Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers voted largely along party lines Monday night in favor of two bills that would limit the power of cities and counties to inspect housing, require emissions reductions or allow union dues deductions.
One measure, House Bill 773, would curb local programs that increase inspections of low-income housing in problem areas.
Last session, lawmakers approved a rental registry for landlords as a way to help local police deal with crime-ridden properties. The measure also allowed additional property inspections for areas considered blighted.
But "excesses have come in," said sponsor Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg. He said some localities have begun requiring all landlords to register, pay fees and even provide 24-7 contact information to renters.
The proposal limits the areas that can be subjected to extra inspections to no more than 5 percent of the land area of a city or county.
Only the worst 4 percent of landlords can be put on the "bad list," he said, and police would be required to work more collaboratively with landlords on probation.
"Landlords who cooperate actively with police would be held harmless," Brawley said, adding that it also includes "an appeal process for landlords who feel they’ve been unfairly targeted."
The measure drew criticism from representatives from urban areas.
Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, said it would gut a Durham ordinance that has improved the health and safety of renters throughout low-income areas of the city.
"More than two-thirds of the units (inspected) had violations," he said. "The most extensive was that the smoke alarm was not working."
Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, said Charlotte city officials and police are opposed to the bill, too.
"It turns out having these folks to register so you can find them is helpful," he said. "When you’ve got a alleged drug cartel operating next door, you don’t’ have time to figure out where someone is in Honduras to get something done."
The bill passed its second reading 75-39. Third reading is scheduled Wednesday.
A second bill, House Bill 677, would forbid cities and counties from allowing payroll deduction for union dues for firefighters and police officers. It would also forbid localities from implementing compulsory programs to reduce air pollution by requiring employers to find ways to reduce commuter miles.
Luebke said the emissions plan ban would end Durham County's "Commute Trip Reduction Ordinance," which took effect in January. It requires employers with more than 100 workers to find ways to reduce single-occupancy vehicle miles through alternative options such as carpooling, transit, biking or walking, or telecommuting.
"We have a policy that requires large employers to do something to reduce the amount of commuter miles traveled by their workforce because we don’t want a zillion trips by single employees," he said, accusing Republican leaders of "trying to meddle in the affairs of local government."
Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said the dues ban is unconstitutional because, like last session's ban on payroll deduction for North Carolina Association of Educators dues, it targets one group while allowing deductions to continue for other groups, like charities.
"We’re doing the same thing here. We do not have the constitutional authority to say one group has the right to have dues collected by the government and another group does not. The constitution doesn’t allow that," Glazier said.
The NCAE dues law was suspended by a judge, and Glazier said the proposed legislation would almost certainly share the same fate, though supporters of the measure disagree.
The bill passed the House 74-40 and is headed for the Senate.