Legislature Passes 45 Day Continuing Resolution, Avoids June 30 Budget Deadline

House and Senate members passed a continuing resolution (CR) this week that will fund state government on a temporary basis until August 14, staving off a June 30 budget deadline which marked the end of the fiscal year. The CR, S534, 2015 Continuing Budget Authority, was approved by the House 107-1 Monday night, with the Senate following suit Tuesday morning, 43-0. Governor Pat McCrory (R-NC) then signed the proposal Tuesday afternoon, though he did express his wish that legislators pursue a 30 day CR so that the state could have a budget in place as soon as possible. The stop gap spending plan was no great surprise, as House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) had already said last week that he felt it was “unrealistic” for legislators to have a budget in place before June 30.

The CR essentially keeps state funding at current levels, though it does include a raise for starting teacher salaries to $35,000 and a provision that requires all school districts to continue to offer driver education courses, but does not include state funds for the courses. The CR, however, does allow for local school districts to collect a $65 fee from students that are taking the course this summer. State funding for driver education ran out on Tuesday, when the fiscal year ended, and has been a point of contention between the House and Senate budget writers. The Senate’s version of the budget did not include any funding for driver education, while the House planned to fully fund it. Both chambers formally adjourned today and will be in recess all next week, to reconvene Monday, July 13th.

Read the CR here

H765, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 Passes Senate, Sent to House for Concurrence

The Senate gave approval today to House Bill 765, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 by a vote of 31-17. H765, which is over fifty pages in length, would alter a number of NC’s business, environmental and government regulations and it received approval in the Senate after a series of amendments were introduced, which Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) said would help placate the concerns of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), who had previously expressed opposition to the bill. The amendments, which passed unanimously, included the following:

  • Removal of a section relating to storm water runoff rules.
  • A provision ensuring that operators of coal ash ponds would not be able to evade civil penalties by merely self-reporting environmental violations.
  • Removal of a section exempting utility line projects from environmental regulations.
  • A one year delay on coastal storm water provisions.
  • Re-definition of the term “coastal wetland.”

Senate Democrats sponsored other amendments to the bill, including one that would delete a provision that makes it easier for the state to recover legal fees from groups that unsuccessfully challenge NC’s environmental oversight and another that would remove a provision in the bill that allows for half of North Carolina’s air quality monitors to be removed. All amendments sponsored by Democrats failed.

Read a summary of H765 here

S676, Autism Health Insurance Coverage Passes House Insurance committee

Senate Bill 676, Autism Health Insurance Coverage, cleared the House Insurance committee Tuesday with strong support. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Apodaca, requires that health benefit plans provide coverage for the screening, treatment and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. The NC State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees started providing coverage for autism spectrum disorders in January of this year. House Bill 646, Insurance Coverage for Autism Treatment, also addresses insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders, but it has not been acted on since being sent to the House Insurance committee in April. Advocates for autism coverage say that although the two bills differ markedly in the level of coverage they would provide, the central point is to establish coverage as soon as possible and then work with legislators to perfect the proposal in the future.

The bill currently enjoys the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC who has said that the bill "contains language that has been developed by experts across the medical, policy, advocacy and payer sectors.” Representative Ed Hanes (D-Forsyth), a co-sponsor of the House bill, said he felt the Senate version was “driven by special interests.” Critics of the Senate plan have also charged that it removes autism from the mental conditions protected by state parity law, while the House version preserves the parity.

Read a summary of S676 here

H255, Building Code Reg. Reform Heads to the Governor

The House concurred Wednesday with Senate changes to House Bill 255, Building Code Reg. Reform by a final vote of 108-1. The measure had previously passed the Senate 40-0 and will now be sent to Gov. McCrory for his signature or veto. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Brody (R-Union), the bill reforms various laws relating to NC building code inspections and creates a council to study the state’s building code licensing and approval requirements. Further, the newly created Building Code Council would be tasked with studying the feasibility of streamlining the application process so final permit decisions could be made within 30 days or less and the threshold for requirement of a building permit would be raised from $5,000 to $15,000 to adjust for inflation.

Read H255 here

S541, Regulate Transportation Network Companies Clears Senate Transportation committee

New regulations for Uber and other smart phone-based transportation services passed the Senate Transportation committee Wednesday, after a bi-partisan proposal was brought forward by Sens. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick). If enacted, Senate Bill 541, Regulate Transportation Network Companies, would regulate transportation companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar by requiring a state permit to operate the transport vehicle, background checks for drivers, and the maintenance of up to $1 million in liability insurance for transport vehicles. Officials with Uber say that the company already complies with most of the provisions in the bill and they have asked for it to move forward.

S541 sets the application cost of operating permits at $5,000, in addition to a $5,000 renewal fee which both Uber and Lyft have suggested is the appropriate amount. The proposal’s insurance requirement would mean that commercial insurance would take the place of the driver’s personal insurance whenever he or she was en route to pick up or drop off a customer. The bill will now go to the Senate Finance committee for further consideration.

Read a summary of S541 here

House Subcommittee Appointed to Study H482, Employee Misclassification Reform

The House Judiciary II committee appointed a five person subcommittee Tuesday to study key provisions of House Bill 482, Employee Misclassification Reform, after receiving mixed reviews from committee members. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg), would allocate dollars to a special investigative unit dedicated to collecting data on businesses suspected of violating NC’s tax and labor laws. The five person subcommittee will be composed of Reps. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), Stephen Ross (R-Alamance), Robert Reives (D-Chatham), Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Debra Conrad (R-Forsyth). Issues committee members will focus on include:

  • Adding a provision for "stop work" orders to prohibit companies from operating without proper workers' compensation.
  • Altering a provision that permits owner-operators of transportation companies to be considered independent contractors, which can permit them to avoid litigating worker status in NC.

The subcommittee will deliver their report in two weeks, at which time the House Judiciary II committee is expected to take a vote on the proposal.

Read a summary of H482 here

H201, Zoning Changes/Citizen Input Passes Senate

Today the Senate approved House Bill 201, Zoning Changes/Citizen Input. Among other things, H201 would repeal the protest petition, a legal tool available to property owners in cities throughout NC to contest rezoning. It would also remove a provision which requires zoning changes be subject to a three-fourths majority vote of a city council and instead sets that number at a simple majority. Further, the bill replaces the protest petition with a new process where property owners affected by the rezoning could submit written input to a city council regarding the change.

Supporters of the measure argue that protest petitions are archaic and represent a bygone period when property owners might not have had a way to be kept up to date about rezoning efforts. Opponents of the measure, however, say they feel the protest petition is a vital tool property owners need to protect against unwanted development. 

The bill will now go back to the House for concurrence. 

Read a summary of H201 here

H168, Exempt Builders Inventory Clears Senate Commerce committee

The Senate Commerce committee gave approval Tuesday to House Bill 168, Exempt Builders Inventory, which is meant to encourage new homebuilding by giving each residential builder in NC a three year property tax exemption for any increase in the value of residential property which the builder is attempting to sell.

Some local governments have expressed opposition to the bill, saying it would severely limit revenue sources for counties and cities. An analysis from the legislature's Fiscal Research Division (FRD) estimates that H168 could cost counties and cities throughout NC $53 to $66 million every year. The bill will now go to the Senate Finance committee for further consideration.

Read the proposed committee substitute for H168 here

H127, DOT Condemnation Changes Given Unfavorable Report in Senate Transportation committee

The Senate Transportation committee gave an unfavorable report Wednesday to House Bill 127, DOT Condemnation Changes, after short debate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake), seeks to make four key changes to dealings between the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and landowners:

  • Exclude from consideration any special benefits resulting from a condemnation of land for highway purposes.
  • Require interest on a DOT condemnation award from the date it is taken until judgment is paid.
  • Authorize reimbursements for eminent domain, including a new condition which allows defendants to recover attorney fees.
  • Provide that DOT send any relocation notice with the required summons, complaint, declaration of taking and notice of deposit.

Read a full summary of H127 here

Laws Taking Effect This Week

A number of laws took effect on Wednesday of this week, the first day of the new fiscal year. Some of those laws include a new registration requirement for mopeds, a repeal on the privilege license tax for municipalities and in-state tuition rates now available for veterans at NC universities and community colleges.