Senate clears elections bills, delays final vote on environmental rules
Posted June 11, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate gave tentative or final legislative approval to more than a dozen measures Thursday. Among the most noteworthy:
- House Bill 263 would redraw how the city councils in Trinity and Greensboro are elected. The measure faced vigorous opposition from Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, who said voters in Greensboro should be allowed to vote on whether they want to redraw how they elect members of the council. The bill passed the Senate 31-16 and is headed back to the state House for concurrence.
- Senate Bill 7 allows convenience stores that use well and septic systems for water and sewer to offer customers seating. The measure was put forward by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who said that people heating a biscuit in the microwave and drinking a cup of coffee shouldn't trigger local health department regulations designed for restaurants. The bill now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature or veto.
- House Bill 716 would help Duke Energy convert its Lake Julian power plant in the western part of the state from a coal burning facility to natural gas. The project also will include solar generating capacity. In order to facilitate the conversion, the bill gives Duke extra time to clean up coal ash at the plant. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature or veto.
The bill that received the most debate during the floor session was House Bill 44, which senators have re-crafted into a measure that carries a number of regulations that impact local governments. Less controversial provisions seek to limit local government curbs on beehives and lay out how much notice cities need to give violators of overgrown vegetation ordinances before cleaning up their property.
There were two parts of the bill that got more discussion.
One would exempt certain properties in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins from riparian buffer requirements. Riparian buffers are areas left undeveloped that help clean rainwater before it carries pollution into local streams.
"Buffers are the cheapest and most diffuse way of keeping our water clean," Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said.
If property owners along the tributaries that feed into the Pamlico Sound are allowed to mow down their buffers, Stein said, the state could see more pollution and more fish kills. High pollution levels, he argued, could force farmers and city-run water treatment plants to spend more to control pollution.
Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, the author of the Senate version of bill, said that she and Stein would meet to discuss the water quality measures over the weekend.
Stein used a procedural objection to keep the bill from being sent back to the House, although senators did give it an initial 32-15 nod.
Another part of the bill would require cities that want to reduce the number of lanes on state roads in order to add bike lanes to get approval from the North Carolina Board of Transportation, the appointed panel that oversees the state Department of Transportation. That extra step could lead to project delays and unwarranted disapprovals, said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham.
"The decisions on these roads should be made locally," Woodard said, putting forward an amendment that would leave road-slimming decisions to district engineers and local city governments.
Both big and small cities use bike lanes and road-slimming measures to control the flow of traffic in downtown areas and neighborhoods.
Wade opposed Woodard's move, saying the state DOT board should have a say on how roads built using state tax dollars are used. The amendment was rejected.
Senators expect to take another look at the bill on Monday night.