Class size fix nears passage; landfill spraying, impact fee repeal approved

Posted April 25

Classroom generic

— The days are getting longer and tempers are getting shorter as the General Assembly lurches toward its Thursday crossover deadline.

The House and the Senate plowed through a combined 64 bills in floor debates that lasted past 10 p.m. Tuesday, trying to ensure as much legislation as possible clears one chamber before the deadline, allowing those bills to remain alive for the rest of the two-year legislative session.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, repeatedly objected to House Speaker Tim Moore's attempts to add bills to the calendar, but the Republican majority went ahead and added them anyway.

"The members deserve to be able to read the bills and talk with their constituents about them," Jackson said.

Following are some of the measures that beat the clock:

Class size fix: House Bill 13 cleared the House weeks ago and wasn't subject to the crossover deadline, but it has been a hot issue among teachers and parents desperate to know whether schools would have to cut art, music and physical education teachers to accommodate demands for lower class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

The 2016-17 state budget put hard caps on class sizes in those grades, starting in the 2017-18 school year, as lawmakers said they had been paying districts for years to hire more teachers to lower class sizes. Many districts had used the flexibility the state previously allowed in determining class size counts to redirect the money to paying for teachers in non-core areas, such as music, drama and foreign languages.

The House voted to ease those hard caps, but the Senate voted 48-1 on a revised bill that would delay implementation until 2018-19 to give state education officials time to determine how much money had been shifted to those non-core teachers in recent years.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, tried to amend the bill to include a legislative commitment to funding those non-core positions, starting in 2018-19, but bill sponsor Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, used a parliamentary maneuver to kill that proposal without a vote. Barefoot later said in response to a question on the floor that no one knows for sure how much money it would take to fund those positions, and that needs to be determined first before figuring out how to help districts pay for them.

"We're not going to fund people twice," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph. "We've already paid for them, and they [school districts] have spent the money."

The bill now returns to the House for a final vote before heading to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Impact fees: The House voted 80-40 to give final approval to legislation repealing the county's ability to charge developers impact fees to help pay for new schools. The move comes after developers complained when the county jacked up fees in recent months.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, tried to amend House Bill 406 to freeze the fees at last year's rates and prevent them from being adjusted for a year, while state officials devise a formula for charging impact fees uniformly statewide.

Meyer noted that the House was set to approve House Bill 436, which has that same moratorium on impact fees in other counties and cities statewide, and it isn't fair to prevent Orange County from being able to charge anything. His amendment failed 59-60.

Spraying landfill fluids: The House voted 75-45 in favor of a proposal that requires the state Department of Environmental Quality to allow lined landfills to use giant aerosol sprayers to spray any wastewater or leaking fluids into the air over the dump to evaporate the liquid.

Backers say contaminants in the fluids are too heavy to be sprayed and would simply fall back into the landfill. Opponents say that's not always true, and the process threatens air quality for people nearby.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, tried to amend the bill to give DEQ the option of allowing the process, saying he was uncomfortable telling the department what technology to use and that aerosol spraying might not be the best option in a few years.

"Rep. McGrady had no problem telling the department what to do with coal ash," said bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, referring to McGrady shepherding legislation in 2014 dictating how coal ash ponds statewide would be closed and the ash disposed.

Online legal notices: The Senate voted 30-19 to allow counties and cities to post legal notices on their websites instead of requiring them to be run in newspapers. Half of the fees charged to run the online notices would go to the county and the other half to the local school district to help pay for local salary supplements for teachers.

Supporters said state law shouldn't be used to prop up the newspaper industry, which has profited for decades from running legal notices amid their classified ads. Opponents said the public would have a harder time learning about foreclosures and other issues from a government website instead of a daily newspaper.

Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, tried to amend the bill so that all of the fees would go to teacher salary supplements, but bill backers were able to table that proposal.

Traps in parks: The House voted 118-1 to create a criminal offense for anyone who "maliciously sets a trap in a public park for the purpose of injuring another person."

Sen. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, said the measure comes in response to dozens of nails being laid on a trail in a Sylva park two months ago. A jogger impaled his foot on one of the nails, and authorities had to close the trail and use metal detectors to comb 18 miles of the trail to remove all of the nails, Bradford said.

"This is domestic terrorism," he said.

Simply setting such a trap would be a misdemeanor, but the crime would become a felony if anyone is injured by the trap.


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