The Joint Committee on Regulatory Reform, established this legislative session, is on the road with a mission of scrutinizing “burdensome state rules and regulations on behalf of the private sector.” According to its media release, the 18-member team wants to hear from impacted business and farm owners around the state concerning “outdated rules and regulations that should be eliminated.” And this Friday, they’re coming to a place near you: Blue Ridge Community in Flat Rock, which will be their only WNC visit.
Julie Mayfield hopes the committee will be hearing from more than owners of businesses and farms. As director of the Western North Carolina Alliance, an environmental nonprofit based in Asheville, Mayfield encourages “regular citizens” to attend the Friday hearing and let legislators know they “appreciate the quality of life we have” — a quality she attributes in large part to “regulation of behavior and activities that would otherwise pollute the environment or harm people.”
“Government intervention is still, in many cases, the only thing that makes business take the greater good into account,” Mayfield said in an e-mail to the Xpress. “Many people may not know that firsthand, but mothers, doctors, public health officials and local government officials at least know it instinctively. We would love to see a lot of those folks voicing their opinions at the hearing.”
The committee’s enabling legislation charges it as follows: “(The Committee) shall work to create a strong environment for private sector job creation by lifting the undue burden imposed by outdated, unnecessary, and vague rules.” Mayfield worries that such a mandate may mean a “witch hunt” against environmental regulations across the board, so she hopes the committee hears a strong message to use caution in reviewing and repealing state regulations.
“I understand the concerns being expressed by many in the environmental community,” Republican committee member and Henderson County Rep. Chuck McGrady told Xpress by phone. “At this point and time, it’s premature to judge what the outcome of the committee will be,” he cautioned.
So far, the committee has heard “a lot from homebuilders, a little from farmers,” McGrady said, with perhaps a third of the public-hearing comments “expressing support for what the environmental regulations have done cleaning up our air and water.” There have been a few comments from committee members, he acknowledged, that “would give one pause” concerning Mayfield’s expressed worries. “Again,” he stressed, “I believe it’s premature to judge.” Public hearings are not concluded, and the committee has not yet seen any of the comments that have been posted online, McGrady noted.
The committee consists of eight senators (none from WNC) and eight representatives (two from WNC: McGrady and Roger West, Republican from Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Macon counties. Eleven Republicans and seven Democrats were appointed to the committee. “I’m a real anomaly,” McGrady said with some humor regarding his position. The Hendersonville attorney and summer camp director is a Republican who is a former national president of the powerhouse environmental group, the Sierra Club.
Business owners, farm owners and the general public may share input with the committee in several ways. First, the Friday hearing takes place between 1 and 3 p.m. in Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. Sign-up begins at 12:30 p.m., to enable speakers to make a two-minute statement. Public input is also being received via internet form (click here). Comments may also be made individually to members of the committee.
A second major hearing in WNC is just around the corner. The Redistricting Committee, in charge of the redistricting process for the State House, State Senate and U.S. Congressional districts this year, will hold a public hearing in Asheville on April 30. Details will be available in a future column.
Meanwhile, in a very busy week in the Statehouse, a large number of bills were brought forward that involved WNC-legislator support. They included the following:
HB 577 (Medical Cannabis Act): Acknowledging that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through its Compassionate Investigational New Drug program, presently processes and distributes medical marijuana at the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, the bill would prohibit arrest, prosecution or penalty for patients and their caregivers for medical use of physician-prescribed marajuana. Passed first reading; referred to Rules, Calendar and Operations. Primary sponsor, Patsy Keever, Democrat of Buncombe County; co-sponsor, Susan Fisher, Democrat of Buncombe County.
HB 585 (NC Energy Independence Search Committee): Establishes the N.C. Energy Independence Search Committee to contact and invite major energy companies to explore in the state for natural gas, oil, wind or other energy sources capable of large-scale energy production that would make N.C. more energy-independent. Passed first reading; referred to Public Utilities. Co-sponsor, Tim Moffitt, Republican of Buncombe County.
HB 587 (North Carolina Jobs Bill): Amends G.S. 150B-2 to prohibit rules that exceed federal legal standards (unless expressly legislated by the General Assembly) and to require a cost-benefit analysis and small business regulatory flexibility analysis for proposed rules, among other changes. Passed first reading; referred to Commerce and Job Development. Co-sponsors: Phillip Frye, Republican of Avery/Caldwell/Mitchell/Yancey counties; Moffitt.
HB 609 (Promote Water Supply Development): Provides for implementing the allocation of quantities of water within its jurisdiction among essential users, providing for long-term identified in local water plans. Includes cooperating with units of local government and developing regional water supplies. Passed first reading; referred to Environment. Primary sponsors, Chuck McGrady, Republican, Henderson County; Mitch Gillespie, Republican, Burke/McDowell counties.
HB 611 (Political Robo Calls/Do Not Call Registry): Adds political messages communicated by automatic dialing and recorded message player to the telephone solicitation list for purposes of Do Not Call registry. Passed first reading; referred to Elections. Co-sponsors: McGrady.
HB 621/SB 492 (Protect Landowner Water Rights): Restricts the right of the state or any political subdivision to limit landowners from withdrawing and using water from natural bodies of water adjacent to or on the landowner’s property; water impounded or owned by the landowner; wells constructed on the property; captured stormwater, springs, artesian wells. House: Passed first reading; referred to Environment. House primary sponsor, Gillespie, Republican, Burke/McDowell; co-sponsor, Moffitt. Senate: Passed first reading; referred to Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources. Co-sponsor, Ralph Hise, Avery/Haywood/McDowell/Mitchell/Yancey counties.
HB 657 (Resolution: Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights): Resolution supporting healthy, active children in the state and encouraging children to explore explore and connect with natural spaces and wild places close to home and in their neighborhoods and cities. Passed first reading; referred to Rules, Calendar and Operations. Primary sponsors, McGrady, Fishers; co-sponsors, Ray Rapp, Democrat, Haywood/Madison/Yancey counties.
HB 658 (Change Early Voting Period): Shortens the early voting period by one week. Passed first reading; referred to Elections. Co-sponsor, Moffitt.
HB 746 (Citizen Participation Act): Protects citizen participation by holding immune from civil liability in the state any written or oral statement (1) made before a government proceeding; (2) made to government in connection with an issue under consideration or review by government or made with the genuine aim of procuring a government action; (3) made to the public or in public forum relating to an issue of government interest, action, decision. Passed first reading; referred to Judiciary. Primary sponsor, Fisher.
HB 796 (Study Property Tax Valuation Process): Directs the Revenues Laws Study Committee to evaluate the methodology of valuation for property tax purposes to ensure the process is uniform and fair. Passed first reading; referred to Finance. Primary sponsor, Moffitt.
HB 854 (Abortion—Woman’s Right to Know Act): Requires 24-hour waiting period and the informed consent of a pregnant woman before an abortion may be performed. Passed first reading; referred to Judiciary. Co-sponsor, Frye.
SB 503 (No Second Primaries): Amends G.S. 163-111 to eliminate second primaries and determine nominees by substantial plurality. Passed first reading; referred to Judiciary I. Primary sponsor, Jim Davis, Republican, Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain/Transylvania counties; co-sponsors, Tom Apodaca, Republican, Buncombe/Henderson/Polk counties, Hise.
SB 517 (Freedom to Negotiate Health Care Rates): Prohibits contract provisions that restrict rate negotiations. Passed first reading; referred to Insurance. Primary sponsor, Appodaca.
SB 530 (Prohibit Involuntary Annexation of Farms): Prohibits annexation of any land being used for bona fide farm purposes without written consent of owner(s). Passed first reading; referred to State and Local Government. Co-sponsors, Hise.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor