March 6, 2015

Legislative Update:
Bill on dredging causes local turmoil


March stormed into the General Assembly, and at least one bill left locals cold.

Senate Bill 160 first surfaced at the end of February when it was sent in draft form to the Dare County Board of Commissioners for review. Sen. Bill Cook is one of the primary sponsors of what has since become a filed bill.

The bulk language aims to create programs that could address dredging needs by using a cost-share method between the state and local governments to fund such work. But at the end of the bill, is a provision that would allow Dare County Board of Commissioners to tap into all funds derived from the 6 percent occupancy tax, although all portions have long been dedicated to specific purposes – three percent shared between the county and the towns, one percent to fund the Tourist Bureau, and two percent to fund beach nourishment.

Dare County receives 32 percent – approximately $3.8 million - of the three percent portion, and the rest is divided by the incorporated towns. The money is used by the local governments to help fund their annual budgets.

After hours of heated and emotional public comment and debate, the board voted at its meeting on Monday, March 2, to ask Cook to remove the occupancy tax language. Instead, the board voted to use the equivalent of its 32 percent of the three percent to create a line item in the budget devoted to dredging. There was no discussion of how those funds will be replaced in the county's budget.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard said that during a break in the meeting, he called Cook's office to ask that the language relating to the occupancy tax be struck but was told the deadline for local bills to go to bill drafting for changes was the next day and that it might be too late to accomplish the deletion before filing. The board followed up with a letter making the same request.

County Manager Bobby Outten later notified the board of commissioners that he had spoken to Cook and that the language would be taken out in committee. The bill was filed as presented the day after the commission meeting. It has gone through first reading and is assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, as are all Senate bills when initially filed.

Senate Bill 20 was passed by the Senate but changed significantly in the House and will now most likely go to a conference committee tasked with coming up with a bill that both chambers might approve.

The Senate version of the bill would temporarily cut the gas tax but then change the formula in the future, which would increase the tax substantially. The money would be used for highway projects.

The bill also would require homeowners who have had a portion of the their mortgages forgiven so they can stay in their houses to pay income tax on the amount forgiven.

The House changed the gas tax portion and opened the door to revisit the issue at a later date. It was sent back to the Senate on Thursday.

House Bill 128, if signed into law, would allow voters to petition for a referendum on local government projects to be funded by Certificates of Participation (COPs). It has passed first reading and is in the Committee on Local Government.

Senate Bill 194, if passed, would exempt contracts between companies that use services of the state's ports from the State's Public Records Laws. The bill was filed on Thursday.

Senate Bill 19 includes a number of exemptions and changes in income and sales taxes. A bakery that sells baked products with no eating utensils would be exempt from collecting sales tax. The standard deduction would be the same for a surviving spouse as the deduction for married filing jointly. A county could not impose a license, franchise, or privilege tax on a  person engaged in supplying piped natural gas, telecommunications service taxed under G.S. 105-164.4(a)(4c), video programming taxed under G.S. 105-164.4(a)(6), or electricity. A taxpayer who has constructed, purchased, or leased renewable energy property would be allowed a credit equal to 35-five percent of the cost of the property if the property is placed in service in this state during the taxable year. Other tax changes for corporations also are in the bill.

House Bill 168, if passed into law, would allow a builder to hold property for up to five years while it is for sale without paying taxes on increased value attributable to subdivision of the property or other improvements made by the builder. The bill was filed on Thursday.

Senate Bill 191, introduced by Cook, will add another magistrate position in Dare County if passed into law.

House Bill 138, if it becomes law, will mandate that every student have at least one semester of art education between sixth and 12 grades. The bill has passed its first reading and has been assigned to the Committee on Education, K-12.

House Bill 13 mandates a health assessment for each child entering school and that the record of the assessment be maintained as part of the child's records. It has passed first reading, cleared the Committee on Health and is now assigned to the Committee on Education, K-12.

Senate Bill 147 has been a long time coming, say many of the state's women. This bill, if passed, is an act to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thirty-five states have ratified the amendment since Congress passed it in 1972, but three more states are required for it to become law of the land. North Carolina has been one of 15 holdouts.

(Sandy Semans is a retired newspaper editor and reporter who now works as a free-lance writer. She lives in Stumpy Point. Her update on the goings-on in this session of the General Assembly will appear weekly in The Island Free Press, usually on Friday.)


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