Legislative Team Working On Numerous Issues In The Waning Days Of 2020 Short Session

With legislative leaders moving to conclude the current short session late next week, your NCHBA legislative team has been working long hours to protect NCHBA interests. Late evening committee meetings and even a rare Friday Senate session accelerated the pace toward adjournment.

One of our top legislative priorities, HB 873 (System Development Fee/ADU Sewer Permit), sponsored by Representatives Dean Arp (R-Union), Jamie Boles (R-Moore) and Alan McNeill (R-Randolph), was approved by three Senate committees last week and will likely be calendared for floor action today.

In a lawsuit participated in by NCHBA, the Supreme Court of North Carolina in 2016 struck down water and wastewater system development fees imposed pursuant to local governments’ public enterprise statutes. In response, the General Assembly passed legislation developed by NCHBA and other interested groups which created a new statewide system which placed appropriate limits on the imposition of these fees which are used to provide future capacity for water and wastewater. The process requires a uniform method in determining the amount of the fees and how the fees are to be paid. The current law requires that the system development fee for new subdivisions must be paid either at plat recordation or when water or sewer is allocated, whichever is later.

The Senate proposed committee substitute for HB 873 amends the law to move the time for the payment of system development fees for subdivisions from plat recordation to the later of building permit application or when the water and sewer service is committed. The current requirement for payment at plat recordation requires significant working capital to pay for the fees for all of the lots in the subdivision despite the fact that the water/sewer availability may not be provided for years in the future. This positive change will help keep housing affordable by reducing upfront major costs and appropriately moves those payment of those fees to when the service is provided.

This section requires that proof must be provided of payment of these fees if the local government that collects the fees is different than the local government that issues the building permit.

Furthermore, it makes it clear that the system development fee cannot be collected if previously paid at plat recordation unless the amount of capacity needed for that property has increased.

A second provision allows a property owner the same option to connect a sewer line to a detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU) as is the case for an attached ADU’s on the same lot. Currently, a special permit and engineer’s seal are required in order to pursue this option for detached ADU’s which is not required if the ADU is attached. Making these requirements the same will significantly reduce cost and thereby provide more affordable housing across the state. 

HB 308 (Various Ag/NER Changes) is an omnibus bill which contains several provisions of interest to NCHBA. NCHBA supported the inclusion of a provision would allow North Carolina On-site Wastewater Contractors and Inspectors Board to purchase and hold real property and to authorize a fee to defray costs for its authorization of “on-site wastewater evaluators” (licensed soil scientists). A provision in an earlier version of the bill would have exempted government buildings from any water and wastewater capacity fee that was due prior to construction. Exempting local governments from paying these fees would have increased the amount of fees paid by builders and developers. NCHBA worked with the provision’s sponsor to remove this provision which the sponsor graciously agreed to do. The bill, as amended, was approved in committee and is set for floor action this week.

NCHBA was successful in working with the sponsors to make changes in HB 920 (Condominium Association Changes). This legislation was the product of a stakeholder group which included the bar association, title insurance companies, and other interested parties for the purpose of updating the condominium statutes. NCHBA identified a provision which needed to be eliminated and two others which needed to be amended. With the strong support of the bill’s sponsor, Representative Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), these actions were taken. As amended, the bill was approved in three committees and will be heard on the Senate floor early this week.

NCHBA has long been a leader of the business community on workers compensation issues. In fact, one of NCHBA’s major contributions to the historic workers compensation reform effort enacted in 2011 was to subject gubernatorial appointments to the Industrial Commission to legislative confirmation. This process has resulted in the business community supporting some of the past nominees and opposing others.

As a result, we worked with representatives of the employee community to recommend a consensus candidate, Wanda Taylor, whom Governor Cooper nominated earlier this year to the commission. Wanda is highly qualified for this position having extensive experience over her career representing both employers and injured employees. She spent over twenty years with the commission as a deputy commissioner, the last six of which as Chief Deputy. On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee gave her a unanimous recommendation. NCHBA Executive Vice President Mike Carpenter was one of three persons who testified in favor of her confirmation. SB 862 (Confirm Wanda Taylor/Ind. Commission)

During the so-called “COVID-19 Session” which was held six weeks ago, a provision very important to NCHBA was enacted. In Session Law 2020-3, the General Assembly provided time-limited civil immunity from lawsuits for injuries or death alleging that a customer or employee contracted COVID-19 from any business which the Governor had declared as “essential” (which includes the residential construction industry).

HB 118 (COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor) extends this civil immunity protections beyond just essential businesses to protect all businesses, non-profits, schools and universities, and individuals from unwarranted and excessive COVID-19 litigation. NCHBA has worked closely with a broad coalition of business associations, college and universities and others to move this legislation forward. Yesterday, in a strong bipartisan vote, the Senate approved the bill 40-7. The bill will return to the House for concurrence vote early next week. Senator Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) has been the champion of this legislation.

In related legislation, HB 806 (HOA/Condo Pool Opening Limited Immunity), would limit the liability of owners and operators of community pools and their agents regarding the operation of these facilities during the pandemic. In light of COVID-19, many community pools have chosen to remain closed over concerns of liability over the spread of the virus. The bill passed the Senate last Thursday by an overwhelming majority and will return to the House for a concurrence vote.

Since the current GOP majority took control of the General Assembly, an annual regulatory reform bill has always been on the agenda. This year is no exception to the rule. This week SB 374 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2020) was introduced in the House. Among the bill’s several provisions is one that would clarify a NCHBA-inspired law passed several years ago which allows architects and engineers to inspect a component or element the construction of builders. The clarification states that the engineer’s or architects seal could only be required if required by the North Carolina State Building Code. Other provisions would require the building code council to relax the need to require a water foundation in a building that has a maximum capacity of 30 (now 15) occupants and water closets only have to be provided if the occupant load is 30 or fewer (now 25).

Finally, we are pleased to announce our “NCHBA Legislator or the Week”, Senator Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell, Yadkin).

Legislator Of The Week

Senator Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell, Yadkin)

Senator Sawyer is in her first full term in the Senate representing Iredell and Yadkin Counties. In addition to operating an insurance agency, Senator Sawyer is a licensed general contractor. She has already proven to a great friend to our industry! Please join us in thanking Senator Sawyer for her support!