On July 3, the N.C. General Assembly closed the doors on its 2011-2012 regular sessions. Its 2012 short session, which began on May 16, saw final action on a large number of bills, including three high-profile gubernatorial veto overrides concerning such major statewide issues as a modified budget, changes in the Racial Justice Act, and the legalization of natural gas fracking in the state. But legislation that could have particular effects in Western North Carolina – in large and small ways – was also on the short-session agenda. Here’s a sampler.
Airport shuffle: One large example of area legislation was HB 552 (S.L. 2012-121), which created the Greater Asheville Regional Airport as a “body corporate,” changing the nature of the airport’s governing body and adding two permanent representatives from Henderson County. The bill additionally removed airport land from the zoning jurisdiction of the city of Asheville, and required the transfer of land ownership at the WNC Agricultural Center from the city to the state—also removing the parcel from city zoning jurisdiction. Bill sponsors were Buncombe County Rep. Tim Moffitt and Henderson County Rep. Chuck McGrady, both Republicans. They were joined by Sen. Tom Apodaca, who serves part of Buncombe as well as Henderson County, and by Henderson County Rep. Trudi Walend – both Republicans—in voting for the bill. Buncombe County Reps. Susan Fisher, Patsy Keever, and Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Jr., Democrats, all opposed the bill.
Drawing the line: One small example of regional bi-partisan legislation was HB 1217 (S.L. 2012-119), which accomplished boundary adjustments requested by the town of Woodfin and the city of Asheville, and approved agreements between the two municipalities regarding provision of services to certain properties in each other’s jurisdiction. Fisher, Keever and Moffitt, the sponsors, were joined by Nesbitt in voting for the bill, along with neighboring Henderson County’s McGrady and Walend. Apodaca was one of two senators voting against the bill, which passed in the House with no opposition.
Playhouse tax: A specifically local bill that will affect travelers to Henderson County was HB 1215 (S.L. 2012-144), which authorized an addiitonal one-percent room occupancy and tourism development tax, raising the current tax from 5 to 6 percent. The extra percent is dedicated to the Vagabond School of Drama (Flat Rock Playhouse) – the state theater of North Carolina. The bill was sponsored by Hendersonville’s McGrady, and supported by Buncombe County’s Keever, Fisher, Moffitt and Henderson County’s Walend. Buncombe County’s Nesbitt voted against the bill.
Straightening the record: Of statewide importance, and supported by WNC co-sponsors, HB 1023—forwarded to the governor on July 3—would allow expunction of nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors after 15 years for persons with no other convictions except for traffic violations. Keever and Madison County’s Rep. Ray Rapp, a fellow Democrat, were co-sponsors of the bill, which had as primary sponsor Republican Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston County.
Felony death by vehicle: On the other end of sentencing was SB 105, which received statewide attention and nearly unanimous support in both houses. The bill was co-sponsored by WNC’s Sen. Ralph Hise, Republican of Spruce Pine. Currently awaiting action by the governor, the bill would increase the penalty for repeat felony death by vehicle to Class B2 felony, and increase felony death by vehicle to Class D felony, among other changes. All of the Buncombe County delegates voted in favor of the bill.
Looking under rocks: Of potential impact on the WNC tourism industry – along with many WNC lifestyles – was SB 813 (S.L. 2012-93), which requires the Department of Cultural Resources and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to study “revenue enhancements” and potential savings at state parks, historic sites and museums, the state zoo and acquariums. The study was recommended by the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. Locally, Keever, Moffitt and Nesbitt voted in favor of the bill; Fisher voted no.
WNC air quality: Another new law that could specifically affect Western North Carolina was HB 952 (S.L. 2012-91), which exempts from state air toxics controls those sources of emissions that are subject to certain federal emission requirements. It also directs the Division of Air Quality to review the state air toxics program, as recommended by the Environmental Management Commission. Buncombe County’s Nesbitt, Moffitt and Apodaca voted yes; Fisher and Keever said no.
New landlord obligation: Local landlords will need to be savvy regarding a new requirement for lithium battery smoke alarms. SB 77 (S.L. 2012-92) drew the support of all members of the Buncombe County delegation. Following the recommendation of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, the law requires that new or replacement smoke alarms installed by landlords after December 31 of this year be tamper-resistant, 10-year lithium battery alarms (unless the unit is equipped with a hardwired alarm with battery backup, or a conforming carbon monoxide alarm). Landlords were already required to provide operable alarms, and to replace or repair them within 15 days of notification of such need.
Late-model emission exemption: Requirements were lightened for vehicle emission inspections by HB 585, which exempts vehicles of the three newest-model years and less than 70,000 miles from state emission inspection. The bill text replaced an earlier HB 585 dealing with energy, and saw quick passage of a conference report on July 3 – the last day of the session. Buncombe County’s Moffitt, Nesbitt and Apodaca voted yes; Fisher and Keever voted no. The bill was presented to the governor on July 3.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor