Fiscal Year Budget, Zoning Changes, Confederate Monuments - July 17th, 2015 North Carolina Legislative Update
You may recall that the General Assembly did not enact a new budget in time for the fiscal year that began July 1st. Instead, a continuing resolution was passed that keeps spending static until its expiration of August 14th. When August 14th gets here we will either have a state budget in place (not likely), have a state government shut-down (not likely but scary just the same), or another continuing resolution that punts the budget deadline farther into the future (where I’m placing my bet). Governor McCrory has taken two steps to interject that pique our interest:
Governor McCrory addressed the House Republican Caucus then the Senate Republican Caucus on Thursday to urge getting the budget unstuck. House Republicans say the governor urged support for his highway and infrastructure bonds, as well as his ideas about Medicaid Reform. He urged the House to hold the line on tax reform. The Senators didn’t share what went on in their caucus but we know the governor and the House agenda are fairly closely aligned.
State Budget Director Lee Roberts is querying agencies to determine which functions are critical for “health, safety and well-being” and must continue even if there is a state government shut-down. Although a shut-down is unlikely, there is not a clear catalogue of which functions are vital and which are not.
Budget Conferees Appointed
One month after the Senate passed its version of the budget, the House and Senate have appointed conferees to the conference committee which will develop a compromise agreement. When choosing members for the conference committee, it seems that there were many worthy choices. The House appointed 82 conferees (more than two-thirds of the House membership), which includes almost every member who voted for the House budget except for Speaker Tim Moore and includes 19 Democrats. Speaker Moore said they will divide the budget work into subject areas such as health and education.
The Senate followed suit two days later and appointed 32 conferees consisting of the entire Senate Republican Caucus except for Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Senator Bob Rucho – the only Senate Republican to vote against the budget. No Democrats made the cut.
The grand total of budget conferees comes to 114 – two-thirds of the full General Assembly.
To compare, the total number of conferees last session was 43: 27 from the House and 16 from the Senate.
The conference committee will now have a month to develop a compromise before the current continuing resolution expires on August 14. No word on when conferees will officially begin meeting.
Eliminating Protest Petitions
HB 201 – Zoning Changes/Citizen Input , which eliminates the use of the protest petition, has been approved by the legislature and was presented to the governor for his signature this week. Protest petitions, used by residents to force three-fourths votes rather than simple majorities by city councils on controversial proposed rezoning proposals, have been used by neighbors to slow down new developments or business construction near existing homes and businesses. Supporters of the bill deemed this process “archaic” during discussions and argued that the petitions make it too easy for a small group of landowners to block progress on a development project. The bill replaces protest petitions with a process for concerned residents to submit written comments to the clerk of the board, who would forward them to council members if they are received at least two days before the rezoning vote.
SB 22 – Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act – was reviewed and received a favorable report in the House Committee on Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs this week. It would bar state or local authorities from permanently removing an object on public land that “commemorates an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” Removing such an object would require an act by the General Assembly to be approved by the governor. The bill was introduced in the Senate in February – months before last month’s shootings in Charleston – and is intended to protect historical monuments from “knee-jerk reactions.”
House leadership attempted to add the bill to Wednesday’s calendar for a vote by the full House, but decided to push it until next week after objections by House Minority Leader Larry Hall and other Democrats. It’s now on the calendar for Monday night.
Auto Emissions Inspections on the chopping block. Sort of.
In 2002, NC enacted legislation to mandate annual auto emissions inspections in 48 counties – mostly urban counties and their adjacent neighbors but some rural counties that registered high NOx and SOx readings. The testing combined with targeted emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants (the Clean Smokestacks Act) and emissions reductions from industry smokestacks were a balanced attempt to balance the cost and responsibility for improving air quality in NC in accordance with the federal Clean Air Act. Since then new cars are running cleaner and the emissions test has few failures leading lawmakers to question whether it’s worth the cost and hassle to drivers. HB 169 – Limit Motor Vehicle Emissions Inspections repeals the annual emissions inspection requirement for all but Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Rowan, Union and Wake Counties, but does not eliminate the annual safety inspection which is part of that same service. The bill passed a House Committee and we expected a full House floor debate this week…. until the service station owners, who perform these inspections, weighed in on their capital costs to provide the state-mandated service. We’re waiting to see how the business interests get resolved. The bill has been calendared for House consideration Monday; if the bill passes the House, it will need Senate approval and the governor’s signature. It would not go into effect until the EPA approves an amendment to NC’s state implementation plan.
SB 619 – Grey’s Law would enact tougher measures against drunk driving, including a proposal to require ignition interlocks for everyone convicted of DWI. These are devices that are connected to ignition systems and require a driver to blow into a tube before starting the car to ensure that the driver’s blood alcohol limit is below the set threshold. Current law requires an ignition interlock in certain circumstances, including drunk drivers convicted of repeat offenses, drivers who refuse to submit to a blood-alcohol breath test, or drivers who blow at or over .15. Over 11,000 drivers in North Carolina currently have interlock systems in their vehicles as a result. It is estimated that an additional 19,000 drivers would be added by this bill.
While some Senators argued that the scope of the bill is too wide, others argued that stricter interlock proposals would keep drunk drivers off the roads and reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents. Senator Josh Stein, one of the bill’s sponsors, argued that interlock systems cut recidivism rates by 50% and pointed out that 26 other states require interlocks after all DWI convictions.
The bill was up for discussion only this week. The next meeting of the committee has not yet been scheduled.