Raleigh, N.C. — The House has given final legislative approval to a measure clarifying the City of Charlotte still owns its airport, not withstanding legislation that passed last year creating an independent board to operate the airport.
Because the measure is a local bill – one that affects only a handful of counties – the governor does not need to sign it for it to become law.
In 2013, lawmakers created an independent authority to operate Charlotte Douglas International airport. Almost immediately, city leaders and the state were embroiled in a lawsuit over the measure. Charlotte officials objected to the move, saying the city was being stripped of an asset it had built and nurtured.
Among the requirements to operate an airport is that the Federal Aviation Administration issue a certificate to the operator. The FAA has refused to issue a certificate until the ownership issue is settled. Meanwhile, courts have refused to rule on matters related to the ownership and operation until the FAA issues a certificate.
This bill is designed to cut through that legal tangle, according to Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg.
"Nobody wants it sitting in court over a question we could clarify," Samuelson said.
Opponents of the measure said the state was repeating the same mistake it made last year.
"Let the courts work this out," said Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg. "I'm afraid we're going to be back here again if the courts say we need another question answered. Well, who is answering it?"
But Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said it sounded like people were still fighting the bill that passed last year.
"I think we're getting a little bit off-base, which is usually my job," Jeter said. "I don't know what more we could do to make this easier, to make it clearer....This is a technical bill."
The chamber initially passed the measure on a voice vote, but it was too close to call. A subsequent electronic vote showed it passed 75-42.