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  • Grading North Carolina’s Property Tax System

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 30th, 2014

    Grade inflation may be rampant in higher education (everybody gets an A at Harvard?) but not at the Council on State Taxation.  Known as “COST,” this trade organization/lobbying group represents businesses concerned about state tax issues.  It recently issued a report card on property tax systems across the US, and its grades are pretty harsh.

    North Carolina’s property tax system was awarded a C+, which sounds disappointing until you look at how the rest of the country fared in the eyes of COST. Our state tied for 10th best.  No state earned better than a B+ (and only one of those was issued, to Oregon), while seven states earned a D or D+.  Ouch.

    We need to take the COST report card with more than a few grains of salt, of course. COST represents large businesses and vehemently opposes all property tax breaks that favor residential property over commercial property.  But regardless of the ideology involved, the COST report card offers some interesting observations about North Carolina’s property tax system and how it compares to those in other states.

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  • Even More Questions & Answers About the Elimination of Privilege License Taxes

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

    Local privilege license taxes will be history as of July 1, 2015.   I’ve blogged about their repeal here and here, but lots of interesting questions continue to fill my email inbox.  Here are more Q&A’s about the disappearance of these taxes and the aftermath. Read more »

  • Same-Sex Marriage And Adoptions of a Minor by a Stepparent

    Authored by: on Friday, October 17th, 2014

    This post was co-authored by Meredith Smith, Assistant Professor of Public Law and Government, UNC-CH School of Government. 

    Over the course of the last two weeks, North Carolina federal district court judges in both the western district and the middle district rendered decisions declaring North Carolina’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional. See General Synod of the United Church of Christ, et. al. v. Drew Resinger, Register of Deeds for Buncombe County, et. al., Case No. 3:14-cv-00213-MOC-DLH; Fisher-Borne, et. al. v. Smith, et. al, Case No. 1:14CV299. These decisions were based on Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014), in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional a Virginia law and a Virginia constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages and making same-sex marriages invalid, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari of the same case. As a result of these decisions, any prohibition on same-sex marriage — including North Carolina Const. art. XIV, Section 6, G.S. 51-1, and G.S. 51-1.2 — is invalid statewide. Same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina.

    We are still in the process of analyzing the impact of these decisions on other areas of the law outside the marriage context. One immediate area of concern is adoptions. Under current NC law, there are three ways by which an adoption may take place:

    • Direct placement adoption, which contemplates a complete substitution of families where biological parents sever their rights in favor of adoptive parent or parents;
    • Agency placement adoption, in which an agency acquires legal and physical custody of a minor for purposes of adoption by means of relinquishment or termination of parental rights; and
    • Stepparent adoption, whereby an individual who is the spouse of a parent of a child but who is not a legal parent adopts the child.

    See Boseman v. Jarrell, 364 N.C. 537, 543 (2010).

    This summary addresses stepparent adoptions only. Read more »

  • What Effect Do the North Carolina Marriage Case Orders Have on Local Government Employers?

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 16th, 2014

    As a result of rulings by two federal district court judges that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, North Carolina local government employers may now recognize same-sex marriages performed within North Carolina or outside of North Carolina for employee benefits purposes. Read more »

  • Ethics and the Role of the Local Government Attorney

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 9th, 2014

    Following up on Frayda Bluestein’s excellent post about the appointment of new city and county attorneys, I offer answers to frequently asked questions about the proper role of a local government attorney.

    As always, my advice is guided by the North Carolina Revised Rules of Professional Conduct.  For local government attorneys, the most relevant of those rules is likely Rule 1.13, “Organization as Client.” While not aimed specifically at government attorneys, the rule helps local government attorneys answer the key question about their representations: Who is my client? The answer determines where the attorney’s ethical obligations lie.

    Other rules worth reviewing are Rule 1.6, the basic confidentiality obligation that covers all information obtained by the attorney during a representation, and Rule 1.11, the special conflict of interest provisions for government attorneys.

    We’ll touch on these rules and other ethical considerations as I answer some FAQs about LGAs (local government attorneys). Read more »

  • Permissible Deductions from the Salaries of Exempt Employees

    Authored by: on Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

    The federal Fair Labor Standards Act permits employers to exempt employees from the law’s overtime requirements if their job duties meet one of three duties tests (discussed previously here, here, here, here, and here) and, crucially, if they are paid on a salary basis (discussed previously here). What happens if an employer makes deductions from the salary of an exempt employee? As a general rule, deductions violate the salary basis test and destroy the exemption, making the employee eligible for overtime. This rule does have exceptions. This blog post discusses four circumstances in which the FLSA allows public employers to make deductions from the salary of an exempt employee without destroying the exemption. Read more »

  • Selecting and Appointing a New City or County Attorney: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

    Authored by: on Monday, October 6th, 2014

    Each city and county in North Carolina is required to appoint an attorney “to serve at its pleasure and be its legal advisor.” See G.S. 160A-173 (cities) and 153A-114 (counties). Some cities and counties -typically larger jurisdictions – have in-house attorneys who are employees of the unit. Most local governments contract with attorneys who are in private practice. The statutes do not establish any specific requirements for the selection process or standards for selecting a city or county attorney. Here are some answers to questions about selecting and appointing a new city or county attorney.

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