General Assembly moves on with regulatory reform, confirmations and more

On top of veto overrides and fresh H.B. 2 repeal efforts, lawmakers attend to unfinished business starting with confirmation hearings for former Rep. Susi Hamilton and regulatory reform

Christine T. Nguyen—North State Journal
Rep. Susi Hamilton speaks about House Bill 946 on Monday

RALEIGH — Besides handing Gov. Roy Cooper his first overridden veto this week, the N.C. General Assembly and its legislative committees pressed ahead with unfinished business such as regulatory reform, continued the Senate confirmation process for the governor’s cabinet picks, and introduce several pieces of legislation that are to see action in coming days.While the N.C. House of Representatives unanimously passed a regulatory reform bill in 2016, the legislation never cleared both chambers and so lawmakers are taking another swing at passing that bill this session with some updated changes.”What we’re doing now is we’re basically pulling the food out of the freezer and we’re going to heat it back up,” said Rep. John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg).Much of the streamlining involves consolidating redundant reporting requirements for state agencies, but some items like increasing the allowable distance of required riparian buffers or easing language regarding local school testing requirements represent changes affecting the whole state.Currently, the Wilmington District of the Army Corps of Engineers requires a 150-foot threshold for stream mitigation while surrounding districts set the limit at 300 feet.”Our Army Corps district treats us differently than the all the surrounding states and all we’re asking is for the chairs of the RC (regulatory commission) to petition the federal government in treating our state like the other states are treated around us,” said Rep. Chris Millis in committee Thursday explaining the change. “Now you have 300 feet to have your roadway to have the runoff and then it has some time to go across some grass area or what not before it hits surface waters. So I would argue that this a good measure. Whenever you have an over burdensome limit you start to see some crazy designs that may not be the best for the environment or the best for the public, so this provides that flexibility.”Other environmental issues contained in the reforms concern coastal dredging materials used for beach renourishment projects. As the Coastal Resources Commission is working to develop criteria for the quality and source of sand to be used for renourishment, the proposed regulatory amendment would exempt sand from designated Cape Shoal Systems used by the Army Corps of Engineers as a source of dredge material.While some Democrats concerned with environmental impact of the exemption protested the change, sponsors argued that the source shoals are simply sand that has shifted into inlets from previous renourishment efforts and the change reflects preferred Army Corps practice.”This is sand that was destined for those beaches anyway and was dredged up,” said Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret). “This is not deep offshore [sand] that has all the shells and everything in it.”Other regulatory changes affect Local Education Area (LEA) testing requirements in that they remove suggestive language that lawmakers felt encouraged overtesting.”The suggestive layer is really a duplicative layer, and there’s already robust structures in place for every LEA across the state,” said Bradford. Another bill was filed this week to remove end-of-year testing requirements for LEAs.Another interesting addition to the reform effort is an amendment that specifies the location of the lieutenant governor’s office as the historic Hawkins-Hartness House. Many believe Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R) is gearing up for a 2020 gubernatorial challenge to Cooper and the office would feasibly be used for events to highlight Forest’s agenda and political campaign. Insiders suggested that ensuring Forest’s offices remain at the Hawkins-Hartness House could be a defensive move against the possibility of Cooper relegating the lieutenant governor’s operations to a less accommodating space.Beyond regulatory reform, a Senate committee voted to recommend confirmation of Susi Hamilton for secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, but the meeting did not go quite as smoothly as recent hearings. The committee voted 11-3 for recommendation of Hamilton with dissenters voicing concern over potential conflicts with her commercial real estate business and her removal of the director of Tryon Palace just weeks after taking the job as secretary.Hamilton will next face the Senate nomination committee and then a vote from the full Senate.Bills that appear likely to see action next week include House Bill 460, which would allow restaurants to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays if approved by local government, and several Certificate of Need reform bills filed in the Senate that could shake up the health care space.