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League Bulletin

November 8, 2019

​WHAT HAPPENED: It almost felt like lawmakers were still underway with the long session they adjourned last week. Among big things, legislators at the committee level began work on new congressional district maps, a process always caked in session-caliber political debate. Meanwhile, Gov. Roy Cooper was signing or vetoing bills lawmakers sent him from the adjourned session, and comments continued to fly around the lack of a comprehensive state budget. In other news, on Tuesday, voters in 92 North Carolina counties went to the polls for municipal elections, which have "a tremendous impact on our everyday lives,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. We thank everyone who took part in that process, as an incumbent, new candidate or voter. Alcohol referenda and bond issues were also on ballots in many communities, including a $95 million affordable housing bond plan in Durham that passed big with 76 percent approval.
WHAT IT MEANS: The session ended, but there's plenty underway to keep everyone busy: bills to sign or veto, court orders to follow (redistricting), boards in need of appointments, and preparation for formal returns to House and Senate business quite soon. 
ON TAP: The chambers are scheduled to return to session on Wednesday. Per adopted rules, they'll be able to take up remaining business in work on conference reports, though congressional redistricting is meant to be the main focus. 

THE SKINNY: Even when the General Assembly is out, legislative committees and staffers continue to shape North Carolina policy, and League eyes remain open as if the session were still in progress. Which it is, in essence, with lawmakers back next week for business before plans for another convening in January, where rules will allow them to address a broader slate of items, ahead of the routine "short session" scheduled to begin just a few months after that. Read on for more updates from the past week. 

Gov. Roy Cooper this week put ink to more bills approved by the legislature -- in some cases with a ballpoint pen and others with his red veto stamp. Newsmaking bills the governor put into law included SB 199​, which the governor's office said would "close loopholes in existing sexual assault laws and strengthen penalties against child abusers." He also signed a bill to restore Saturday voting before election day. On Wednesday, the governor put into law SB 559, An Act to Permit Financing for Certain Storm Recovery Costs. And he additionally greenlit SB 433, DNCR Omnibus & Other Changes, an agency bill we reported on last week when it took on provisions of interest related to emergency operating funds for utilities, clarifications of the uses and reimbursement procedures for certain coastal storm funding, and inventorying fire retardant foam.

Governor Cooper pressed his veto stamp into several bills, including SB 578 Reduce Franchise Tax/Expand Film Grants​. While he's supported the program for the film industry, Governor Cooper took issue with the franchise tax cut, saying in his veto message that the bill "prioritizes tax cuts over investments in education..." He also red-stamped SB 250 Remove Foreign Citizens from Voting Rolls on Wednesday, and three more bills Friday morning. Complete lists of actions from the governor of bills from the legislature are at

​John Phelps, longtime staff attorney for the League and currently its general counsel, is set to retire in what comes as bittersweet news for the office and membership. Effective New Years Eve, Phelps' retirement will close out two-and-a-half decades of important legal work at the League for cities and towns across North Carolina. "Throughout his career, John has demonstrated loyalty to the members and our mission and operated with the utmost integrity," said League Executive Director Paul Meyer. "His contributions, expertise, institutional memory, and positive attitude will be greatly missed, and we congratulate and celebrate this well-earned retirement." 
Phelps said he considers himself "exceedingly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a member of the League of Municipalities family for the majority of my working career– a family consisting of great colleagues and friends at the office and countless hard working and gracious municipal officials all across our state." He added: "It is with mixed emotions that I move into retirement, but I do so with confidence that the League will continue to move forward to help our members serve their residents and improve quality of life." 
Phelps has worked in various levels with the organization's legal team and became general counsel with the recent retirement of longtime League counsel Kim Hibbard. Please join us in congratulating Phelp​s on his close-out to a long and acclaimed career. Prior to joining the League, he worked in private law practice in Lillington and Dunn and served as general counsel to the N.C. Rural Water Association. He earned his law degree at Campbell University and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science undergraduate degree, too from Campbell University. To provide continuity and strength during this important transition, League staff attorney Jennifer Schneier will serve as interim general counsel, working with fellow staff lawyers Gregg Schwitzgebel and Monica Jackson. Schneier joined the League in spring 2019, coming from the legal team for the City of Greensboro.

The governor has appointed Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo to his Advisory Council of Film, Television and Digital Streaming, according to a news release​. Mayor Saffo is no stranger to the film industry, which has enjoyed a long relationship with his municipality, nicknamed “Hollywood East” and the location of numerous hit movies like “Iron Man 3” and television series like “Dawson’s Creek.” Saffo has been Wilmington mayor since 2007. EUE/Screen Gems Executive Vice President Bill Vassar, also of Wilmington, was too named to the film council, as was N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susi Hamilton, a former House member from Wilmington.
The governor also appointed Greenville City Manager Ann Wall to the N.C. Water Treatment Facility Operators Certification Board. A press release named Wall to the seat and noted it represents a municipality using a surface-water supply. Wall previously served as assistant city manager for Rocky Mount as well as Charlotte and is a member of the International City & County Management Association, the release said.