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Busy weeks ahead in Raleigh
Update: The state Senate approved the measure Monday night. It now goes back to the House for another vote.
A final vote on the Asheville water system merger bill is scheduled for Tuesday in the North Carolina Senate with quick approval by the House likely to follow.
The Senate added amendments aimed at further narrowing the scope of the legislation to assuage concerns raised by Charlotte and Wake County legislators that the bill might force changes to their local systems. The new version of the bill would require approval by the House before the bill could be sent to the governor for his signature.
On Thursday, the Senate approved the bill 28-15 but not until Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Asheville, blasted the House bill sponsors for forcing what he called a shotgun marriage. He singled out Rep. Tim Moffitt, D-Asheville, saying Moffitt was out to punish the city of Asheville.
Moffitt and Nesbitt sparred during Senate committee hearings earlier this month, with Moffitt saying the bill provides for an orderly transition to a regional system and not a takeover as Nesbitt and city leaders have called it.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, defended the bill, calling the merger the best way to ensure a long-term water supply for the region.
If passed and signed by the governor, the act would become effective May 15, but could face a court challenge if Asheville decides to file a lawsuit to block its implementation.
The week ahead
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The merger bill wind up coming as both chambers crank up for a busy first half of May, much of it focused on processing hundreds of recently filed bills ahead of the May 16 crossover deadline. Bills must be passed by at least one chamber by then to remain viable for the rest of the session. In addition to the crossover deadline, the pressure is on to clear the decks ahead of the introduction of the Senate’s version of the state budget, also expected in mid-May.
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee takes up a bill sponsored by Rep. Moffitt and Asheville-area Rep. Nathan Ramsey that would allow Buncombe County to use proceeds from a 1/4 cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011 to help finance county-funded buildings on the campuses of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. The bill would give county commissioners say over the construction and exempt the county from oversight on construction by the state Board of Community Colleges.
Also scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the House Agriculture Committee is a bipartisan bill whose sponsors include Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, McGrady and Ramsey on farmland preservation. The legislation requires the N.C. Department of Transportation and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to devise ways to minimize damage to farmland and reduce the number of acres destroyed by road projects.
Up for a possible vote by the House on Tuesday is a bill sponsored by Ramsey and Rep. Josh Dobson, R-Nebo, that would make it tougher for counties to adopt zoning regulations to restrict the placement of manufactured homes in areas zoned for single-family residences. The bill exempts restrictions in historic districts.
Renewables bill defeated
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A coalition of Democrats and some powerful members of the House GOP leadership combined to defeat an effort by Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherfordton, to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio program. Hager’s bill drew fire from a variety of sources including municipalities, counties and hog farmers with renewable energy projects either planned or already online.
Hager withdrew the bill Wednesday after the House Committee on Public Utilities and Energy, which he chairs, voted the bill down 18-14.
Under the wire
One of the last bills among the hundreds introduced ahead of the filing deadline would set aside $2 million for the establishment of a Western Regional Leadership Academy for principals and assistant principals in WNC. The bill, sponsored by Queen, Moffitt and Hager, directs the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to set up the program specifically for Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Haywood, Madison, McDowell, Rutherford and Yancey counties, along with any other counties selected by the department.