North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

May 14, 2021

Pardon Our Dust

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It is official: the legislature has officially passed the self-imposed crossover deadline. The deadline is an attempt to narrow down the number of bills eligible for consideration throughout the remainder of the legislative session. However, there are several exceptions to the crossover deadline, such as any bill with a budget or finance-related provision By our count, there were 463 bills that successfully advanced out of one of the two chambers, not including the bills that have already been signed into law by the Governor. According to House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), the budget chairs from the two chambers will be meeting over the next week, and we should expect to see the legislature’s budget sometime soon. This session, the Senate will introduce the first version of the budget. This week’s newsletter will focus on several of the high profile bills that met the crossover deadline.

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 1,394 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 925 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 12,853 confirmed deaths. There have been 7,728,972 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 51% of the total adult population. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released guidance for individuals who are fully vaccinated, saying they no longer need to wear masks while in most indoor settings. The press secretary for Gov. Roy Cooper (D) released a statement clarifying that North Carolina’s mask mandate is still in effect for individuals indoors while state officials review the CDC’s new guidelines.

As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.

For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.

Farm Bill

The General Assembly’s annual farm bill, SB605: North Carolina Farm Act of 2021, passed the full Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 28-21, advancing the bill to the House before the crossover deadline. Most of the bill’s thirteen sections are noncontroversial statutory changes to advance the interests of agricultural entities, including:

  • Section 1 would clarify requirements for a localities’ ordinances on voluntary agricultural districts. Local governments would be allowed to grant agricultural advisory boards the authority to execute agreements with landowners necessary for the enrollment of land in an agricultural district.
  • Section 2 would allow magistrates to waive a trial or hearing for a misdemeanor involving certain minor offenses committed on State parks and forests.
  • Section 3 would exempt, in most cases, fires for cooking, warming and ceremonial events from open burning laws, as long as the fire is confined to an enclosed area.
  • Section 4 would permit the Department of Agriculture to provide compensatory leave to employees of the NC Forest Service who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Section 5 would strengthen the penalties against someone who knowingly and willfully cuts down another person’s trees.
  • Section 6 brings timber sales in line with federal policy by requiring timber operators to provide a wood load ticket to a timber grower or seller.
  • Section 7 would expand the laws enforced by the Department of Agriculture.
  • Section 8 would require electronic records be made available to the Commissioner of Agriculture regarding tonnage statements for the sale of liming materials, seeds, animal feed and commercial fertilizers.
  • Section 9 would increase the amount that the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission can spend each fiscal year on operating expenses. The Fund was created by the legislature as a way to assist current and former tobacco farmers and individuals displaced from tobacco-related employment.
  • Section 10 would clarify the definition of “agriculture” in the state’s worker’s compensation statutes.
  • Section 11 would create a general permit for biodigesters on hog farms and allow farmers to begin projects without enduring lengthy reviews or public hearings. Supporters of the biogas projects say they limit the emissions of potent greenhouse gases, but opponents argue the biogas projects could lead to air and water contamination.
  • Section 12 would limit driver’s licenses for H-2A farm workers, who are nonimmigrant foreign nationals who fill temporary agricultural jobs, to three years.
  • Section 13 would affect workers who file complaints against employers under the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA). As amended by the bill’s author Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) during Tuesday’s Senate session, this section requires the Commissioner of Labor to issue a right-to-sue letter to the complaining party in the event that the Commissioner concluded there is not reasonable cause to believe the allegation is true. The amendment also would allow the right-to-sue letter to be used as evidence in a subsequent hearing.

ABC Laws

A series of alcohol-related bills was transformed into an “ABC Omnibus” bill that passed the full House on Tuesday by a vote of 100-10. A similar companion bill in the Senate was pulled from their floor calendar Thursday and re-referred to the Senate Rules Committee, a procedural move to effectively render the bill dead since it would not meet the crossover deadline. If the House version, HB 890: ABC Omnibus Legislation, ends up moving through the Senate, it could make significant changes to North Carolina’s ABC laws. A few of the changes would include:

  • Part 1 would permit ABC stores to accept online orders, including payment, for alcoholic beverages sold in the store. The beverage would still have to be picked up in the ABC store by the person who placed the order, and the person would still have to show that they are over the age of 21.
  • Part 2 would allow liquor distributors, such as distillers or event venues, to place a personalized label on a bottle.
  • Part 6 would permit a business with a spirituous liquor special event permit to provide free tastings of liquor. The section was amended to preclude free tastings at shopping malls and festivals.
  • Part 7 would raise the size of a growler, which is a portable beer transporting jug, from two liters to four liters.
  • Part 10 would allow distilleries to sell their liquor to consumers in other states, so long as the other state or jurisdiction’s laws permit.
  • Part 13 would allow a vendor at a sporting event to sell a person two drinks at one time.

Another significant alcohol-related bill that passed the House by the crossover deadline is HB 781: Bring Business Back to Downtown. The bill would allow local governments to establish “social districts” in an area of the locality where people can consume alcoholic beverages outdoors on the street. Businesses in or contiguous to the social district would be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks in non-glass containers smaller than 16 ounces.

Traffic Bills

The House advanced several pieces of legislation this week affecting public roads and driver’s licenses, which could lead to major changes in North Carolina’s traffic laws. HB 740: Defined Merging Areas/Zipper Merge would implement the “zipper merge” during roadblocks or other circumstances when multiple lanes merge into one. The zipper merge is being adopted by multiple states, and according to Minnesota’s transportation officials, a zipper merge occurs when motorists use both lanes of traffic until reaching the defined merge area, and then alternate merging in “zipper fashion.” For a more simplistic way of imagining it, view this YouTube video. HB740 would also require the zipper merge to be included in all driver license and driver education handbooks. The bill passed the full House on Wednesday.

Another traffic-related bill that passed the House Wednesday was HB581: Drivers License Designtation/Autism. It would direct the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to develop a voluntary driver’s license designation for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and require training for law enforcement on how to appropriately interact with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Rep Zack Hawkins (D-Durham), who has immediate family members with autism, spoke on the House floor in support of the bill, saying the bill would make the interaction between law enforcement and those with autism spectrum disorder safe.

Finally, House members looked into the future with another traffic bill Wednesday when they nearly unanimously passed HB 814: Neighborhood Occupantless Vehicle. The bill builds on previous legislation from past sessions that authorized the use of autonomous vehicles in North Carolina, and would allow fully autonomous vehicles on residential roads, as long as they are transporting cargo at a low-speed. North Carolina is a leader in autonomous vehicle legislation and innovation in the southeast. In 2017, legislators passed legislation that created the NC Fully Autonomous Vehicle Committee that was tasked with providing recommendations to the legislature on advancing autonomous vehicle technology in the state.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, May 17

11:00AM House: Regulatory Reform

4:00PM Senate: Session

Wednesday, May 19

10:00AM Senate: Redistricting and Elections

Thursday, May 20

2:00PM Joint Legislative Subcommittee on Interscholastic Athletics