Top state regulators voted on Thursday to adopt a large package of stormwater rules that would affect cities and towns. The N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) gave final approval to a proposal brought forward after several years of stakeholder involvement and a recent public comment period. Four municipal stormwater experts took part in stakeholder discussions, which focused on defining technical standards for stormwater control measures as well as creating a fast-track permitting option for these devices (read more background here).
The package also included a substantial reorganization and update of existing stormwater rules, which was prompted by the "review of rules" process, a legislative mandate requiring state agencies to review and potentially change their rules every 10 years.
Commissioners’ discussions of the rule package focused on which licensed professionals should be allowed to access the new fast-track permitting process, noting that since plans for stormwater control measures will not be reviewed prior to being built, the submitting professional needs to be competent in stormwater design to ensure the protection of the public and property. Additionally, under their federal stormwater permits, cities and towns are generally required to ensure that stormwater control measures operate in perpetuity. League affiliate organization the Storm Water Association of North Carolina provided detailed advance comments to the EMC that highlighted these issues. The rules package next heads to the Rules Review Commission for approval. The scheduled effective date of the rule package is January 1, 2017.
Duke Energy is investing in the expansion of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in cities and towns around the state. Its goal: to see 30 percent more of them. The utility announced its “EV Charging Infrastructure Support Project” on Tuesday, reserving $1 million to help municipalities develop public charging stations. According to a press release, Duke Energy will cover all costs up to $5,000 per charge port; $20,000 per site, or $50,000 per city. “Adoption of EVs depends on a robust infrastructure for consumers,” said David Fountain, president of Duke Energy North Carolina. There are roughly 4,700 registered plug-in EVs and about 700 public charging stations in North Carolina right now, according to the industry. An article posted Tuesday on techcrunch.com reported expectations of 62 percent year-over-year growth in the EV market in 2016, as the vehicles become more accessible and affordable.
“Duke Energy's new program will give communities the opportunity to provide a new amenity for residents and visitors that also benefits the local economy and air quality,” said Dr. Robert Koger, president of Advanced Energy, a nonprofit established by the N.C. Utilities Commission. The program also includes $500,000 for electric bus charging for transit agencies. The utility would pay fully for electric bus-charging infrastructure up to $250,000 per entity, the press release says. To apply, download this EV charging form, or this one for the bus program. The deadline is Sept. 1. Questions may be directed to PlugIn@Duke-Energy.com. Click here for media coverage.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law HB 972 Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record during a ceremony with bill sponsors on Monday, setting up a much-needed legal framework regarding access to police footage from body-worn or dashboard cameras. The governor’s office in a press release explained that the legislation “seeks to gain public trust while respecting the rights of public safety officers by establishing clear and distinct procedures and standards by which a law enforcement agency may disclose or release a recording from a body-worn or dashboard camera.”
Bill sponsors including Reps. John Faircloth and Allen McNeill, who come from law enforcement backgrounds, received bipartisan recognition during the legislation’s development for their diligent work on a complicated topic. It involved League-member presentations to an interim legislative study committee on the vast and complex issues related to law enforcement agencies' use of body-worn cameras. That feedback helped to shape the final language, which does not mandate the use of body cams. Click here for past League coverage.
Gov. McCrory at the same ceremony also signed HB 1044 Law Enforcement Omnibus Bill, which makes various minor changes to state law enforcement statutes but also establishes a Blue Alert System to help apprehend suspects of murder or serious bodily injury committed on a law enforcement officer. “This legislation will help curtail violence against our police officers by engaging the community to help capture suspects who seek to harm an officer,” the governor’s office said.
Nearly 30 bills approved in the 2016 legislative session still awaited Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature as of Friday morning, including measures of interest to municipalities. But the governor has been reducing the stack. In addition to signing the state’s $22.3 billion budget and law enforcement legislation mentioned earlier in this newsletter, this week he put into law a handful of bills including House Bill 959 DOT Proposed Legislative Changes. That one includes a provision responding to a N.C. Supreme Court Ruling from June 10 that struck down the state’s 29-year-old law allowing NCDOT to place development restrictions on land planned for future roads. The legislative changes include using dollars currently earmarked for state-funded transportation projects to pay court costs and landowner fees, which could eventually run into amounts of hundreds of millions of dollars. The FY16-17 state budget included just over $32 million in additional amounts for this same transportation program. The new transportation law includes various other technical changes and updates requested by NCDOT. Click here for a rundown of that and other bills the governor signed this week. Click here for a governor's-office press release and here for news coverage about the signing of the budget, which includes several wins for municipalities, as noted in previous League coverage.
Many bills still await the governor’s pen as of Friday morning, according to the General Assembly's website. They include:
Click here to see a full list of bills pending on the governor’s desk. Click here to see a full list of bills the governor has already signed.
A federal judge on Aug. 1 is set to hear arguments on whether to suspend parts of House Bill 2 while a lawsuit is pending against the legislation, the Raleigh News & Observer reported on Thursday. According the newspaper, it’s one of four legal challenges against HB2, which went into law after a one-day special session of the N.C. General Assembly in March. Plaintiffs in this case took issue with the law’s requirement that individuals in schools and public buildings use only the restrooms that match their biological sex as noted on their birth certificates, as opposed to their gender identity, a measures seen as discriminatory to the transgender community. The plaintiffs claim HB2 violates federal law on gender equity, the newspaper reported. The U.S. Department of Justice has also sued over the law. HB2 separately prohibits local governments from regulating against discrimination in places of public accommodation.
Economic development remains the number-one focus of U.S. mayors, the National League of Cities reported on Thursday from the findings of its annual State of the Cities study examining mayors' state-of-the-city speeches in 100 municipalities of various sizes and regional traits. According to NLC’s summary, economic development was mentioned in 75 percent of those speeches, followed by public safety at 70 percent and city budgets at 52 percent. All in all, the bottom lines represent what cities and towns have accomplished and the challenges still ahead. "As the economy rebounds, mayors are utilizing their state of the city speeches to highlight the progress their communities have made since the Great Recession," said NLC CEO Clarence E. Anthony in a press release about the study. "Mayors are focusing on innovative strategies to grow jobs, modernize manufacturing and keep our residents safe. But we must work hard to address critical challenges -- including inequality, gun violence, inclusion issues and a dilapidated infrastructure -- for our cities, and our nation, to thrive and succeed.”
Other top issues for mayors this year included housing, energy, data and technology issues, and healthcare. Public safety’s second-place focus in these speeches is a change from last year’s heavy emphasis on infrastructure, which was still mentioned in 48 percent of speeches and concentrated mostly on roads and bicycling. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s speech, delivered in March, was among those NLC sampled for its study. Read the full report here, which includes tools for local leaders to address the various issues most highlighted in state-of-the-city speeches.
State Reps. Stephen Ross and John Torbett weighed in on the local infrastructure funding burden in the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League’s recently launched podcast about local government and great communities. “We’re not treating the economic engine the way it needs to be treated,” Rep. Ross, a former mayor of Burlington, said in a featured interview about the lack of funding resources available to municipalities -- being the economic engines -- so they can keep up with growth by way of reliable infrastructure. He said he hopes the legislature can soon discuss new funding options. Rep. Torbett, a chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the state feels obligated to road funding but would like to see municipalities be able to handle water and sewer needs. He called for essential planning to highly prioritize maintenance of existing infrastructure. Some cities’ underground pipes are several decades old. Listen in to hear more about the local infrastructure funding quandary, learn about tools to reduce the deficit and a piece of creative thinking that the City of Raleigh has put to use.
Our next episode -- an interview with renowned innovation and entrepreneurship expert Christopher Gergen on how municipal government can help foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem -- will be out on Tuesday, July 19. Click here for a preview.