2016 Short Session Left Unfinished Business | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Regulatory reform, eminent domain, I-77 tolls among issues not handled during frantic close of session

    RALEIGH    The 2016 short session of the General Assembly adjourned leaving plenty of items on the table, and some of them could be revived during the 2017 long session.

    Those issues include regulatory reform, reducing occupational licensing requirements, certificate- of-need reform, and once again tackling the issue of eminent domain abuse.

    "There's no doubt that we have some very strong regulatory reform measures that are already precooked and waiting for next session," said Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, who helped lead the regulatory reform efforts in the House.

    One of the regulatory reform measures that didn't make it into law was a proposal prohibiting an agency from adopting rules imposing an economic burden of $100 million or more over a five-year period. Another would have required either the governor, a Council of State member, or a supermajority of a board or commission to sign off on any new rules projected to cost the economy $10 million or more over a five-year period. Those provisions were included in a Senate version of regulatory reform, but not in the House version.

    "It definitely is something that I like," Millis said. "It was a heavy provision that was vetted on the Senate side," but he added it was too significant to be debated and passed quickly in the closing hours of the session.

    Other regulatory reform provisions that are likely to be considered next year include a proposal to repeal the landfill ban on electronic equipment, such as computers and televisions, and a new law clarifying that an employee of a franchisee is not an employee of a franchisor.

    Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, said he was disappointed at the lack of regulatory reform progress during the session.

    "I understand that it was a short session, and it would be difficult for a lot of things to get through," Sanders said. "Still it was disappointing that nothing was done regarding occupational licensing or regulatory reform."

    Sanders said he expects to see those topics come up next year. "I have no idea if they will fare better," Sanders said. "But I do expect that they will get a more thorough hearing and discussion."

    Lawmakers also did not make any significant change to the state's certificate-of-need law, which requires many healthcare providers to get state government's permission before adding or upgrading services, such as hospital beds or magnetic resonance imaging machines. However, an exception was made in the budget bill, which exempted some new mental health beds from the CON law requirement and used money from the sale of the Dorothea Dix hospital property to underwrite the new mental health facilities.

    A proposal to add an amendment to the N.C. Constitution protecting property owners from eminent domain abuse came closer to reality that it has since 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government could condemn private property and turn it over to a private owner for economic development.

    The proposed amendment passed the House last year. During the short session, the Senate combined the eminent domain amendment with other proposals - one lowering the cap on the income tax rate from 10 percent to 5.5 percent, one mandating contributions to the state's rainy day fund, and the other enshrining the right to hunt and fish in the state Constitution.

    When the Senate returned the bill to the House late last month, leaders sent it to the House Rules Committee, where it died.

    The Senate also didn't go along with a House-backed proposal to cancel the Interstate 77 toll lane project in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. Opponents of the toll project say they'll try canceling the contract again next year.

    In addition, lawmakers didn't tinker with the "bathroom" provisions in the state's controversial House Bill 2. They did, however, restore the right of workers to sue in state courts for discrimination.

    Other proposals that died at the end of the session include the so-called "sanctuary cities" bill and the bill addressing Common Core curriculum math standards in public high schools.
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