New NC laws on drones, coal ash and taxes take effect Oct. 1

There’s a difference between drones and the remote-controlled airplanes hobbyists enjoy. So notes a new law effective Wednesday that firms up the definition of “unmanned aircraft,” colloquially known as drones, for statewide regulation.

The law, which was written into the state’s budget, goes into effect amid growing conversations about privacy and surveillance given the potential with drones in aerial research and law enforcement.

Under the new law, drones cannot be used for surveillance of persons or dwellings without consent of the person or owner of the dwelling. That prohibition goes for individuals, organizations and state government agencies alike.

Drones are further banned from photographing anyone for the purposes of publishing or publicly disseminating the images without the subject’s permission, the new law says. Exempt, however, are news agencies gathering photos of newsworthy events “or places to which the general public is invited.”

There are law enforcement exceptions as well. Police can use drones for anti-terrorism and plain-view surveillance or to search for a missing person, suspect or escapee or if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a life or property is in danger.

The new law says anyone who experiences illegitimate surveillance by drone has a case against the offending party and can recover, in lieu of actual damages, $5,000 for each photo and video taken. Evidence gathered in violation of the new law won’t be admissible in court, “except when obtained or collected under the objectively reasonable, good-faith belief that the actions were lawful.”

Other laws or provisions going into effect Oct. 1.

• Coal Ash – Senate Bill 729: It will be illegal to build new coal ash ponds or expand existing ponds. It will also be illegal to dispose of coal ash at facilities no longer producing the material.

• Underground Damage Prevention Act –

rewrite of House Bill 476: General contractors may take note of this change in law regarding activities like excavations that may affect underground pipes and other infrastructure. The law serves to protect materials and humans alike. The rewrite clarifies processes and responsibilities before digging and increases enforcement against parties who fail to follow procedure.

• Omnibus Tax Law Changes – House Bill 1050: When the legislature in 2013 voted to lower corporate and personal income taxes in North Carolina, they planned to fill that revenue hole with a broadened sales tax base. Sections of this bill going into effect include sales taxation on service contracts – for professional home maintenance or car repairs, for example. It also repeals a sales tax exemption on newspapers sold in vending machines and adds biodiesel to the excise tax on motor fuel.

• Governing Bodies/Collect Unpaid Judgments – House Bill 346: If a court orders a county commissioner or city council member to pay money owed to the local government for whatever reason, that local government can attach and garnish that commissioner or council member upon delinquency in order to collect the money, says this new law taking effect.

• DOT/DMV Changes – House Bill 1025: Among the changes this new law makes are updates in ethics laws concerning members of local transportation planning organizations. They can be penalized for withholding relevant information from statements of economic interest, for example. Those are public documents on which state officials and board members are supposed to list their financial and personal interests. The new law lists penalties of $250 for failing to file a timely statement of economic interest or giving the state one that lacks important information. If the violations continue, the State Ethics Commission may notify the attorney general or a district attorney for possible prosecution.

• Amend Veterinary Practice Act/Fines – House Bill 379: Allows the state’s Veterinary Medical Board to raise fees, though by no more than 15 percent within a calendar year. It also sets new starting points for certain fees. For one, the fee for the inspection of a veterinary practice facility will rise from $75 to $125.

• Zoning/Health Care Structure – House Bill 625: Pertains to local zoning provisions for temporary health care structures – typically “transportable” buildings no bigger than 300 square feet where someone who is mentally or physically impaired receives care. The law, for instance, requires the removal of such a structure within 60 days after the impaired person stops receiving care there, though another impaired person may move in and keep the permit going.

Benjamin Brown writes for NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer.