Raleigh, N.C. — State legislators are gearing up for a power struggle with the governor over leaky garbage trucks.
Last year, state lawmakers passed House Bill 74, a regulatory overhaul that included a provision loosening the laws on solid waste trucks. Instead of requiring trucks to be "leak-proof," the new law requires that they only be "leak-resistant."
The solid waste industry said the change was needed because some state troopers were ticketing trucks for rainwater runoff that they said did not come from the waste compartment.
The change was approved by the Senate in a separate bill, but the House refused to take it up. Instead, House and Senate negotiators slipped the provision into House Bill 74 at the last minute, spurring protests from House Democrats as well as some Republicans.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill on the last possible day but expressed concerns about allowing garbage trucks to leak potentially unsanitary liquids. He issued Executive Order 22, arguing that the "leak-resistant" provision contradicted other environmental laws on the books and instructing state law enforcement officers to continue ticketing trash trucks if they are leaking liquid from or through the garbage they carry.
A draft bill approved Wednesday by the Environmental Review Commission would "terminate" or repeal that executive order.
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Meckenburg, the committee co-chairwoman, said the executive order "appears to contradict legislation that was enacted."
"It, in essence, becomes a line-item veto, which we can't have," Samuelson said.
"We are continuing to work with the governor to get at what he intended without unintentionally stepping on legislative authority," she told the committee, "so that executive orders are honored the way they should be, but our legislative authority is also honored."
Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, objected to the inclusion of the bill in the ERC's recommended legislation for 2014. He argued that McCrory's order clarifies, rather than contradicts, the 2013 provision.
"Discussions with the governor, " Dixon said, "should have continued without putting this on the agenda."
Samuelson replied that lawmakers can amend the bill if needed. She said the draft bill has been circulating for a month, but the Governor's Office contacted her about it only this week.
"We don't want bad leaky stuff to be leaking," Samuelson said, "but on the other hand, you don't want somebody stopped because they went through a rainstorm."
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R- Henderson, spoke in favor of the repeal, even though he had objected to the provision during the House debate last July.
"I'm completely sympathetic with what the governor is trying to do here, but I'm really uncomfortable with the idea that the governor can override or attempt to override a piece of legislation he dislikes," McGrady said. "I appreciate your protecting our prerogatives."
Samuelson said there are at least three other executive orders that could also be added to the repeal legislation, one dating from the Easley administration and two from former Gov. Bev Perdue.
"They all have pieces that appear to be still in effect, but we're not sure anybody's still operating under them," she said. "Our intent is to continue to work with the governor so that everyone gets what they need."
The committee voted unanimously to approve its package of recommended legislation, including the repeal bill. The bills would be eligible for consideration in the upcoming short session.