NC House GOP splits over regulatory bills

craig.jarvis@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2014 

  • Highlights of the House’s proposed regulatory bills

    Senate Bill 493

    • Allows landlords to hire private parties instead of sheriff’s deputies to serve court summons and complaints in eviction cases. The N.C. Sheriff’s Association opposes, and some rental housing companies support it.

    • Repeals the procedure by which a single property owner can delay the process by objecting to zoning changes.

    • Makes booking mug shots no longer a public record, unless the person is charged with a felony and upon conviction of an offense.

    • Imposes additional ethics requirements for city or county governing boards with a population of more than 75,000.

    • Requires health benefit plans to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosing and treatment of autism for those 23 years old or younger.

    • Creates a state board to regulate behavior analysts.

    Senate Bill 38

    • Increases the size of isolated wetlands that can be regulated by the state from one-third of an acre east of Interstate 95 to 1 acre, and from one-tenth of an acre west of I-95 to one-third of an acre. This is the same as the Senate’s proposal.

    • Spares air quality monitors around the state. The Senate wanted to require state environmental regulators to discontinue using ambient monitors that were not required by federal law.

    • Directs DENR to treat a waste containment basin as closed and no longer subject to regulation if the owner convinces the agency it has only been used for dairy cattle waste, was constructed before 2006, that it has not been used for dairy cattle waste since 2006, that only rainwater is in the basins and that nitrogen levels are limited. Environmentalists say that creates a health hazard, especially if the property is sold and developed, and could result in cattle sludge spills.

    • Allows the state to ease up on protections for inlet hazard areas, which are coastal areas vulnerable to erosion and flooding.

  • Other action

    • Legislation that would prevent the state retirement system from subsidizing inflated pensions of high-earning state and local employees cleared the state House on Wednesday, 115-0. It now goes to the Senate.

    House Bill 1195 covers those who make $100,000 or more in salary and who have inflated their pensions above what they would typically earn through the contributions they and their employers make to the system. The employees would be required to cover the difference, or get their bosses to approve the additional cost.

    The bill also returns the vesting period for state employees to earn a pension from 10 years to five years.

    • The Senate unanimously passed the House version of the public-private partnership bill on Wednesday, and sent it to the governor. HB1031 would have the N.C. Department of Commerce turn over its marketing and job recruitment to a private nonprofit. It does not include the film grant program that the Senate had included in its version. But the House budget includes a similar provision.

    • Gov. Pat McCrory was sent a bill aimed at allowing two high-profile lawsuits to move forward. SB 574 clarifies that the state’s product liability law requiring that lawsuits be brought within 10 years of when the last pollution occurred does not apply to groundwater lawsuits. Lawmakers wanted to ensure that suits brought by Asheville residents and Camp Lejeune families over contaminated drinking water could move forward. A recent Supreme Court ruling used the state’s law to block a lawsuit by Asheville residents.

— In a sign that time and patience are running out in the final hectic weeks of the short session, House leaders drew fire from fellow Republicans over a pair of regulatory bills that surfaced Wednesday.

Several House members objected to the grab-bag nature of issues thrown into what is titled the “2014 Regulatory Reform Act,” calling it a mix of individual bills that couldn’t clear committees. Others complained about new provisions rushed into an environmental bill at the last minute.

Both bills survived challenges in committees Wednesday morning, and at least one will be taken up by the full House on Thursday. Republican leaders wanted to vote on the environmental bill on Wednesday, but Democrats persuaded them to hold off for a day so they could read it first.

The regulatory overhaul bill covers such issues as allowing landlords to hire private process servers to evict tenants, insurance coverage for autism, third-party prescription administrators, farmers markets, and says mug shots of people who are arrested are confidential unless the person is convicted.

“Here we are with a bill that’s called regulatory reform and it adds regulations,” Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Republican from Hickory, complained about Senate Bill 493.

Starnes singled out one provision – regulating landscape contractors – in particular as one that had been pushed for years but never made it past a committee. “If anybody ever needed proof that the Resurrection is real, this is it,” he said.

That provision was voted out of the bill, along with several others. There were so many proposed changes to the bill, that legislators ran out of time and said further amendments would have to be taken up on the House floor later.

But it was the process that upset seven-term lawmaker Rep. John Blust, a Republican from Greensboro, who said the issues weren’t receiving the thorough review they should. He said he understood that bill sponsor Rep. Tom Murry, a Republican from Morrisville, was just doing what he was told to do by leadership, and wasn’t blaming him – but:

“I didn’t know I could go to you with any subject under the sun that I wanted passed into the law in this state and have it inserted into a bill called regulatory reform,” Blust said. “This is not good legislating to put a hodgepodge of totally unrelated provisions into one bill, call it something it’s not, and run it through with a straight face.”

Murry, who explained what he could of the bill to two committees and turned to legislative research staff to explain the rest, at one point shrugged off questions.

“I’m just bringing forward ideas that other people have decided to call regulatory reform,” Murry said.

At another point he offered, “This isn’t my dog. I’m just walking it.”

To which committee chairman Rep. Mitchell Setzer, a Republican from Catawba, replied, “Put a leash on it.”

There were fewer objections to the House’s version of an environmental regulation bill the Senate passed last month. The House’s version makes one big change that pleases environmentalists: It spares air quality monitors around the state, which the Senate had targeted for partial elimination. But it retains a provision environmentalists don’t like: easing regulation of wetlands that are not connected to another body of water.

Still, the Republican majority was not united.

Rep. Chris Millis, a Republican from the Pender County community of Hampstead, said he only found out the previous night about a provision remaking the Marine Fisheries Commission, ending the terms of its current members and changing the expertise that members must have. Millis said the provision hadn’t been adequately vetted.

Bill sponsor Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte, said that the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources helped write the provision and that the state Division of Marine Fisheries supports the change. That didn’t satisfy Millis.

“The administration has put this in without any deliberation by the legislative body,” Millis said. “It is our authority to deliberate this and determine if it’s good or bad.”

Yet Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican from Apex, defended the bill as mostly good. Samuelson reminded committee members that lawmakers compromise on bills all the time.

“The idea that you can only vote for a bill that you agree 100 percent with means we wouldn’t vote for any budget,” she said.

The regulatory catch-all bill passed two committees on a split voice vote, and the environmental bill also passed a committee.

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

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