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Jul 24, 2020

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

North Carolina continues to operate under Governor Roy Cooper's Phase 2, Safer at Home, extension, which was issued through Executive Order 151. After announcing that the state will continue to operate under Phase 2 measures through August 7, Governor Cooper also announced that K-12 schools would be allowed to reopen this fall under "Plan B." Plan B requires schools to adhere to safety measures like wearing a mask, limiting the number of students and staff within a school building, and conducting daily symptom screening and temperature checks. While school districts may choose to open following Plan B guidelines, they may also choose to follow the more restrictive "Plan C," which consists of remote instruction only. As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise throughout the state, and the first day of school quickly approaches, some of North Carolina's largest school districts have opted to stick with remote instruction only. Since the announcement, Wake, Cumberland, Durham, and Orange Counties, along with Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, announced that they would be starting off the school year with online learning only. 

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 106,893 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,523,675 completed tests, 1,726 deaths, and 1,188 current hospitalizations. 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.


Regulatory Reform

After a hard-fought, long session battle to pass a regulatory reform bill last year, only to receive a veto by the governor, lawmakers were finally able to get through a version of regulatory reform legislation that everyone could agree on. The original bill, SB 553: Regulatory Reform Act of 2019, included provisions that dealt with trash receptacles and septic system permits that were cited by the governor in his veto, stating that both provisions threaten public health and safety. With both provisions removed, a new version of the regulatory reform act has now become law. HB 308: Regulatory Reform Act of 2020:

  • Expands the powers and duties of the North Carolina On-Site Wastewater Contractors and Inspectors Certification Board to allow the Board to deal with real property in the same way that individuals or corporations are authorized to.
  • Establishes an application fee up to $300 for an on-site wastewater evaluator.
  • Allows the Division of Coastal Management to accept electronic payments.
  • Authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary to implement emergency measures during a declared state of emergency to properly manage solid waste generated, including restricting collection.
  • Clarifies the definition of abandoned and derelict vessel.
  • Extends the Mercury Switch Program, and the program’s funding, through June 2031.
  • Delays reporting deadlines for DEQ.
  • Adds water and sewer lines serving 10,000 or fewer customers owned by private water or sewer utility companies to the list of types of lines the Department of Transportation must pay to relocate for transportation improvement projects.
  • Makes a series of conforming changes to local planning and development regulations.
  • Directs the NC Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee to work with the Wildlife Resources Commission when developing species conservation plans.
  • Allows teaching hospitals not part of the University of North Carolina system to assign their campus policy agency officers to any other facility within their own system’s network. The officer’s jurisdiction would only apply to facilities campus.
  • Allows inmates in local confinement facilities to be provided with a cell phone or other wireless communication device, like an iPad or tablet, with sheriff approval.
  • Extends the authorization for remote notaries and video witnessing to March 1, 2021.
  • Allows commercial architectural projects under $200,000 or less than 3,000 square feet to be done without an architectural license.

The bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor on July 1.


Agriculture Legislation

After being one of the most highly debated pieces of legislation during the long session, lawmakers were able to reach an agreement on this session's farm bill. The version of the bill that made its way through the General Assembly during the short session removed all provisions related to hemp and removed shooting sports from the definition of agritourism. The final version of SB 315: North Carolina Farm Act of 2019-20:

  • Establishes a process by which land owners with easements acquired by a utility company may file a complaint with the Utilities Commission if the utility company has not started construction within 20 years of acquiring the land.
  • Provides left-turning farm equipment with the right-of-way.
  • Increases the size of the sign allowed near highway rights-of-way for bona fide farm properties, broadens the area where the sign can be placed, allows all bona fide farms to place signs, and allows the signs to remain standing all year.
  • Adds hunting, fishing, and equestrian activities to the definition of agritourism.
  • Enacts the North Carolina Sweet Potato Act to promote North Carolina sweet potatoes.
  • Provides that all information collected by soil and water conservation districts from farm owners, animal owners, agricultural producers, and owners of agricultural land that is confidential through either state or federal law, must remain confidential by the conservation districts.
  • Allows the Environmental Management Commission to issue or modify a permit to construct or expand an animal waste management system for swine farms that use a lagoon or sprayfield so long as the permit would not increase the farm's capacity.
  • Directs the Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission to study possible policy options to support the dairy industry.

The bill passed the House in an 86-34 vote and the Senate in a 39-9 vote. Governor Cooper signed the bill into law 6/12/2020.

In addition to the farm act, a number of other bills with agriculture-related provisions were passed during this summer's short session, including: 

SB 390: DuPont State Forest-Financial Study.

  • Directs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to study the finances and operating model of DuPont State Recreational Forest and come up with a plan that would ensure a sustainable income to preserve and protect the forest.
  • Modifies how net proceeds are calculated during the sale of state-owned property located outside of the State Capitol Area.
  • Modifies the amount of gross proceeds of the sale of state-owned property paid into the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to 12.5% each.
  • The bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate and the governor signed the bill into law 6/12/2020. 

SB 812: Agricultural Sciences Center Funds. 

  • Reallocates funds from the Pay Plan reserve to provide $115,000 in recurring dollars for an Executive Director position at the center.
  • Reallocates unused funds from the Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund, Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, and the Expanded Gas Products Service to Agriculture Fund to provide $10 million in nonrecurring dollars to pay for equipment, moving costs, and other nonrecurring expenses.
  • Unanimously passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor 6/26/2020. 

HB 85: Emissions/Lee, Onslow, & Rockingham Counties. 

  • Removes Lee, Onslow, and Rockingham counties from the list of counties required to conduct emissions inspections, subject to approval by the EPA.
  • Requires DEQ to submit a proposed North Carolina State Implementation Plan amendment to the EPA for approval no later than December 31, 2020.
  • The House passed HB 85 last year during the long session but was not taken up by the Senate until this short session. The Senate passed the bill in a 39-5 vote and the House concurred.
  • The governor signed the bill into law 6/5/2020.

HB 873: System Development Fee/ADU Sewer Permit.

  • Clarifies that the collection of system development fees for new development involving the subdivision of land would be collected either at the time of application for a building permit or when water or sewer service is committed by the local government unit, whichever is later.
  • Authorizes the use of collected system development fees for previously completed capital improvement projects and capital rehabilitation projects.
  • Requires DEQ to allow sewers shared by a main building and an accessory building on the same lot to be considered permitted. An accessory building could include garages, storage buildings, workshops, etc.
  • Unanimously passed both the House and Senate and the governor signed the bill into law 6/30/2020.

HB 1087: Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform. 

  • Establishes a process to identify distressed public water systems and wastewater systems.
  • Establishes the Viable Utility Fund, within DEQ, to help assist public water and wastewater systems become self-sustaining.
  • Transfers $9 million from the One NC Fund to the Viable Utility Fund.
  • Appropriates $4.8 million to the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center in Fayetteville to be used for residencies and COVID-19 related response activities.
  • Transfers $2 million of unused funds appropriated in a prior budget bill to the PFAS Recovery Fund to go to local governments and nonprofits handling a variety of local water quality and PFAS response projects.
  • Appropriates the funds provided to North Carolina from the environmental mitigation trust established through the settlement of the Volkswagen Clean Diesel marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability litigation in alignment with Phase 1 of DEQ’s Mitigation Plan.
  • Transfers funds from the Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund and the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund to various water resources development projects.
  • Unanimously passed both the House and the Senate and the governor signed the bill into law 7/1/2020.

HB 1163: Guilford Funds/Cabarrus Land/Brunsw Shellfish.

  • Reallocates unused funds equally among the Oak Ridge, Stokesdale, and Summerfield municipalities, originally allocated to Guilford County for water and wastewater system improvements, to be used for water infrastructure projects.
  • Transfers select parcels of land of the Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School campus to Cabarrus County.
  • Creates a pilot program that authorizes the Secretary of Environmental Quality to grant shellfish cultivation or water column leases in specified waters in Brunswick County.
  • Directs the Division of Marine Fisheries to study the pilot program and make a recommendation on whether the program should be terminated, made permanent, or expanded.
  • Unanimously passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor 7/1/2020.