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District 8 Senate update

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By Sen. Bill Rabon

Guest Columnist

The 2014 short session has proved to be nothing short of eventful, and we are continuing to work hard in order to accomplish our goals during this time.
I was honored to have the opportunity to meet with members of the FFA from South Brunswick High School on June 18. I have been a longtime supporter of this organization and believe in their cause of promoting the personal growth, leadership skills, and career success of youth in America. This was a great group of young folks, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and introducing them to the legislature of North Carolina.
Also June 18, I had the privilege of meeting with several visitors from the National Association of Realtors. I am gracious for their support and feel that this organization is highly instrumental in the economic well being of our great state. It was my pleasure to spend time with them during their visit to the General Assembly in Raleigh.
There were several other items on the agenda this week that will be addressed in the newsletter, including film incentives, North Carolina’s business promotion, and new coal ash removal plan.
Film incentives
There has been much discussion regarding the film industry lately. I am an advocate for film incentives because this unique industry boosts local economies and promotes tourist attractions in North Carolina. Senate Bill 743, which has a purpose of economic development throughout North Carolina, proposes a film grant fund that keeps us competitive to attract new productions. This bill has passed in the Senate and is in the House Finance Committee.
Ensuring a business-friendly state
This past week, the Senate continued efforts to make North Carolina one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, unanimously passing two bills that will help save employers time and money and allow them to dedicate their financial resources to priorities like job creation.
Senate Bill 853 modernizes and enhances North Carolina’s business court by streamlining and expediting the timeline for business cases to make their way through the system. It provides clarity and predictability on the types of cases to be heard by the business court and helps ensure cases where at least $5 million is at stake or where a company’s existence could be at risk and is heard by a court that specializes in complex business litigation.
The bill also:
1) Encourages the court to conduct business in a timely fashion by mirroring a federal trial court requirement for periodic reports on motions that have been pending for longer than six months and trials that have been pending for longer than three years.
2) Provides legal certainty for current North Carolina employers and those looking to move to the state by encouraging the development of a large body of definitive case law that businesses can rely on in decision-making.
3) Models North Carolina corporate laws on how corporations can be reorganized internally after Delaware’s, which many consider the gold standard.
The North Carolina Senate continued its efforts to improve the state’s climate for job creation Thursday, June 19, unanimously passing a bill to modernize and enhance the court that handles complex business cases. We also passed a tort reform bill that encourages investment, growth and job creation by addressing costly concerns in our civil liability system.
The North Carolina Commerce Protection Act of 2014 creates transparency in the Attorney General’s office, amends successor liability laws, protects businesses from patent troll abuse, expands the role of three-judge panels in the judicial process and provides greater protections against frivolous lawsuits in the life science industry.
From eliminating unnecessary government red tape, to enacting major tort and malpractice reforms, to providing much-needed tax relief, Senate Republicans have shown we’re serious about making North Carolina one of the best states in the nation to do business. These bills are just the latest steps toward improving our state’s climate for job creation.
Coal ash plan
Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Eden, and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, introduced an alternative and comprehensive piece of legislation for coal ash mitigation that would make North Carolina the first state to force the closure of all coal ash ponds.
The proposed committee substitute to Senate Bill 729 sets a firm 15-year timetable for dewatering and closing all unlined coal ash ponds in North Carolina and eliminates the practice of wet ash disposal. The plan requires the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton coal ash ponds to be excavated and closed as quickly as practicable  and no later than 2019.
The remaining ponds will be classified into three categories of risk: Sites determined to be high-risk must be closed within five years (by no later than 2019); intermediate-risk sites by no later than 2024; and low-risk sites by no later than 2029. High and intermediate-risk ponds may not be capped in place. Instead, coal ash from those facilities must be stored in lined landfills or recycled toward a beneficial use such as concrete production or roadway construction. Low-risk ponds can only be capped in place if both the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and an independent coal ash commission agree and if strict closure and long-term monitoring requirements are met.
In addition, the bill mandates that all future coal ash disposal must be managed in new or existing lined landfills with extensive groundwater monitoring. It also requires pond owners to divert stormwater away from ash ponds and phase out the disposal of wet ash — the sludge that spilled into the Dan River — within five years. It immediately makes it illegal to construct or expand wet coal ash ponds statewide.
To protect North Carolina consumers, the bill bans utility companies from recovering costs for the damage caused by coal ash spills, including associated civil or criminal fines. It immediately places a moratorium on all rate increases from utilities that use coal ash ponds in North Carolina until Jan. 15, 2015.
The bill also:
1) Forms a new, independent and specialized Coal Ash Management Commission to review and approve risk classifications and closure plans proposed by owners of coal ash ponds and DENR. The commission will make policy recommendations to the General Assembly to ensure efficient and safe coal ash management statewide. It will consist of nine people with experience in areas such as public health, waste management and conservation.
2) Creates 29 new positions for the regulation, mitigation and oversight of coal ash management operations: 25 at DENR and four staff for the commission. These regulatory positions, along with the commission’s operating expenses, will be funded by utilities with coal ash ponds and cannot be passed on to consumers.
3) Keeps and expands on many of the governor’s other recommendations, including strengthening regulations on the use of coal ash as structural fill; requiring utilities to assess and correct existing and future contamination of ground, surface and drinking water, with oversight through DENR; and strengthening dam inspection laws by requiring more frequent inspections and creation of Emergency Action Plans.
4) Requires utilities to look at markets for innovative commercial uses of coal ash and study technology that could be used to more effectively manage coal ash. It also directs DENR, the state Department of Transportation and other agencies to study ways to recycle coal ash through beneficial use projects.
Bills filed
There were no new bills filed this week, but if interested in viewing information on bills being discussed in the General Assembly, go to http://www.ncleg.net. Search for legislation from sessions dating back to 1985 by bill number or keyword via the search function in the top right corner of the page. Search results contain the bill’s text, legislative history, and summary (i.e. bill digest). From the front page, clicking on “Legislation/Bills” will lead to other search functions to find bills and legislation by sponsor, year, topic or other criteria. These handy tools will allow one to stay more in touch with what is happening here at the General Assembly.
We will be hard at work for the next few weeks and expect the rest of this session to be eventful as usual. Thank you all for your support, and do not hesitate to contact me at my office in Raleigh at (919) 733-5963 or email at Bill.Rabon@ncleg.net. My legislative assistant, Paula Fields, or my intern, Catherine Kilian, will assist you.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Southport, represents Brunswick, Bladen, New Hanover and Pender counties in the North Carolina Senate and faces Democrat Ernie Ward in November’s general election. He can be reached in Raleigh at (919) 733-5963 or Bill.Rabon@ncleg.net.