United States: North Carolina General Assembly Week In Review - April 17, 2015

Legislature Focuses on Transportation, Education Issues in Busy Week

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly had a full schedule this week, considering bills on everything from repealing the state's cumbersome Map Act to voiding a law which required teachers to write Personal Education Plans for their students. The House filed over 200 bills this week, meeting their bill filing deadline of April 16. Both the House and Senate have until Thursday, April 30 to pass bills out of their respective chambers in order to meet the crossover deadline. The chambers are both slated to return to action on Monday, April 20th.

Unanimous House Votes to Repeal Map Act

The North Carolina House voted unanimously Thursday to repeal the state Map Act, which enables the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) to reduce its right-of-way expenditures by blocking landowners from developing property it anticipates purchasing for future highway projects. House Bill 183, Repeal the Map Act, now heads to the state Senate. The DOT uses the Map Act to draw corridor maps, which can sometimes handcuff property owners for decades, while neighbors are free to develop their land as they see fit and increase its profitability.

The legislature's Fiscal Research Division staff reported Thursday to the House Finance committee that the HB 183 won't affect DOT project costs in the next five years, but will drive costs higher in the future. The fiscal analysis indicated that the Department stands to realize substantial savings when it starts buying for a planned extension of the 540 Outer Beltline in southern Wake County. The fiscal staff estimates DOT's right-of-way cost there, in the still-undeveloped project corridor, at $5 million per mile.

H183 here

Bill Would Put All Uber, Lyft Regulation with the State

Cities have struggled for more than a year with how they should regulate cars and drivers of ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft. New legislation proposed last week would take the issue entirely out of the cities' hands and put all regulation with the state. Senate Bill 541, Regulate Transportation Network Companies, sponsored Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) and its companion bill, House Bill 680, sponsored by Reps. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg), John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), and Ed Hanes (D-Forsyth) would regulate transportation network companies through the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. In the past, the General Assembly has passed legislation that prohibited North Carolina's municipalities from regulating "digital dispatch" companies, but SB 541/HB 680 would prohibit municipalities from regulating companies, cars or drivers.

Among the legislation's many provisions is a stipulation requiring all drivers to have their vehicles inspected annually. In addition, all companies would be required to perform criminal background checks. If any driver had a moving violation within a three year period, if they appeared in a national sex offender database or if they didn't have a driver's license, they would be denied a permit. SB 541 is expected to be taken up in the coming weeks.

Read S541 here

Lawmakers Try Again to Limit City, County Building Inspections

House lawmakers are attempting to put limits on rental inspection programs which cities and municipalities use to curb blight, arguing that officials have used the programs as revenue generators rather than as a safety measure. Although the programs vary, frequently they require that landlords register their rental properties, provide information about renters and pay out an annual fee. House Bill 530, Local Govts/Inspect Bldgs and Structures, cleared the House Local Government committee on Thursday after a nine-minute discussion and amid a flurry of legislation that is rushing through committee process in advance of the impending crossover deadline.

HB530's chief sponsor, Rep. Bill Brawely, (R-Mecklenburg) said at a press conference this week "to charge everyone a fee every year without reason to believe there's a violation is an overreach, and that's the reason there's a restriction in this bill." HB 530 is due to be heard by the House Regulatory Reform committee next week before making its way to the floor of the House for a vote.

Read H530 here

House Votes to Make PEP's Optional

House lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to roll back a state law that requires teachers to write reports known as Personal Education Plans, or PEPs, for each of their students. House Bill 237, Repeal Personalized Ed Plans/Modify Trans Plans, does not affect the Individual Education Plan, or IEP, which is required for students with learning disabilities. Inscribed in state law back in 2001, a PEP was to be drawn up by a teacher for any student deemed to be "at-risk" of performing below average in any academic area. Some school districts have interpreted the statute as requiring a PEP for every student, something that can become a time-consuming task for many teachers.

Rep. Rick Glazier, (D-Cumberland), co-sponsored the bill and stressed at a press conference this week that it does not absolve schools of their obligation to identify and assist at-risk students. It just allows them to use other methods if those are found to be more effective. "Parents can still request [PEPs], teachers can still do them," Glazier said, "but they are, in many places, because of resources and time, a pretty useless document and not being used well."

Backers of the repeal say student assessment and testing has advanced since 2001, rendering the PEP superfluous. While the reports are still being written at the beginning of the school year, they usually are not being used or consulted after that.

Read H237 here

House O.K.'s Partisan Judicial Elections

In a 65-48 vote on Thursday, the state House gave preliminary approval to a plan to end nonpartisan elections for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals. House Bill 8, Restore Partisan Statewide Judicial Elections, sponsored by Rep. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham), said of the proposal that "people are not any more or less partisan because they have to list their parties on the ballot." Jones says that statewide judicial candidates in North Carolina ran in partisan races until 2004, and political parties have continued to back their slates of preferred candidates ever since, even though the races were nominally nonpartisan.

Rep. Jones said that HB 8 is an effort at transparency and giving voters more information about candidates. House Democrats strongly disagreed. "Going to partisan elections is not the solution, we're going to elect more judicial activists, both from the left and from the right," said Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake).

The State Board of Elections already produces a booklet of information on appellate judge candidates, with information regarding party affiliation available on the State Board of Elections website.

Read H8 here

Billy Graham Statue Bill Leads to Heated Debate

House lawmakers voted 71-28 on Thursday to make the Rev. Billy Graham North Carolina's next representative in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. The statue of Rev. Graham would replace the statute of former North Carolina Gov. Charles B. Aycock, who was known for his educational accomplishments, but whose name has since been tarnished because of his White Supremacist views.

Even though the bill passed on a bi-partisan basis, debate over the Rev. Graham honor grew divisive at times, with some Republicans accusing members of the Democratic Caucus of not liking Rev. Graham, while Democrats argued that Republicans had refused to consider other candidates and had subverted the committee process to avoid debate on the proposal.

Bill sponsor Rep. Charles Jeter (R-Mecklenburg), said he had the idea for House Bill 540, Billy Graham National Statuary Hall, while walking through the U.S. Capitol Building last year. When asked how he had chosen Rev. Graham and whether he had considered other potential candidates, Rep. Jeter shot back, "I considered the entire population of North Carolina." Jeter noted the legislation would allow for a committee to be appointed to select the sculptor and begin to raise money for the statue. He said he had discussed the proposed legislation with the Graham family.

Read H540 here

Bi-Partisan Group Files Economic Development Bill

Just in time for the House's bill filing deadline, on Thursday a bi-partisan group of legislators filed a new economic development bill, House Bill 920, Omnibus Economic Development Improvements. Last month the House approved an economic development package, House Bill 117, NC Competes Act, which is now parked in the Senate. HB 920 includes many of the same provisions that are in HB 117, but adds a number of new provisions, including: the historic preservation tax credit program, an expansion of the fill grant program, and tax credits for cigarette exports, state port fees, motorsports, and research and development.

It is unclear whether HB 920 will be better received by the Senate, than HB 117. The Senate has also proposed their own economic development package, Senate Bill 526, The Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2015. SB 526, which has not yet received a committee hearing, concentrates on cutting taxes and ensuring that more JDIG grants go to rural counties.

Read HB 920 here

Legislation Would Cut Gas Tax While Raising Other Taxes and Fees

On Thursday, four House Republicans filed House Bill 927, Reestablish NC as the "Good Roads State." The legislation would cut the gas tax down to 30 cents a gallon on July 1, 2015, but would also raise the taxes and fees for other costs. Among other things, the annual car registration fee would rise from $28 to $42, and a new 6.5 percent tax on motor vehicle insurance premiums would go into effect, were this bill to pass.

Under HB 927, a new program called "DOT REPORT" would be established. "DOT REPORT" would require DOT to fix all reported potholes within two business days, and would also require the state to address other structural and road problems, such as drainage issues and malfunctioning traffic lights, within 10 business days.

Read HB927 here

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