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Legislative roundup

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House rejects ‘closing fund’

RALEIGH Gov. Pat McCrory’s push to create a new incentive program met stiff resistance in a House committee Wednesday, as lawmakers recommended rejecting the Senate-approved measure.

Republicans and Democrats asked tough questions about a plan to create a new $20 million “closing fund” – at the sole discretion of the state commerce secretary – to offer upfront cash incentives to companies considering a major economic development project in North Carolina.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker tried to reassure lawmakers, saying the opportunity is ripe to lure an auto or aviation industry manufacturer to North Carolina.

“This particular fund is intended for the large transformational projects,” she said.

The encouragement did little to sway lawmakers, who recommended the House not agree to the bill, and force the Senate into a conference committee to work out the differences. The bill also includes a controversial provision to cap local governments’ ability to levy extra sales taxes, a measure that hits Wake and Mecklenburg counties. The House vote is expected Thursday.

Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex peppered Decker with questions. He expressed concern about how the bill favors one company over another, includes limited protections to get back money if a company goes bankrupt and allows a company to locate in a thriving area of the state, rather than economically distressed regions.

Democratic state Rep. Susi Hamilton of Wilmington asked Decker whether Republicans and the governor changed their position on incentives.

“This is an incentives bill,” she said. Decker agreed. “We are about job growth and job development,” Decker said.

Senate, House closer on regulatory reform

One of the last remaining major issues lawmakers hope to accomplish this session is another run at streamlining regulations.

On Wednesday, the Senate unveiled a new regulations bill that incorporates what both chambers want and adds a few new provisions. The 62-page bill covers regulations in administrative processes, business, state and local government, health and safety and environment.

HB761 was built to make both chambers happy, and in the morning the Senate Rules Committee gave its blessings and sent it along to the full Senate. But late in a day punctuated by lengthy recesses, the Senate bounced it back to the Rules Committee for more work.

It’s not clear what the final bill will look like. But here are some of the highlights in the environmental section:

•  Air quality monitors: It eliminates air quality monitors around the state that aren’t required by federal law. The rationale is that pending EPA regulations could require more monitoring of specific sources of pollution rather than regionally. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources didn’t ask for the provision, and has said it would be problematic.

•  Fracking water quality tests: This new provision gives the fracking industry a little more leeway in how much water-quality testing it has to do. It would require testing of all water within one-half mile radius from the center of a proposed drilling site, rather than from the proposed wellhead.

•  Name change: DENR’s program that helps developers and landowners offset environmental damage by enhancing or restoring other sites would change its name from the Ecosystem Enhancement Program to the Division of Mitigation Services.

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