NCHBA Enjoys Productive Legislative Short Session
Capitol Insider
by Lisa Martin, Director of Governmental Affairs

Your Governmental Affairs team at NCHBA represented the interests of our industry during the recent Short Session of the North Carolina General Assembly, which adjourned in late August. The 59 session-days resulted in the passage of 122 bills, including a $21.25 billion spending plan.

NCHBA tracked 488 of the 2,162 bills introduced into the 2013-2014 Session (23%). Thus, almost one in four bills had some impact, or potential impact, on our industry. The purpose of the short session was to address budget adjustments and other matters that remained eligible for consideration from the 2013 session, including resolutions, bills with a fiscal impact, study bills, local bills affecting less than 15 counties, and bills affecting the state or local retirement systems.

The tension between House and Senate this session permeated into nearly every major policy decision, but nonetheless, NCHBA enjoyed a very productive session. Unfortunately, two of NCHBA’s top legislative priorities, HB 150 (Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls) and the repeal of municipal protest petition authority (See Sec. 3.5 of HB 734, 6th Edition) did not pass. Both of these measures passed the House with strong bi-partisan majorities, but were not calendared by the Senate for reasons entirely unrelated to their merits. NCHBA believes the prospects for passage of these measures in the 2015 Session are very promising.

The foregoing only lists the most significant of many bills from the Short Session, organized by subject matter.

I. WORKERS’ COMPENSATION REFORM

1. Disapproved Industrial Commission rules which were harmful to employers by the passage of SB 794. It disapproves eight rules adopted by the Industrial Commission earlier this year which were opposed by the business community. SB 794 amends certain workers comp laws and provides specific legislative direction as to how the Industrial Commission is to rewrite the replacement rules. This bill represents the last step in the effort begun in the 2011 Session to bring about major reform to the workers comp statutes.

2. Stopped effort by plaintiff lawyers to more than double the permissible awards for the loss of, or injury to, an organ which would have driven up workers comp premiums. By defeating SB 101 (WC/Inflation Indexing for Organ Injury/Loss), existing award limits remain in place and no future indexing for inflation will occur.

3. Created Deputy Industrial Commission terms for the purpose of providing more accountability and balance. The deputy commissioners are the frontline hearing officers for all workers comp claims. Sec 15.16 of SB 744 (Appropriations Act of 2014) was enacted to ensure more accountability and balance.

4. Limited repackaging prescription drugs for resale by physicians. In an attempt to head off abuse seen in other states, especially with respect to pain medication, Sec. 15.16A of SB 744 puts restrictions on physicians as noted.

5. Eliminated hearing and processing fees presently paid by employers to Industrial Commission. NCHBA helped lead a two-year effort to bring about this reform, which will save employers $2.5 million per year. See Sec. 15.16B of SB 744.

II. REGULATORY REFORM

Continued significant ongoing regulatory reform efforts with passage of SB 734 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2014) which, among others, enacted these important reforms:

6. Permit choice. Sec. 16 of the Act allows a permit applicant to choose which version of any state or local rule or ordinance will apply if the rule or ordinance changes between the time of submission of the application and the time of decision (except for zoning permits).

7. Coastal stormwater grandfather. Sec. 25 of the Act provides that any development activity on contiguous property in coastal counties under a subdivision plat approved as of 07/03/12 shall comply with the stormwater provisions in existence as of the date of issuance and does not have to comply with subsequently enacted provisions.

8. Exempted construction & demolition landfills from minimum financial responsibility requirements applicable to other solid waste management facilities. Sec. 27 of the Act.

9. Reformed on-site wastewater regulation. Sec. 28 & 40 expand opportunities for alternative systems.

10. Excluded slatted decks and pervious gravel from “built upon area” in stormwater regulation. See Sec. 45 of Act.

11. Excluded USPS cluster mail box units from stormwater regulation for single family or duplex residences. See Sec. 46 of Act.

III. ENVIRONMENTAL REFORM

12. Amend isolated wetland regulation. Sec. 54 of the Regulatory Reform Act increases the exemption from state regulation of isolated wetlands which are less than or equal to 1 acre east of I-95 per project (was 1/3 acre) or 1/3 acre west of I-95 (was 1/10 acre). Isolated wetlands are exempt from federal regulation regardless of size. Mitigation ratios for isolated wetlands

Winter 2014