KFP: Changes proposed for local bill process

by David Anderson

Mayoral intern presents proposals during recent Kinston council meeting

City of Kinston intern Adam Caldwell, with guidance from Mayor B.J. Murphy, recently presented proposals to change the state Legislature’s local bill process to craft legislation that is fairer to local governments.

“We recognize that counties and cities are creations of the state,” Caldwell stated in his report, delivered at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Nonetheless, a more clearly defined system of checks and balances is needed, since some local bills do not necessarily reflect local issues.”

A local bill allows a state legislator to effect change in a single municipality or county via state law, and does not have to be signed by the governor once approved by a majority vote by the General Assembly.

Caldwell, a freshman at ECU, was one of three interns to work with Murphy this past summer.

“When I interviewed each internship candidate I tried to find their strengths, and Adam seemed to be really interested in public policy,” the mayor said Saturday.

Murphy said he told Caldwell “I had a thought for a public project, and I told him I wanted him to research it and see if there was something that we could do to change the current system.”

Earlier this year, city officials scrambled to defeat a local bill proposed by former Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, to equalize water and sewer rates for Kinston utility customers living in and outside of the city limits.

Kinston’s outside utility customers — like those in many other cities in the state — are charged higher rates to maintain infrastructure extended to areas outside of town decades ago, where no other infrastructure existed.

City leaders feared this could cause a major rate increase for inside customers, and hit industrial customers especially hard.

“The water and sewer issue that was discussed in the local bill did not distinguish Kinston from other municipalities,” Murphy said.

The bill was opposed by other members of Lenoir County’s legislative delegation, and was ultimately sent back to committee without a vote.

Caldwell’s report laid out the local bill process, which has not been effectively changed since 1917.

The report noted “the rules governing local bills differ in the short and long sessions of the General Assembly.”

The General Assembly had a long session in 2011, which included passage of a two-year budget, and a short session of a few months in 2012, when LaRoque’s bill came up.

Any legislator can introduce a local bill during a long session held during an odd year, but during short sessions in even years, a legislator must obtain consensus from his or her delegation, which LaRoque had reportedly not done before introducing his water and sewer bill.

Caldwell’s report noted House and Senate members who represent Lenoir County had opposed the bill.

The report included two suggestions for improving the local bill process, such as a statute requiring the same rules for short and long sessions, and ensuring the “majority of the local delegation” approves of the bill.

The second suggestion calls for examining “current NC statutes and clarify what does and does not constitute a ‘local’ issue. This would ensure that what should be a statewide, public bill is not being resolved through the local bill process.”

Murphy said, once this year’s elections are settled in November, Kinston officials will present the proposed changes to local legislators, leaders of the House and Senate, and various committee members.

The mayor said Caldwell “received nothing but praise from the council members for his research and putting this together.”

 

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or David.Anderson@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.