this writing, including Implement Conner's Law, which we've covered in past Bulletins. Skeletal sessions of the legislature continue until a July 11 break, in place until a reconvening in September. General Assembly staff has also released a list of new laws with July 1 effective dates.
THE SKINNY: As is usual during session wrap-ups, a lot of bills came through and this Bulletin pulls together the latest action that cities and towns should know about. You should also know that your advocacy helped your community. Among bills the governor signed this week is one the legislature approved to guarantee municipalities receive a quarter of the $300 million set aside in CARES Act dollars for local governments. Approval of HB 1023 Coronavirus Relief Funds/Additions and Revisions came after legislators had previously sent $150 million of the $300 million to county governments with language that encouraged them share money with municipalities but did not require it. What the governor signed into law this week followed meetings between League representatives and legislative leaders.
Legislators approved changes to the laws governing local states of emergency last week, setting new requirements for local officials to follow before their emergency orders may become effective. Now signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper, the new procedures will require a local government to post its emergency order on its website and submit a signed copy of the order to the N.C. Department of Public Safety's WebEOC portal. Failure to follow these steps, which must be taken along with existing requirements for publication of the order, would mean that the emergency order would not be effective. The procedures came in HB 593 JCPC/Detention/CAA and Other Fees at the request of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, which expressed past frustration with not having a centralized database of local orders that affected its members' retail business operations.
The point in time at which some water systems would collect system development fees moved under a bill signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday. The new law, modifications to which were negotiated by the League after the N.C. Home Builders Association proposed the change, would apply in a tightly-defined set of circumstances. Specifically, the water systems affected by this change would be those that currently collect the fee at the time of plat recordation. Under the new law, which becomes effective January 1, 2021, that timing is pushed to a point later in the development process: either when an applicant applies for a building permit or when the water service was committed by the water system -- whichever point was later. The governor's signature also made law a clarification requested by the League to another part of the system development fee law. This clarification ensured that some water systems could utilize fee revenue to repay capital debt.
As their routine business came to a close last week, legislators continued a session-long trend of considering bills focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, including action on seven separate bills that would reopen various businesses despite emergency orders to the contrary by Gov. Roy Cooper and local officials. Of those seven bills, four now sit on the governor's desk. Most legislative observers expect him to veto all four, as he did an earlier, similar bill (and the fifth in our list) that failed a veto override vote in the House last Wednesday. Rounding out the list, legislators failed to see through final votes on the remaining two bills in this grouping.
At the same time, yet another proposal made necessary by the pandemic gave rise to a clash between House and Senate leaders late on the last night of session. This proposal concerned a Jim Crow-era law—temporarily suspended by a legislative action this spring—that made it illegal to wear a mask in public. The suspension of this law expires on August 1, 2020, and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson tried multiple times to extend that suspension through next February. House leaders agreed to that extension in the Fourth Edition of SB 782 Merchandise Sales Limit/Meck Dist Ct., only to ultimately remove it in final negotiations with the Senate. The back-and-forth generated media attention, but no solid promises were made by legislative leadership to revisit the issue before the law reverts back to criminalizing public mask-wearing at the beginning of August.
In contrast to the vehement disagreement between members of each party over these pandemic bills, other COVID-19 response bills found bipartisan support this week. One measure applicable to cities, other governmental units, and businesses alike would shield them from liability for any act or omission alleged to have resulted in a person contracting COVID-19, so long as those actions or omissions arose from negligence.
Lawmakers considered dozens of bills in the final days of this year's legislative session, in many cases sending finalized versions to Gov. Roy Cooper for his consideration. Read on for highlights of those actions that affected municipal interests.
A new federal toolkit is available to local leaders to better understand how they can plan effective strategies with their Opportunity Zone designations. It's the followup to a previous version of the Opportunity Zones Toolkit. “By aligning local, state and federal resources, establishing incentives, and building on new partnerships, communities in and around Opportunity Zones can attract the desired private capital investment they need to boost economic growth throughout their region," said a news release with details and updates.