Broad regulatory reform bill clears Senate committee despite outcry
Posted June 29, 2015
Updated June 30, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A one-page House bill dealing with rules for transporting gravel was transmogrified over the weekend into a 54-page regulatory reform omnibus covering everything from environmental changes to allowing people to break into cars to rescue someone in need of medical attention.
House Bill 765 cleared the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee before reaching the floor.
Democrats protested the sudden emergence of the bill, saying they didn't have enough time to review it and especially needed some guidance from state Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials regarding the impact of various provisions.
"I want to hear from our environmental people," said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg. "If they can't or won't give a response, then we should pause."
Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, reminded the Democrats of similarly rushed legislation when they controlled the Senate.
The bill basically mashes together a regulatory reform measure that has cleared the House with one already pending in the Senate and sprinkles several new provisions on top. Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, noted about three-fourths of the bill's sections have already cleared either the House or the Senate.
Environmental advocates bemoaned provisions in the bill that would reduce the number of air quality monitors, limit local stormwater management and eliminate some wetlands from rules designed to mitigate damage, among others.
"We have wetlands for a reason," Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr said. "By chipping away at water-quality protections, you're doing a huge disservice to your constituents."
"This is not a bill that reduces the burden on the regulated community," said Mary Maclean Asbill, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "It's a polluter protection bill, and you all should call it such,"
Asbill said a provision that would exempt businesses that voluntarily report environmental violations from civil penalties – the violation could have occurred years ago or be about to happen, she noted – hurts companies that work hard to follow environmental rules all the time.
The SELC also balked at a provision that would make it easier for the state to recover legal fees from people who unsuccessfully challenge state enforcement of environmental regulations while making it more difficult for people to get the state to pay their legal fees if they win such challenges. The SELC has represented several groups challenging DENR's regulation of coal ash, for example.
Other provisions of the bill would do the following:
- Repeal state laws that made it illegal to use "profane or indecent language on public highways" or to refuse to relinquish a party line during an emergency.
- Require a criminal background check of anyone seeking to be licensed as a manufactured home salesperson.
- Eliminate recycling requirements for old computers and televisions.
- Classify pigeons as wild birds, which would allow them to be hunted.
- Establish a hotline within the Attorney General's Office for tips on animal cruelty cases.