Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a sweeping regulatory overhaul Friday that reduces environmental regulations, supersedes some city ordinances and puts all rules currently in place under review.
McCrory hailed the legislation, which had support in the business community but was criticized by environmentalists, as a bill that would boost job creation in the state by removing “burdensome regulations and government red tape.”
“For decades, Democrats have stifled small businesses and job creators with undue bureaucratic burden and red tape,” McCrory said in a statement. “We have more than 22,000 rules on the books in state government and this is unacceptable. This common sense legislation cuts government red tape, axes overly burdensome regulations and puts job creation first here in North Carolina.”
McCrory had campaigned last fall on making North Carolina more business-friendly, and along with tax cuts and a customer-service attitude in state government, had promised to reduce the number of state regulations.
The regulatory measure is one of 33 he endorsed Friday, the final batch from a prolonged legislative session.
The governor left one measure unsigned: a bill to prevent North Carolina courts from recognizing Islamic Sharia law in family cases. He called House Bill 522 “unnecessary.” The bill will become law without his signature after Sunday night.
All told this session, McCrory signed 334 bills, vetoing two more and allowing two to become law without his signature. The other is a measure transferring control of the Asheville water system.
Among the bills signed Friday include measures to:
• Grant Republican legislative leaders the ability to intervene in a lawsuit to defend laws and the constitution, such as the state’s gay marriage ban. GOP legislators said they were worried that N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, would not fully defend laws he disagreed with. Cooper, who has spoken out against the new election law, has said he will fulfill his duty.
• Keep reprimands of judges from the state’s Judicial Standards Commission secret unless the N.C. Supreme Court agrees and makes them public. The state bar association asked McCrory to veto the bill, saying transparency was important
• Allow State Treasurer Janet Cowell more flexibility to invest the state’s pension fund in alternatives, such as hedge funds and commodities;
• Delay for three years rules that were put in place to clean up Jordan Lake, a drinking water source for the Triangle. The lake is clogged with algae produced from upstream pollution, but the $2 billion cleanup bill had lawmakers searching for a cheaper solution.
The regulatory measure drew the most scrutiny.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden, lauded its signing, saying in a statement that the bill eliminates “the needless, duplicative, and confusing regulations that hamstring our job-creators and our economy.”
McCrory had earlier expressed concerns about regulatory changes in the bill related to landfills and billboards. He issued two executive orders Friday related to those aspects of the legislation.
One order allows law enforcement to continue to cite leaking garbage trucks to protect public health and safety and the environment. The new law requires that garbage trucks need only be leak-resistant, not leak-proof.
The other order says that the state Department of Transportation shall consult with local officials before approving plans to clear-cut any plants around billboards. The new law allows billboard owners to cut down more foliage around signs on interstate exit ramps and lets them rebuild aging billboards, including those in communities that have banned new steel structures.
McCrory, as Charlotte mayor, was sensitive to the authority of local governments to regulate billboards in their communities.
But the nonprofit Scenic North Carolina blasted McCrory for not vetoing the bill, saying he broke a campaign promise.
“This new law is a complete giveaway of the state’s resources and will encourage billboard blight,” Reyn Bowman, Scenic North Carolina’s president, said in a statement.
“Governor McCrory has let us all down,” Bowman said. “Despite stating on the campaign trail that he would have vetoed the bad billboard bill from last session, he signed this extension of that bill to make the problem permanent.”
The 59-page law, called the Regulatory Reform Act, includes dozens of other provisions ranging from allowing landfills to be built closer to state gamelands to letting bed-and-breakfast inns serve three meals a day. At the same time, it requires carbon monoxide detectors at hotels and puts new restrictions on transporting venomous snakes and other reptiles.
The act establishes a process for evaluating the rules and regulations that state agencies impose based on laws the General Assembly passes.
Under the new law, all agencies must evaluate and report whether the thousands of rules they have imposed are necessary but controversial, necessary and not controversial, or unnecessary. If regulators can’t make these determinations in a timely fashion, the rules will expire.
The NC Sierra Club issued a statement Friday saying the legislation would put people and the state’s drinking water at risk. The group cited several provisions, including one that lets companies pollute the groundwater up to their facility’s property line and another that requires a unanimous vote if local governments want to enact environmental ordinances more stringent than state law before October 2014 .
“North Carolinians highly value clean water and property rights, but provisions in this new law shortchanges the public on both counts,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the NC Sierra Club.
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.
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