April 24, 2015


Legislative Update: Lawmakers racing
the clock to get bills moved 
By SANDY SEMANS

Legislators were in overdrive this week as they tried to push bills through the system to meet the crossover deadline set for Thursday, April 30. Most bills not meeting the deadline will not be eligible for further consideration during the current session.

The bills that showed action this week dealt with a hodge-podge of topics ranging from judicial races to tail lights.

One bill of particular local interest is House Bill 388, sponsored by Rep. Paul Tine, U-Dare. The bill has cleared the House and is now in the Senate Chamber. If made into law, it would allow Dare County to levy 1/4-cent sales tax to raise revenues to pay its share of the cost of dredging Oregon Inlet. That portion of the proposed legislation expires in 2020. The tax can be imposed without a referendum until 90 days after the completion of the Bonner bridge replacement. To continue collecting the tax, a referendum would have to be approved before that time. Before levying the new tax, the county has to give the Secretary of Transportation 75 days notice. Collection can start in the beginning of the quarter that occurs after the notice period. As of press time, if passed into law within the next two months, the earliest date that it can be collected would be Oct. 1.

After being introduced in January and then lying dormant, HB 8 flew through committee and required readings and votes in the House so that it could be passed to the Senate this week. The bill seeks to make elections of judges to the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court partisan races. Currently, the nonpartisan races are pared down to two candidates for the General Election by holding a primary of all candidates. The two receiving the most votes have their names placed on the November ballot. If passed, the proposed change would prompt partisan primary races with one candidate from each party winning a spot on the General Election ballot. This has passed first reading and been sent to the House Elections Committee for further review. Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Edenton, is one of the bill's sponsors.

House Bill 93 was favorably voted out of the Transportation Committee and passed on to the Appropriations Committee this week. If it becomes law, it will eliminate the tolls on all the state's ferries. The bill also aims to establish the Ferry Capital Improvement Account. Revenues for the account would be derived by receipts from advertising, sponsorships, and concessions. All unallotted and unencumbered balances on the last day of the fiscal year that were appropriated from the Highway Trust Fund to the Ferry Division would not revert. Other appropriations and donations from public and private sources also would go into the fund that would be used for capital improvements and ferry facilities. Tine is one of the bill sponsors.

Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, has cleared the Senate and is now in the House.  If passed, it would mandate that vehicles have two brake lights in the rear – one on each side - and that motorcycles likewise have a brake light in the rear.

SB 95 moved from the Rules Committee to the Education Committee last week. It proposes a new structure and guidelines for the reduction in school personnel. The bill states: “In determining which positions shall be subject to a reduction, a local school administrative unit shall consider the following:

"a. Structural considerations, such as identifying positions, departments, courses, programs, operations, and other areas where there are less essential, duplicative, or excess personnel; job responsibility and position inefficiencies; opportunities for combined work functions; and decreased student or other demands for curriculum, programs, operations, or other services.

“b. Organizational considerations, such as anticipated organizational needs of the school system and program or school enrollment.
“In identifying which teachers in similar positions shall be subject to a dismissal, demotion, or reduction to employment on a part-time basis under the policy, a local school administrative unit shall consider work performance and teacher evaluations."

House Bill 128, was moved out of committee last week after being reported as unfavorable. If it was signed into law, it would have allow voters to petition for a referendum on local government projects to be funded by Certificates of Participation (COPs). The bill is unlikely to move farther forward in the process.

Senate Bill 19 is now in the House. It 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 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.

HB 138 is now in Senate. It would 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.

Also now in the Senate is HB 201, which changes the rules for municipal zoning protests. The bill instructs that anyone protesting an action should submit a written statement to the clerk for the respective board at least two days prior to the proposed vote; the clerk would forward the letter to the board. And, if passed into law, it would remove the mandate of needing three-fourths of the voting members to approve a protested change; instead, a simple quorum would be needed.

SB 288, sponsored by Cook, has been reported favorably by Judiciary Committee 2 so will now be up for second and third readings. It lays out a process that, if passed into law, would allow those who are barred from purchasing firearms due to mental competency to have their names removed from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System if subsequently found competent by a judge and the clerk who first determined competency agrees. Removal from the system would allow the person to purchase a firearm.

Tine is one of the sponsors of HB 302, a bi-partisan bill now in the Senate. The bill seeks to strengthen the oyster industry by studying oyster aquaculture, expanding oyster sanctuaries and stiffening penalties for taking oysters from sanctuaries. It also, if passed, would change the name of the Senator Jean Preston Marine Shellfish Sanctuary to Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network. The late Preston was a legislator from Carteret County who was a frequent champion of commercial fishing and water quality issues.

Cook is one of the sponsors of SB 160 which has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee and in now in Finance Committee. It is titled the Enhance Safety & Commerce for Ports/Inlets. If it becomes law, it provides that there be a 50-50 match between the state and counties to cover dredging costs for inlets, including Oregon Inlet.

Initially, the bill includes a provision that would have given the county control of all portions of the 6 percent occupancy tax. At the county's request, that provision has been removed. Another change to the bill appropriates $4 million annually to use toward Oregon Inlet dredging.

Two bills of local interest don't appear to be moving toward meeting the crossover date on Thursday, April 30.

SB 369, if passed into law, would change the method used to distribute sales tax revenues that come back to local government. The bill proposes a three-year phase-in to a per capita sales tax system distribution to replace the current formula which portions out the sales tax based 75 percent on point of sale and 25 percent based on population.  The new plan would increase the amount that some rural counties would receive, while reducing revenues flowing to more prosperous areas. Of all the counties that would see decreased revenues, Dare County would take the largest hit – 59.2 percent reduction in sales tax revenues. Countywide, the potential lost sales tax revenues for the county and the towns will total approximately $16.7 million. The loss to the county’s budget equals about $11.5 million. But the tax beat goes on.

A second bill, SB 608, is another attempt to redistribute local sales taxes among counties. The impact to local town and county coffers appears to be negligible, compared to SB 369,  but the bill includes extending sales tax to such services as barbers and dentists.

(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.)

PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED 2015 LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

First bill filed would prohibit condemning property for economic development 
Legislative Update: And they are off -- sort of
Legislative Update: The gold rush in Raleigh is underway
Legislative Update Most Bills Moving At Snails Pace But One Achieves Warp Speed

Legislative Update: Humor unleashed in the General Assembly
Legislative Update: Lawmakers made hay while the sun was shining
Legislative Update: Bill on dredging causes local turmoil
Legislative Update:  156 new bills filed this week
Legislative Update: Lawmakers keeping busy in Raleigh
Legislative Update:  It was raining bills all week

Legislative Update: Occupancy tax provision is out of dredging bill
Legislative Update: Lawmakers take aim at N.C. Constitution
Legislative Update: More taxes and Constitutional amendments proposed

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