NCHBA Helps Lead Successful Legislative Effort To Reject Industrial Commission Nominee As Session Concludes

The General Assembly adjourned today after a very hectic six-week short session bringing closure to a very successful legislative session for NCHBA. However, legislators are not done for the year as they plan to return in late November for the limited purpose of considering legislation implementing any of the several constitutional amendments which voters may approve during the upcoming general election earlier in November.

After having disposed of statewide bills which required approval by the Governor (or his veto) on June 15, the General Assembly this week and last turned its attention to local bills, veto overrides, constitutional amendments and confirmations which do not require the approval of the Governor.

It is this latter topic—legislative confirmations—which consumed much of your legislative team’s time this week. Workers’ compensation issues are always a priority focus for NCHBA because affordable workers’ compensation insurance premiums and a fair adjudication system for workers’ compensation claims are critical to the success of our industry specifically and the business community in general.

For almost three decades, NCHBA has been a leader of the business community in legislative and regulatory efforts to reform the workers’ compensation system administered by the NC Industrial Commission (commission). By 2011, the commission was severely out of balance and employers were unable to obtain fair consideration of many claims. In an effort to restore balance to the commission, NCHBA worked very hard to subject appointees by the Governor to the full commission to legislative confirmation. This goal was accomplished in the workers’ comp reform act of 2011 and it has resulted in subsequent Governors vetting potential nominees with the business community and other stakeholders to assure swift, and largely consensus, confirmation of those nominees by the General Assembly. More importantly, this process has brought about needed balance to the commission.

However, earlier this year the NCHBA and the business community urged Governor Cooper to re-nominate for a new term Tammy Nance who had been appointed by Governor Perdue and unanimously legislatively confirmed, with the full support of the business community, on two prior occasions. Instead, Governor Cooper chose Robert Harris who has served as deputy commissioner for more than fifteen years. The business community analyzed the most recent five years of opinions filed by Mr. Harris as a deputy where it was revealed that he ruled for the employee side in almost two-thirds of the cases he considered. Even more problematic was that the seat Harris was nominated to fill was that requiring an employer background which Harris did not meet. NCHBA and seventeen other trade associations representing the business community opposed the Harris nomination. [We also analyzed the opinions of another deputy commission, Myra Griffin, who the Governor nominated to fill a vacant full commissioner slot. We found Griffin’s opinions to be well balanced and her to be well qualified. Thus, we supported her candidacy and she was confirmed this week.]

NCHBA General Counsel Mike Carpenter, along with a representative of the NC Chamber and the NC Retail Merchants Association, testified against Mr. Harris’ confirmation in the House Rules Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Nominations Committee on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, the House, in a bipartisan vote of 74-40, rejected the Harris nomination which was followed yesterday afternoon by a similar bipartisan vote of 38-8 by the Senate also rejecting the Harris nomination. Thus, the Governor will be required to submit another nomination and we hope that we can work with the Governor to find a candidate whom we can support.

Another major topic of legislative attention this week was gubernatorially vetoed legislation. While the General is in session, the Governor has ten (10) days to sign, veto or let become effective without signature any statewide bill. That deadline arrived on Monday of this week with Governor Cooper delivering seven vetoed bills back to the General Assembly. One of those vetoed bill, which was overridden this week and became law, contained provisions important to NCHBA.

HB 374 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2018) contained a provision which allows a licensed soil scientist to inspect and determine that soil and land conditions have not been altered on a site where an onsite wastewater permit was previously issued has expired. Last year the General Assembly grandfathered permits whose five-year period expired due to inaction largely during the Great Recession. Grandfathered permits dating back to January 1, 2000, are deemed valid as long as the ground conditions remain unchanged. Some local governments misinterpreted last year’s law and failed to allow work to proceed, thus requiring this additional legislative fix.

Another important bill which the Governor did sign into law is HB 573 (Business/Regulatory Changes). It directs the State Building Code Council to provide an exemption from the requirements contained in the residential energy codes for detached and attached garages located on the same lot as a dwelling. This provision will save builders significant sums in unnecessary energy requirements for this non-living space which can be passed along to future homebuyers. Another provision allows wastewater systems to be installed within 50 feet of a well (instead of the current 100-foot setback) thus allowing builders to build homes on smaller lots.

Also this week, the General Assembly approved bills calling for six constitutional amendments to be placed on the November general election ballot for voter approval. These proposed amendments range from preserving the right to hunt and fish to requiring a photo identification to vote to reducing the current constitutional cap on personal income taxes rates from 10% to 7%.

While this session came to a close today with the passage of the adjournment resolution, most members of the General Assembly will now turn their attention to their respective fall general election campaigns. We have a lot of pro-housing friends we need to help and we hope you will consider supporting them through BUILD-PAC.

As is always the case, other legislators chose not to run and are serving their last terms in office. Included in that group are many friends of our industry and we are sad to see them go. Legislative service is a sacrifice and we are indeed thankful for those who served the state well during their tenure in office. In particular, we are especially grateful to those who stood up for our industry and housing affordability.

Bills On The Move

Legislator Of The Week

Representative Nelson Dollar (R-Wake)

During his seven terms as a member of the NC House of Representatives, Rep. Dollar has been a champion of home builder issues. As the senior Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he is an extremely influential member of the House leadership team. Just this week, Rep. Dollar stood up for housing and for the business community by being the floor leader and successfully urging his House colleagues to vote against the confirmation of Robert Harris to the NC Industrial Commission. We are grateful for a friend and supporter like Nelson Dollar.