Raleigh, N.C. — The latest attempt by lawmakers to remake North Carolina's regulatory climate was narrowly approved Wednesday morning by two House committees.
The 35-page bill covers everything from claiming life insurance benefits to zoning for fraternity and sorority houses to health coverage for autism treatment. It began as a Senate proposal to regulate aftermarket headlights but underwent a "gut-and-amend" transformation – a process used by lawmakers to use the shell of a bill that has cleared one chamber to advance legislation in the other – when it appeared in the House Finance Committee.
Some Finance Committee members expressed concern at the breadth of the bill, saying proposals that couldn't pass on their own merits were being lumped together with legitimate attempts to reform state and local regulations.
"What kind of legislating is this? I'm wondering if I should make a motion to separate all of these into separate bills," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford. "This is not good legislating to put a hodge-podge of totally unrelated provisions into one bill, call it something it's not and run it through with a straight face."
The autism coverage provision, for example, was part of a proposal on insurance mandates under the Affordable Care Act that a legislative study committee failed three times to approve last month because committee members boycotted the meetings.
"At some point, you've got to make a stand, or it's going to get worse and worse as time goes by. I'm going to make mine right here," Blust said.
"I didn't come here to do things this way," said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.
Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, tried to delete a section of the bill calling for landscape contractors to be licensed. He noted it was in a House bill that never went anywhere.
"We should not arbitrarily license things we think ought to be licensed," Hager said.
"I'm just bringing forward ideas that other people have decided to call regulatory reform," said Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, who was presenting the bill.
Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, called the proposal "regulatory enhancement," contending that it would merely protect large landscape companies from competition.
Murry tried to distance himself from the bill, saying, "This ain't my dog. I'm just walking it."
"Let's get the leash back on it," responded Rep. Mitch Setzer, R-Catawba.
After squeaking through the Finance Committee, the bill went before the Regulatory Reform Committee, which passed a slew of minor amendments but ran out of time before addressing a proposal from Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, to delete a section that would allow private firms to serve eviction papers.
The service provision was the most hotly debated element of the bill, drawing comments from the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association and others.
"This is an encroachment on the office of sheriff," said Andrew Cagle, government relations specialist for the sheriff's association. "If you're going to serve very important papers, you're going to want someone in uniform."
Jason Deans, an attorney who handles eviction cases, said 21 other states allow private process servers and noted the House legislation gives people the option of using a county deputy or hiring a private firm.
Delays in serving eviction notices "are very costly to property owners," Deans said, adding that backlogs are worst in metro areas.
Several lawmakers expressed concern about the safety of using a private firm – the only requirements are that the process server be at least 21 years old and has no connection to either the tenant or landlord – to inform someone they were about to be kicked out of their home.
"The importance of having a sheriff do it is that the court knows that it really was done by a disinterested person rather than just some yo-yo you hire," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.
Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, said the issue boiled down to fairness to landlords and said they should have another option to waiting on busy deputies to get around to serving papers.
"I applaud the sheriffs for what they do, but if they're not doing it very well for the public, then we need to think of alternatives," Cunningham said.
After a lengthy discussion, committee Chairman Rep. Bill Brawley put Faircloth's proposal to the side to address other amendments. The committee never returned to it before rushing to approve the overall bill before adjourning.
The voice vote was close, but Brawley ruled that the "ayes" carried the day.
The following provisions also are included in the regulatory reform bill, which heads next to the House floor:
- Mugshots of people charged with misdemeanors would be exempt from the state public records law until they are convicted unless law enforcement deems it necessary to publish the photos for public safety reasons.
- Anyone under 18 years old would be prohibited from using tanning beds. The House passed this proposal last year, but it has languished in the Senate. The House also added the tanning bed provision to its budget proposal.
- City council members must disclose their financial investments annually and comply with other ethics standards that apply to state officials.
The state Senate has already passed its own regulatory reform bill that focused mainly on environmental issues, such as decreasing the number of air quality monitoring stations statewide. The House split all environmental-related changes into a separate gut-and-amend bill.