The state House Thursday struck a blow for broad regulatory reform. Senate Bill 112 seeks to streamline the rulemaking process, protect grandfathered zoning decisions, prohibit zoning protest petitions, and remove industrial commissioners from state personnel protections. The bill also would allow outdoor advertising companies to replace multipole billboards with monopole signs in places where local governments had prohibited them.
“This is another step in the process of reducing the regulatory burden on hard-working families across our state,” House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement following the House vote. “This bill will make North Carolina more business-friendly and will allow job creators to put our citizens back to work.”
The 27-page bill crossed into several functions of state government and reached into the powers of local governments.
In one departure from deregulation, the bill instructs the Building Code Council to require carbon monoxide detectors in hotels and motels that are heated with fossil-fuel radiators, fireplaces, or other fuel-burning appliances.
“It does include the existing facilities,” Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, said. The provision is in response to three deaths blamed on carbon monoxide toxicity in a Boone hotel earlier this year.
House members defeated amendments proposed by Reps. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, and Duane Hall, D-Wake, that would have added some personnel protections for industrial commissioner and deputy industrial commissioners. Proponents of the protections said the commissioners act as judges and shouldn’t have to fear losing their jobs it they made an unpopular ruling.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, also sought unsuccessfully to remove the provision in the bill repealing protest petitions in zoning challenges. Harrison said that zoning boards often are filled with developers and allowing protest petitions provides a “level playing field” for opponents of a rezoning change.
When neighboring property owners successfully file a protest petition, a three-fourths supermajority of a local government body is required before a zoning change can take effect.
Supporters of the repeal said that the current law allows a small percentage of neighborhood landowners effectively to block a request unless the project has near-unanimous support.
Another significant provision of the bill requires existing rules and regulations to come up for periodic reviews. If an agency fails to conduct a review of a rule by its scheduled date, the rule would expire.
Other portions include:
• Allowing bed and breakfast establishments to serve meals other than breakfast to its guests.
• Prohibiting local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances requiring businesses to pay a fine if their employees refuse to participate in ride-sharing programs.
• Allowing employees at child care centers to keep their jobs while undergoing mandatory criminal background checks.
• Providing private employers civil immunity from discrimination suits if they give preference to veteran and spouses of veterans for jobs.
Harrison argued against the bill, saying she was trouble by the provisions requiring rules to expire if they don’t meet their automatic review deadline. She also opposed a provision allowing for the trimming of vegetation in certain areas to make billboards more visible.
“There are lots of provisions of this bill that are problematic,” Harrison said.
Her objections did not sway the chamber. S.B. 112 passed 83-29. It goes back to the Senate, which passed a significantly different version of the bill earlier this year.
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.