The Planner’s toolbox is being modified constantly by laws passed and policies enacted at every level of government. Being aware of existing laws, as well as proposed legislation, is important for planners, communities, and advocates working throughout the state. Here’s a sample of the planning-related bills currently under consideration at the state level in the North Carolina General Assembly:
House Bill 3 and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 34, propose a Constitutional Amendment requiring that eminent domain takings be exclusively for “public use,” and not for “public use or benefit.” It also entitles parties whose land is taken through eminent domain the right to request a jury trial in order to determine just compensation. Current state statutes do allow for jury trial to determine compensation, but the NC Supreme Court has ruled that it is not a State Constitutional right. If passed, this amendment would come before the NC general electorate for a vote in November 2018. (Current Status: Passed in House 104-9, in committee in Senate )
House Bill 68 and Senate Bill 65 propose funding for digital infrastructure supporting broadband, computing, and communications, particularly in rural and low-income areas. Known as the “BRIGHT Futures Act” (BRIGHT is an acronym for “Broadband, Retail Online Services, Internet of Things, Gridpower, Healthcare, and Training and Education”), it advances the idea of digital infrastructure as an essential public investment to spur growth in the “BRIGHT” markets across the state. The bills further stipulate that the NCWorks Commission produce an annual report showing how it can improve job training and employment opportunities for individuals seeking work in BRIGHT markets. (Current Status: in committee in House and Senate)
House Bill 175 requires the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to prioritize the improvement of environmental metrics within “urban empowerment zones.” These zones are defined as areas within a city of greater than 275,000 people that is experiencing: higher than city average unemployment or crime, or lower than average household income. The city government must identify these zones. DEQ would be responsible for helping with stream restoration and flood prevention, studying air pollution, and convening an annual conference to create plans for the improvement of air and water quality within the urban empowerment zones. (Current Status: in committee in House)
House Bill 387 aims to increase the sale of healthy foods in food deserts by assisting existing small food retailers to stock fresh produce and other nutrient-dense foods. The bill would create The Healthy Food Small Retailer Fund within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and funds would be dispersed through county or regional public health departments. Participating stores would be required to accept or agree to accept benefits for federal nutrition programs such a SNAP. (Current Status: in committee in House)
Senate Bill 296 would allow a school to hire its own independent traffic engineer to evaluate whether a new school’s access points meet the standards of North Carolina Department of Transportation’s “Policy on Street and Driveway Access.” Also, schools would be reimbursed by NCDOT for any improvements made to the state highway system that exceed the requirements of NCDOT’s policy. The city’s standards for improvements may not exceed what is “required for safe ingress or egress to the municipal street system and that are physically connected to a driveway on a school site.” (Current Status: in committee in Senate)
Please note that the selection of bills for this article does not constitute an endorsement of their content, but is meant to show the breadth of planning issues under discussion in the North Carolina General Assembly. To track the status of these bills and to read their full text, visit www.ncleg.net. For a full list of bills that the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association is monitoring, visit http://apa-nc.org/legislation.
About the Author: Catherine Peele is a first year Master’s of City and Regional Planning candidate from Albemarle, North Carolina. Her planning interests include transportation project prioritization methods and freight mobility. Outside of planning, Catherine enjoys exploring local parks and museums, supporting refugee resettlement efforts in the Triangle, perfecting classic Southern dishes and trying new recipes, and spending time with her two nieces.