2016 Legislative Session Final Report

The 2016 Short Session saw multiple benefits to counties in the form of budget appropriations, legislation passed, and legislation that did not cross the finish line. The NC General Assembly’s Adjournment on the first day of fiscal year was earlier than usual, though the session convened about three weeks sooner than is typical. Rancor between chambers throughout final day – when deals between House and Senate leadership began to fall apart – led to an abrupt ending soon after the final budget vote, leaving many bills unexpectedly dead.

NCACC made progress on the county goal to repeal statutory authority for local school boards to sue county commissioners. The final budget includes large appropriations to behavioral health initiatives, including recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, to help counties. (Click here for our final budget report.) Many pieces of legislation that tried to limit local government authority were stopped or their negative impacts were vastly reduced.

  • Click here for a PDF of the entire report.
  1. Legislative Goals
  2. Unfinished Business
  3. Regulatory Reform
  4. HB2
  5. Other bills

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

Last session, the House rejected a bill that would have achieved one of the counties’ priority goals for the biennium--to repeal the statutory provision explicitly allowing local school boards to file suit against county boards of commissioners to dispute the sufficiency of education appropriations. H726 (School Bds. Can’t Sue County) passed a House Judiciary committee, but was voted down on the House floor by a vote of 66-52.  Much later in the session, the Senate resurrected the issue by amending H561 (School System Auth. Re Legal Proceedings) to impose a five-year moratorium on school board lawsuits against county commissioners. The House did not concur in the Senate amendment to H561, and a conference committee of House and Senate members did not convene before the 2015 session adjourned, which left H561 eligible for consideration this session.

After months of discussions between the NCACC advocacy team, key members of the conference committee and other stakeholders, the conferees for H561 settled on a conference report that would require a thorough examination of the issue. The final bill does not include a moratorium on school board lawsuits, but directs legislative staff to conduct a comprehensive study of the school funding dispute resolution process set forth in G.S. 115C-431.

During the study, the Division will examine a number of factors, including how often mediation and litigation have been used to resolve education funding disputes, the impact the current process has had on relationships between the boards, and the cost to taxpayers. The Division will then make recommendations for alternative ways to resolve these disputes or modifications to the current process and report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Program Evaluation no later than May 1, 2017. Both the House and Senate adopted the conference report for H561. NCACC extends its profound thanks to all members of the H561 conference committee and all sponsors of H726 for their work on and support of this issue.

Despite reluctance to do so on a statewide basis, the General Assembly approved two local bills that impose a moratorium on school board lawsuits against county commissioners. S881 (Union County School Funding) institutes a one-year suspension on lawsuits filed by the Union County school board against the board of county commissioners on the basis of education funding. The bill provides that the two boards shall meet periodically during the interim to facilitate “a greater mutual understanding of immediate and long-term budgetary issues and constraints affecting public schools and county governments.” The boards are directed to assess school capital needs and develop a joint five-year plan for meeting those needs. The agreed-upon plan is to be considered in preparing and approving the budget ordinance for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

S382 (Revision of SB 612) amends the law that provided for the merger and consolidation of the school administrative units in Nash County and the City of Rocky Mount. The bill sets forth new funding requirements for Nash-Rocky Mount Schools (NRMS) and establishes a 10-year moratorium on litigation related to local funding for that school administrative unit. The bill further provides that if Edgecombe County or the City of Rocky Mount fail to provide the funding as required, the portion of NRMS located in Edgecombe County will transfer to the Edgecombe School Administrative Unit.  

Seek legislation to authorize local option revenue sources already given to any other jurisdiction. 

NCACC sought to address this goal by expanding the use of the Article 43 transit tax to all counties for education purposes, and by providing the option for a county to seek up to ½ cent through Article 46 (currently limited to ¼ cent). Language to this effect was included in two bills during the 2015 session, H518 sponsored by former NCACC President Rep. Howard Hunter among others, and in a House rewrite of S605, which passed the House but was not considered by the Senate. NCACC advocates and members made multiple efforts to revive the legislation through various channels, but the Senate was unwilling to pursue the change in an election year.

Support legislation, regulations and funding that would preserve local option and authority where needed to deploy community broadband systems and ensure community access to critical broadband services.

Promising work early in session to authorize counties to install and lease digital infrastructure in partnership with private providers ran into opposition late in session. At the beginning of the short session, NCACC reached agreement with industry on language, found a relevant legislative vehicle while receiving agreement from the bill’s original sponsors, and identified champions in the House and Senate. Ultimately, however, continued concerns in the Senate about the municipal level playing field law from 2011, about counties getting into private enterprise, and about providing grants to large corporations stalled our efforts as session came to a close. There was some progress on this goal in the budget with $1.25 million to help with the State Broadband Plan as well as $500,000 in total for two broadband initiatives in Cumberland and Stokes counties. Furthermore, legislators are noticing this issue and discussing it more and more as a necessary tool for counties to attract industry and educate students.