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League Bulletin

December 7, 2018

WHAT HAPPENED: In December, we're often in the mindframe of finished business and holiday focus. In a "short session" year, we're still full steam at the General Assembly as its 2017-18 membership narrows down final business. 
WHAT IT MEANS: Before the new class moves in this January, lawmakers continue to wrap up work on bills enabling now-greenlighted constitutional amendments along with numerous other matters, from e-scooters to the implications of the apparent elections irregularities found in the 9th Congressional District. 
ON TAP: Lawmakers plan to continue business into next week, though inclement weather may impact the flow of things. Otherwise, session work was set to resume on Monday as lawmakers move legislation and negotiate with the governor on court-involved items like the future of the state elections board​
THE SKINNY: We've reported numerous times that legislators, with their announced focus on constitutional amendment bills, weren't restricted on legislative topics they could take up in this reconvening. This Bulletin highlights a few other proposals or discussions of interest municipalities. 

In remarks before the multi-modal committee of the N.C. Board of Transportation​ on Wednesday, the League emphasized the importance of leveraging the state’s transportation network for broadband connectivity. With its extensive right-of-way holdings, the League said, the State of North Carolina played a critical role in building high-speed broadband capacity across the state. It is often less expensive to place broadband fiber conduit along road and rail right-of-way, and in its presentation the League applauded the state’s new policy of incorporating broadband conduit into each new project it undertakes. Specifically regarding modes of transportation besides cars and trucks, because internet connectivity drives many of the evolving shared transportation solutions, the League also urged multi-modal committee members to develop policies governing collection of the data generated by these vehicles. Those recommendations included policies for data ownership, data-sharing with other levels of government such as cities, and the security of personally-identifying information. Contact: Erin Wynia

The 2017-18 General Assembly remains in session for final business with topics including recently approved constitutional amendments, the existence of various state boards, electronic scooters and more. By Thursday, the legislature had finished work on a bill setting the terms of the new constitutional amendment to require photo ID to vote. And as reported in the News & Observer​ of Raleigh, the election news unfolding on a national scale​ out of North Carolina's 9th Congressional District has led legislators to eye that matter in the voter ID bill, having added the photo ID requirement to absentee ballot requests. Gov. Roy Cooper may sign or veto the bill; the legislature's veto-proof majority is still in place. (Meanwhile, with more regard to the 9th District issues, senators called on Gov. Cooper to set up "an independent, bipartisan task force to investigate absentee ballot irregularities that have spanned multiple election cycles," according to a tweet​​ from Senate leader Phil Berger.) 
The Senate this week also passed a bill​ that could do away with numerous state boards, including those that oversee grants from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. But, as we reported in last week's Bulletin, the bill does not affect funding. As the Insider State Government News Service reported, the six recently reconstituted boards in question had been court-ruled unconstitutional under separation of powers, per the legislature's power to appoint most of the boards' members. Bill sponsor Sen. Andy Wells said the court's decision was the premise of the bill, which would terminate the boards if not restructured by the end of the fiscal year. The House has yet to take up the bill.  

The House voted yesterday to advance a proposal that represented the state’s first foray into regulation of electric scooters, or “e-scooters." Since spring, numerous private companies have placed fleets of e-scooters into cities across the state. Riders rent the scooters by using their smartphones, then leave the scooters undocked at their destination, ready for the next rider. The League negotiated the proposed changes with representatives of private e-scooter companies and supported the updates to current law included in Section 12.5 of SB 469 Technical Corrections. Those updates included a technical definition of e-scooters and a change to remove e-scooters from motor vehicle registration and titling requirements. While this bill now moves to the Senate, the League anticipates taking part in much more comprehensive e-scooter discussions next session. Contact: Erin Wynia​

Cities and towns faced further restrictions on their ability to recoup from industry the cost of reviewing small cell applications with a proposal introduced this week in SB 469 Technical Corrections. The measure, contained in Section 4 of the bill, extended current restraints on small cell application fees to also apply to those fees charged for zoning application review and technical consultant costs. It is common practice for municipalities to charge industries for the costs of checking compliance with local development and public safety rules that apply to that industry. With this proposal, taxpayers will now pay the costs for reviewing these applications. In a largely party-line vote yesterday, the House moved the bill to the Senate for consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia​

The House moved forward this week a measure to repeal an annual reporting requirement on broadband and cable availability in North Carolina. The proposal came in Section 1 of the House’s omnibus technical corrections bill​, which passed over to the Senate yesterday largely along party lines. During the floor debate, repeal proponent Rep. Jason Saine pledged to work next session toward instituting a new state-level broadband data-gathering requirement. His pledge came in response to numerous House members who questioned the rationale behind removing the requirement for the reports. The reports collect information on cable providers’ service areas across the state, and while they concern cable service, they also serve as a proxy for broadband availability because more North Carolina businesses and households receive broadband services through cable than any other technology. 
In both committee and House floor debates, legislators expressed concern that if the data collection ceased, the state would have less information about which areas of the state have broadband service. Rep. Saine resp​​onded that the report proposed for repeal was outdated and did not provide useful information. However, he also said that he had spoken with the state Department of Information Technology regarding ways to replace this report with one that gave better state-level information about broadband service, which he said he would pursue in the upcoming "long session" that begins in January. The need for more accurate broadband data is acute, and the League has reported on the shortcomings of the federal broadband service data collected by the Federal Communications Commission, including in the recent Municipal Equation podcast episode, “The Map is Wrong.” Contact: Erin Wynia​

The state's Department of Commerce has released county-level economic tier rankings for 2019 with 28 changes from the previous year. The tiers -- meant to reflect a county's economic conditions with a ranking of a most-distressed Tier 1 to a least-distressed 3 -- are considered in the distribution of various grants and other funds for communities across the state. An information release​ details which counties have changed in tier status for 2019. Factors determining a county's tier status are unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita. 
While the tier system has been the subject of legislative discussion and some adjustments, critics say it oversimplifies or generalizes counties' and communities' economic dynamics and doesn't capture pockets of distress within higher-tier counties, which subsequently may miss out on funding opportunities designed to help them. North Carolina's cities and towns have made it an advocacy goal​ to support legislation that would revise the current methods of determining economic needs that are used by the state to allocate funds so that additional areas of the state in need may benefit from increased economic development, jobs, and see more entrepreneurial innovation. 

Applications need to be in by Dec. 13 for post-Florence assistance from FEMA.  " Grants and loans are available to help people put their lives back together, and it’s critical to register with FEMA before the December 13 deadline," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Wednesday news release that notes the deadline also applies to low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Click here for more information on eligibility and how to apply.

Members of retirement systems including the Local Government Employees Retirement Systems now can access a new, online retirement application. "The online application doesn’t overwhelm members with dozens of empty fields that they must complete," says information from the Office of the State Treasurer. "Instead, the online application allows members to move through the retirement application in small segments that are not overwhelming or confusing." Watch a brief video demonstrating the application portal.

To boost awareness of multimodal projects and their positive impacts, the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has announced a new awards program honoring such work of local entities, including cities and towns. "Let us recognize your community's project!" pitches an information sheet for what they're calling the Mobi Awards. Bicycle, pedestrian, rail, transit, ferry and aviation projects are among multimodal focuses and "are an important piece of North Carolina's future," said NCDOT. "They connect people to places, provide alternative modes of travel and make the state more accessible, attractive and competitive. Five categories -- Urban, Suburban, Rural, Tourism and Innovation -- will have winners at an awards luncheon this spring. The deadline to apply is Jan. 22, 2019. Click here for info on eligibility and criteria.