New regulatory overhaul bill covers a lot of ground

cjarvis@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2014 

— What Senate Republican leaders promoted as their fourth wave of regulatory reform appeared in a committee Tuesday: a 62-page proposal that lawmakers and advocacy groups were seeing for the first time.

The bill was approved without any vocal opposition, and heads next to another committee before coming before the full Senate.

Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican from Mocksville and one of the bill’s sponsors, afterward said the legislation reflected a combination of efficiencies, changes sought by state agencies or developed in study committees, legislation that didn’t make it out of previous sessions in time, and obsolete requirements. He said he was only a little surprised there wasn’t any opposition.

“Any time you have a 62-page bill, you expect maybe something,” Brock said. “But people read through it, and most of it was just simple, common-sense changes. It wasn’t as heated as the other reg reform bills. There was no real heartburn on any of the issues.”

But that is at least in part because the bill just emerged at the meeting. Committee members asked a few questions as they read through it, and special-interest groups began poring over the bill.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, for one, has several concerns, including provisions that ease regulation of stand-alone wetlands, limit the effectiveness of citizens who file legal challenges to air-quality permits, and allow would-be polluters who report environmental threats to the state to avoid civil penalties.

The bill’s sponsors cite those concerns as among its accomplishments: characterizing the wetlands provision as providing uniformity, saying the air-quality section will stop “frivolous legal roadblocks” and that other sections provide new protections for consumers and the environment.

Since taking control of the legislature in 2011, Republicans have made overhauling regulations a particular focus, saying red tape has stifled businesses. Last year, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a sweeping bill that reduced environmental regulations, superseded some city ordinances and put all rules under review.

Here are some of the new bill’s provisions:

Wetlands: A change that environmentalists were worried about just got worse, in their eyes. It would increase the size at which isolated wetlands are regulated to one acre statewide. Current regulations put it at one-third acre east of Interstate 95 and one-tenth acre west of I-95.

Brock said the change provides uniformity, but environmentalists say the size difference reflects the different roles that wetlands play depending on where they are located, including flood protection, water filtration and wildlife habitat.

Environmental Management Commission: This appointed commission would take rulemaking authority for solid waste, hazardous waste, wastewater and drinking water away from the Commission for Public Health. The 13-member commission is composed of four members named by the N.C. Medical Society and nine appointed by the governor. Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Rocky Mount, expressed concern for the loss of public health expertise, but a sponsor said it would be more efficient for “consumers.”

Carbon-monoxide alarms: Legislation last year required the alarms be placed in hotels, following the deaths of three guests at a hotel in Boone. This provision would impose more urgent reporting and investigating requirements when violations are found during inspections.

No attorneys or real estate brokers: Small businesses wouldn’t have to be represented by an attorney in disputes that go before administrative law judges and the Property Tax Commission. Closely held businesses wouldn’t have to have licensed real estate brokers.

Other provisions increase penalties for violating endangered plant laws, and allows community colleges to offer courses in brewing and selling beer.

The bill goes next to the Senate Finance Committee, where there could be more organized opposition.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576; Twitter: @CraigJ_NandO

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service