The Public and Government Affairs Teams wishes all of you a happy holiday season. We believe this has been a very productive year for the League, which was only made possible by your work and dedication. We look forward to continuing that work with the villages, towns and cities that make up the League in 2016. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you in any way. Happy holidays! Happy New Year!
Left to right: Director of Research and Policy Analysis Chris Nida, Grassroots Coordinator Vickie Miller, Public and Government Affairs Coordinator Karen Waddell, Communications Associate Jessica Wells, Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia, Associate Director of Public and Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams, and Director of Public Affairs Scott Mooneyham.
Cities, fire officials, and building inspectors all pointed out the safety risks that result from under-regulation of large resort homes in comments to the N.C. Building Code Council (BCC) this week. The BCC held a public hearing Tuesday to receive comments and information on a concept that would limit the size of mega-resort homes if they were to be considered residential and not commercial structures. These large homes often function more like hotels, with large groups of unrelated people renting them for short-term stays, such as a week-long vacation or wedding. However, the N.C. building code regulates these structures as if they were occupied by a single owner. Comments offered Tuesday by the League and its members stressed that this difference in use posed unique safety challenges in an emergency, both for the renters as well as first responders. Cities told council members that they support additional regulations of this special class of home, which could include safety features like fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, exit plans, wider hallways, and fire-resistant materials, which are typically found in commercial structures. While the council does not have a specific proposal yet, this week's public hearing (item C-5) was intended to help its members decide whether to move forward in developing new code provisions. The council will accept additional public comment on this concept through January 16. For more background on this concept, and for talking points to use in your written comments, please contact Erin Wynia.
The head of a House study committee examining transportation issues said this week that the committee will look at innovation and new technologies in addressing the state's transportation needs. Rep. John Torbett of Stanley said the state also needs to do a better job of assessing and articulating its transportation needs to Congress. Representative Torbett made the comments during the first meeting of the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning. He announced at the meeting that the committee also would meet as four subcommittees, with frequent meetings. The subcommittees will hold their first meetings on the morning of Jan. 4, with the full committee to meet later that day.
One of the subcommittees will examine the planned toll lanes for Interstate 77, which have come under increasing criticism by local residents. Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville said people in his district are opposed to the project and highlighted it as an example of public-private partnerships that can undermine public confidence when not formulated correctly. Other topics to be covered by the committee include: light rail, connectivity, ports and aviation. One of the subcommittees also is expected to examine Powell Bill funding. The committee's website can be found here.
A new legislative-commissioned report recommends doing away with a rating system based on economic need and poverty that has helped direct grants and tax breaks in North Carolina. The state's "tier system" has long ranked counties as either Tier 1, or economically distressed; Tier 2, or economically average; or Tier 3, or affluent. The tiers were designed to try to direct more state dollars and more lucrative tax breaks to the more economically disadvantaged areas. The report from the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Division concludes that the system often does not accomplish that purpose.
The report notes that the system is often blind to the reality that distressed areas can exist in otherwise wealthy counties. This sentiment, previously expressed by League members, is one of the perspectives League staff shared with the Program Evaluation Division when they consulted with the League during the development of this report. The League thanks PED for asking for the input of cities on this topic. In response to the report, the legislative committee that oversees the Program Evaluation Division requested proposed legislation that would do away with the system for economic development programs by July 2018 and for other state programs by July 2017. Committee members, at a meeting on Monday, discussed several alternatives to the tiers, but settled on none. Read media coverage about the meeting here. Find the report on the tier system here.
The League has joined with other interested parties, including the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, in seeking to file a friend of the court brief with the North Carolina Supreme Court in an important workers compensation case. The Motion for Leave to file an Amici Curiae brief comes in support of the City of Greenville in a case now before the state's high court. If allowed to stand unchanged, the underlying decision of the N.C. Court of Appeals could have a detrimental affect on cities and towns across the state by opening municipalities and other local governments to liability for various injuries claimed in workers’ compensation cases which have not been admitted to by the employer or decided in a hearing, thus significantly hampering their ability to project and manage exposure in workers’ compensation cases.
Two more incumbent state senators announced this week that they will not seek another term as the filing period for 2016 state offices continued. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Concord, who has been a fixture at the legislature for a quarter century, has decided to step aside after he completes his 13th term. Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone is serving his third term and also will not seek another term.
This week's filings saw Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey file for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Find the full list of filings here. The filing period closes Monday at noon. The League thanks Senators Hartsell and Soucek for their service and wishes them well.