NCGA Week in Review

June 9, 2017

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The legislature is moving full steam ahead towards passing a two-yearspending plan as budget conferees have begun negotiating the House andSenate’s budget proposals. As the long session begins to wind down, Houseand Senate leaders are also wrapping up the confirmation process for Gov.Cooper’s remaining cabinet appointees, and discussing major policyproposals regarding rural economic development, the regulation of firearms,and newspaper carriers.

Autonomous Vehicle Regulations

Sponsored by Reps. Phil Shepard (R-Onslow) and John Torbett (R-Gaston),HB 469: Regulation of Fully Autonomous Vehiclesseeks to regulate the emerging technology of driverless vehicles.Presently, NC is being used as a test site for autonomous vehicles, butstate law does not permit the personal use of the vehicles. The bill, whichpassed the House in April by a vote of 119-1, was brought to the SenateCommittee on Transportation on Wednesday for discussion only. If passed, HB469 would:

  • Clarify that the operator of an autonomous vehicle must be a licensed driver.
  • Prohibit minors under the age of 12 from riding in an autonomous vehicle without an adult in the car.
  • Define a fully autonomous vehicle as one that is able to perform all real-time operational and tactical functions required to operate in on-road traffic without driver interference.
  • Require similar safety standards as traditional vehicles, such as requiring all passengers to wear a seatbelt and requiring liability insurance.

If the bill receives approval from the committee at a future meeting, itwill have a final stop in the Senate Committee on Rules, where a Senatecompanion,SB 337, has been sitting since late March, before heading to the floor for avote.

Budget Conferees Named

House and Senate leaders named their respective budget conferees on Monday,and began the process of negotiating their budget proposals. Conferees areexpected to work through the weekend and are on track to release theirconference report as early as next week and no later than June 30, the endof the fiscal year. Once the budget is on the Governor’s desk, he will haveten days to either sign or veto the spending plan.

The list of conferees for both chambers can be foundhere.

To read more about the House and Senate’s differing proposals, follow theselinks:

NC House Releases Budget Proposal

NC Senate Releases Budget Proposal

Confirmation of Remaining Appointees

Governor Cooper’s final two cabinet appointees appeared before Senatecommittees for their respective confirmation hearings on Tuesday. RonPenny, Secretary of the Department of Revenue, appeared before the SenateFinance Committee, and Eric Boyette, Secretary of the Department ofInformation Technology, appeared before the Senate Commerce and InsuranceCommittee. Both appointees received recommendations for confirmation andthe appointments now head to the Senate Select Committee on Nominations,and then to the full Senate for final approval.

Energy Policy Reforms

A bill to modify the state energy policies moved through the House thisweek after months of stakeholder negotiations. The bill aims to reshape therelationship between traditional utilities and renewable energy providers,which has been managed by Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS) since2007.

HB 589: Competitive Energy Solutions for North Carolina, sponsored by Reps. John Szoka (R-Cumberland), Dean Arp (R-Union), and SamWatford (R-Davidson), passed the House this week, 108-11. Among otherprovisions, the bill would:

  • Align the state definition of small power producers in state law with the federal definition of small power production facilities as a generating facility of 80 MW or less whose primary energy source is renewable, biomass, waste or geothermal resources.
  • Require utilities to offer standard contracts to small power production facilities for up to ten years, dependent on the size of the facility.
  • Create a process for the competitive procurement of new renewable energy resources for public utilities with 150,000 customers or more.
  • Create a new renewable energy procurement program for large energy users, the military and the University of North Carolina system.
  • Enable public utilities to recover the cost of Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) qualified facility purchased power through the existing fuel clause rider.
  • Reduce the cost of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requirements for residential customers from $34 per account per year to $27.
  • Enact a new Distributed Resources Access Act to authorize leasing of third-party owned solar development.
  • Direct the NC Utilities Commission to establish standards that include an expedited review process for swine and poultry waste to energy projects.
  • Enact a solar rebate program to provide incentives to customers that install or lease solar energy facilities.

To read more about the details of HB 589 and how it compares to existinglaw, follow thislink.

In an unusual fashion, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) spoke in support ofthe bill in the House chamber on Wednesday. Proponents of the bill statethat it will make solar more competitive in the state, while lowering coststremendously for all ratepayers. The bill was referred to Senate Rulesyesterday.

Newspaper Carriers

A bill that would change the employment status of newspaper carriers fromindependent contractors to traditional employees of the newspaper is headedback to the House for concurrence this week, after receiving approval fromthe Senate with a 29-14 vote. Sponsored by Reps. Allen McNeill (R-Randolph)and Lee Zachary (R-Yadkin),HB 205: WC for Inmates/UI & WC/Newsprint Employeespassed the House in early March as a bill to provide worker’s compensationfor certain prisoners working in prisons. However, when the bill arrived inthe Senate, Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) added provision that would removea carve out for newspaper carriers, which allows them to be classified asindependent contractors instead of employees entitled to benefits such asworker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and taxation. Those opposedto the bill say it would cripple the state’s newspapers, especially insmall towns. Proponents argue that this is a way to fairly treatindividuals who work as employees, and are not currently provided benefits.

Omnibus Gun Changes

Legislation to make various changes to state gun laws received approvalfrom the House by a vote of 65-51 on Thursday.HB 746: Omnibus Gun Changes., sponsored by Reps. Chris Millis (R-Pender), Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus),Justin Burr (R-Stanly), and Michael Speciale (R-Craven), would allow anindividual to carry a concealed handgun in areas where it is allowed to becarried openly. Also, the bill would lower the age to carry a concealedweapon from 21 to 18, and remove the requirement for a conceal carry permitunless the individual is prohibited from owning a gun under current law.Proponents of the legislation argue the bill provides clarity in currentlaw, and allows for parity between open and concealed carry. Opponents sayeliminating the conceal carry permit removes necessary safeguards andrequired firearms training that protects the public. The bill now heads tothe Senate. Eight House Republicans joined the Democratic caucus in votingagainst the bill, so the current vote count would not be able to override aveto from Gov. Cooper.

Rural Investment Fund

Sponsored by bipartisan group of House members,HB 904: North Carolina Rural Job Creation Fundwould create the NC Rural Job Creation Fund, a new economic developmentfund aimed to target investment in rural areas. Sponsored by Reps. StephenRoss (R-Alamance), Ken Goodman (D-Richmond), Jeff Collins (R-Nash), andJohn Faircloth (R-Guilford), HB 904 calls for an annual $50 millionappropriation, which was not included in either chamber’s proposed budget,would:

· Provide matching funds to businesses that expand operations in rural oreconomically distressed areas.

· Invest at least 70% of its funds in tier one or two counties, with theremaining portion targeted to economically distressed areas in tier threecounties.

· Require repayment of the investment if certain job growth measures arenot met, and no more than $5 million in state funds may be invested in onebusiness.

Bill sponsors say this legislation would increase access to capital forcompanies in rural areas, and would encourage private equity firms andother investment groups invest in rural North Carolina. HB 904 was heard bythe House Committee on Commerce and Job Development on Wednesday and hasbeen sent to the Committee on Appropriations.

Primary Date Change

In general election years, NC holds primaries on the first Monday in May,though a lawpassedin 2015 pushed the primaries to March in 2016 only, in an attempt to givethe state more influence in the presidential election. A bill sponsored bySen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie), would make that change permanent.SB 655: Change Date When Primary Elections Heldpassed the House 71-46 on Tuesday. The bill now heads back to the Senateafter an amendment from Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), changed the bill’seffective date from 2018 to 2020.

Supreme Court and Legislative Districts

Last year, a three-judge federal panel determined that 28 NC legislativedistricts were racial gerrymanders, and ordered the legislature to redrawthe maps and hold special elections in 2017. The special elections were puton hold as legislative leaders appealed the decision to the United StatesSupreme Court.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued arulingaffirming the lower court’s decision, following a similardecisionlast month on the state’s congressional districts. The Court ordered thesame three-judge panel to reconsider how to correct the maps. As the weekcontinued, House and Senate lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper have disagreed onwhen the maps will be redrawn.

The Governor issued aproclamationfor a two week long special session on Wednesday afternoon, callinglegislators to begin redrawing new legislative maps the followingafternoon. On Thursday, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Ralph Hise(R-Mitchell), chairmen of the elections committees in their respectivechambers, called the Governor’s proclamation unconstitutional and apolitical move, before cancelling the special session.