NCACC Legislative Brief
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Week of May 21, 2018

The second week of the 2018 legislative short session opened more quietly than the first week with continued budget discussions behind the scenes as House and Senate leaders worked to agree on changes to the two-year budget enacted in 2017. Legislative leaders continued to slowly release more details about specific budget initiatives and provisions ahead of its full release, as they did last week with plans for teacher pay raises and economic development changes. This week’s budget highlights include school safety initiatives, a rural broadband grant program, and state employee raises.

Legislators will likely release a budget early next week using Senate Bill 99 as a revamped vehicle and discuss it in a joint appropriations committee on Tuesday morning. It is likely the final product will move through both chambers as a conference report, which expedites the process but limits opportunities to change policies or adjust spending numbers since conference reports cannot be amended. Any budget bill would still go to the Governor for his consideration.

While budget negotiations were ongoing, a handful of committees met this week to discuss issues affecting counties, including legislation that would accomplish a county priority this session: repealing the statutory authority that allows a local school board to file suit against a county board of commissioners over county appropriations for education.

Legislators Detail School Safety Budget Provisions

On Thursday, lawmakers announced the budget will include $35 million related to school safety issues. Legislators detailed the spending as follows:

  • $10 million grants for school mental health positions
  • $3 million for training school-based mental health professionals
  • $5 million in funding for a statewide student anonymous tip app
  • $12 million in funding for School Resource Officers
  • $3 million for capital facility improvements
  • $2 million for community partners to assist students in crisis
  • Intention to tap into $30-90 million in student mental health federal funds

These provisions come on the heels of recommendations made by the House Select Committee on School Safety. That committee is set to continue its work during and after this 2018 legislative session, and legislators made it clear that the above budget provisions were just the first step the General Assembly is taking to make schools and students safer.

Though early in the legislative session, several stand-alone bills focused on school safety have been filed. However, nearly all school safety related issues taken up this year are expected to be addressed and included in the budget. 

Committee Approves School Board Lawsuit Draft Legislation 

NCACC Priority Goal: Seek legislation to repeal the statutory authority under N.C. Gen. Stat. 115C-431(c) that allows local school boards to file suit against a county board of commissioners over county appropriations for education.

This week, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee approved draft legislation based on the findings and recommendations of a study evaluating the process for resolving education funding disputes between boards of county commissioners and local boards of education. The previously released report on this issue is the result of legislation passed in 2016 directing legislative staff to study the issue, report its findings, and make policy recommendations. Committee approval of the draft legislation sets the stage for the legislation to be introduced and considered during the current legislative session.

Repealing the statutory authority that allows a local school board to file suit against a county board of commissioners over county appropriations for education has been one of the NCACC’s top legislative priorities in recent years. During the 2017 legislative session, Senate Bill 531 as introduced accomplished that goal. That legislation passed the Senate with bill sponsor Sen. Tommy Tucker’s (R-Union) commitment not to move the bill in the House until the study was complete.

The draft legislation mirrors the report, which recommends a default funding mechanism triggered once a funding dispute is initiated and a joint meeting and formal mediation between the county and school board have been unsuccessful in resolving the dispute. Under the default funding mechanism, local appropriations made by the county would follow this course:
  • For the first disputed budget year, appropriations would be the previous year’s expenditures for operating and capital expenses adjusted by changes in the projected average daily membership in the school district and changes in an employment cost index of salaries and wages for school personnel.
  • An unresolved dispute during the second consecutive budget year would result in the same default funding mechanism described for the first disputed budget year.
  • If a funding dispute cannot be resolved during a third consecutive budget year, the default funding mechanism adds an additional three percent growth rate to the mechanism used during the previous two years.
The NCACC discussed counties’ continued concerns regarding how capital funding is treated under the legislation with co-chair of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, and likely bill sponsor, Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), and will continue to work with legislators to fine-tune this aspect of the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process over the coming weeks.

The full report, including the recommendations of legislative staff and the official NCACC response to the report, can be found here, along with the committee presentation.

Budget Likely to Include Rural Broadband Grant Program

NCACC Priority Goal: Seek legislation, funding and other efforts to expand digital infrastructure/broadband capability to the un-served and under-served areas of the state.

Legislators released details on Thursday afternoon regarding a new $10 million grant program to help internet providers expand service to rural communities that lack access to broadband. The program, titled Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT), will likely be part of the budget.

Under the GREAT program, utility and internet providers would be able to apply for grants for projects aimed at offering high-speed internet in sparsely populated parts of the state. The grants would cover 30-55% of the project cost, with providers covering the rest. Providers would have to prove there is sufficient need on the part of residents, businesses, and government entities, to support a program when applying for a grant.

The GREAT program is a step toward addressing that challenge and part of the NCACC’s goal to seek legislation, funding, and other efforts to expand digital infrastructure/broadband capability to the unserved and under-served areas of the state. While this program doesn’t address the public-private partnerships that the NCACC is working toward, additional funding at all levels of government is a critical component in expanding access in rural counties.

Elections Bill Extends Voting Machine Deadlines, Adds Costs to Counties

A proposed committee substitute (PCS) to Senate Bill 486 was released Tuesday night. The PCS was the only bill scheduled to be heard in the House Elections committee on Thursday, which was cancelled. The legislation included an extension on the decertification of certain voting equipment to December 1, 2019. The legislation would extend the deadline for counties to comply with voting equipment requirements established in 2017, which were passed before the current State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement (SBEEE) was appointed.

The bill also includes provisions for elections security as recommended by the SBEEE. One provision would require criminal background checks for all state board employees as well as all county board of elections employees. While securing elections equipment and materials is critical, the costs and administrative burden associated with these checks would represent an unfunded mandate to counties. The NCACC heard from several counties that share these concerns and will continue to advocate for the resources required to meet state mandates.

Legislation Introduced Addressing GenX Issues

Following discussions throughout the interim in reconvened sessions and oversight committees, legislative leaders in both chambers introduced legislation addressing the GenX water contamination issue. House Bill 972 and Senate Bill 724, both titled Water Safety Act, would increase oversight over certain emerging contaminants including GenX. The bill gives the state authority to order a pollutant discharger to cease all activities that result in the production of a pollutant under certain circumstances. The state could also order the discharger to provide a water supply to affected water wells.

Both bills provide funding for positions, equipment, sampling, testing and oversight to the NC Dept. of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), NC Dept. of Health and Human Services, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, and the NC Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill. The bills would also require any pollution discharge permit holders to submit a list of pollutants to NCDEQ identified at the time of their permit application. The House bill was referred to the House Environment and Appropriations committees. The Senate bill was referred to Senate Rules. Given the appropriations in the bills, they could be rolled into this year’s budget.

County Assembly Day is May 30!

County Assembly Day is an opportunity for North Carolina county officials to meet with and hear from state legislative leaders and meet with their state legislative representatives.

The NCACC will host its 2018 County Assembly Day at the North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh. A brief program in the morning will be held at the museum, which is directly across Jones Street from the General Assembly. NCACC will also host a lunch outside the legislative complex.

For more information and to register, click here.

North Carolina Counties' Five Priority Goals

  1. PE-1: Seek legislation to establish a new state-county partnership to address statewide public school capital challenges -- including but not limited to maintenance, renovation, construction and debt -- through a dedicated, stable funding stream that is consistent from county to county and sufficient to meet the school facility needs of all 100 counties.
  2. PE-2: Seek legislation to repeal the statutory authority under N.C. Gen. Stat. 115C-431(c) that allows a local school board to file suit against a county board of commissioners over county appropriations for education.
  3. TF-1: Support efforts to preserve and expand the existing local revenue base of counties, and oppose efforts to divert to the state fees or taxes currently allocated to the counties to the state. Oppose efforts to erode existing county revenue streams and authorize local option revenue sources already given to any other jurisdiction.
  4. GG-3: Seek legislation, funding, and other efforts to expand digital infrastructure/broadband capability to the un-served and under-served areas of the state.
  5. PE-4: Support legislation providing flexibility to align K-12 and community college calendar.
Copyright © 2018 North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, All rights reserved.

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