Recent Blog Posts

  • Significant Change to North Carolina’s Rabies Law

    Authored by: on Friday, July 21st, 2017

    In July 2016, I wrote a blog post entitled Rabies Prevention and Control: Integrating Recent Research into North Carolina’s Legal Framework. It tells the story of Duke – a dog that was potentially exposed to rabies. Since that time, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that will have a significant impact on public health practice as it relates to rabies post-exposure management for dogs, cats, and ferrets. Rather than retract my old blog post, I thought I would tell Duke’s story again but change the outcome to reflect the changes in the law.

    I’ll talk a little bit about animal services in our upcoming Local Government Legislative Update Webinar. Several of my colleagues will be joining me to discuss changes and pending legislation in areas such as public records, land use and planning, elections administration, and public health. If you aren’t able to join us for the live program on Tuesday, July 25, the on-demand version will be available on our website shortly thereafter.

    Enough marketing.  Read on to hear what happens to dear old Duke…

    Read more »

  • Can A Gentle Nudge Increase Tax Collections?

    Authored by: on Thursday, July 13th, 2017

    What do fly stickers in men’s room urinals have in common with handwritten notes on the outside of delinquent tax notices?  Both are examples of the effective use of behavioral economics, the study of how psychological and emotional factors play into our everyday decision making.

    Over the past decade, best-selling books and popular podcasts dedicated to behavioral economics have demonstrated how seemingly minor changes to our problem-solving approaches can produce big results. Great Britain was so excited about this field of study it created a new government agency dedicated entirely to behavioral nudges.

    The goals of these nudges might be vital and life-saving (obtaining more organ donors by making the donation commitment “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” when you obtain your driver’s license) or kind of gross (improving “aim” and minimizing rest room messes by placing the above-mentioned fly stickers in urinals).  Regardless, behavioral economics proves that by applying what psychologists and economists have learned about humans’ decision making we can produce better societal results and make government more effective.

    The Guilford County tax office recently put behavioral economics to the test by teaming up with a graduate student at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy to see if some low-cost changes to the county’s collection procedures could improve taxpayer compliance. Read more »

  • Sunday Brunch Ordinances – Cheers!

    Authored by: on Saturday, July 8th, 2017

    In the waning days of the 2017 legislative session, the General Assembly passed an omnibus bill affecting a number of state laws regulating alcoholic beverages (SL 2017-87 (S155)).  Section 4 of the bill – commonly known as the “Brunch Bill” – enacts new statutes authorizing cities and counties to adopt ordinances allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages beginning at 10:00am on Sundays (in the absence of such an ordinance, state law prohibits the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages before 12:00 noon on Sundays).  The new law’s authorization to imbibe mimosas and Bloody Marys on Sunday morning has generated a great deal of interest among cities and counties, not to mention their local restaurants.  Passed by the General Assembly on June 28th, the Brunch Bill became effective as soon as Governor Cooper signed it on June 30th.  Local government interest in adopting ordinances to allow “Sunday brunch” alcohol sales began quicker than you can say “Shaken, not stirred.”  The Town of Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen became the first local government in the state to take advantage of the new law, adopting its Sunday brunch ordinance on July 3rd.  The Raleigh City Council and Surf City followed suit two days later. By the end of the week, Atlantic Beach and Hendersonville also took action.  As cities and counties across the state gin up to consider whether to adopt their own Sunday brunch ordinance, the questions have been pouring in.

    Read more »

  • North Carolina and the Specter of Partisan Gerrymandering

    Authored by: on Thursday, June 29th, 2017

    From the earliest days of the American republic, the party in power has drawn election district lines to enhance its own electoral chances and minimize the chances of the opposing party.  The very term gerrymander comes from just such a district drawn in Massachusetts in 1812.

    How far can the legislature go?  Is there a point at which partisan advantage is such a controlling factor that the resulting district plan can be termed a “partisan gerrymander” and ruled unconstitutional?

    The U.S. Supreme Court has never found a particular case of partisan gerrymandering to be unconstitutional, but it has said a number of times over the last three decades that it might.  In a 1986 case, a plurality of the Court said that a partisan gerrymander could be unconstitutional where there is “evidence of continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or an effective denial to a minority of voters of a fair chance to influence the political process.”  Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109).  In 2004, a different plurality of the Supreme Court in another case said that “severe partisan gerrymanders” are “incompatib[le] . . . with democratic principles.” Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267). In 2006, the Court again, with very split opinions, recognized that in the proper case a partisan gerrymander might be unconstitutional.  LULAC v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399 (2006).

    Still, the Supreme Court has never found the right test, the right measuring stick, the right questions to ask to determine when the regular practice of taking political advantage has transgressed into such an entrenchment of power as to be unconstitutional.

    Now the Supreme Court has North Carolina’s congressional districts before it on just that question. Read more »

  • Conveyance of property in a public-private partnership for a “downtown development project”

    Authored by: on Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

    Downtowns across America are experiencing a renaissance. Population growth in downtowns has outpaced growth in the broader regions in which those downtowns are located. North Carolina downtowns are likewise experiencing record growth. To capitalize on this renewed interest in downtowns, private developers and local governments are increasingly seeking to partner on relatively larger, coordinated development projects that involve construction of both public and private facilities.

    Often these public-private partnerships are necessary because the local government owns property downtown and needs a private partner to develop it. When a municipality (not a county) seeks to partner with a private developer for development of a downtown parcel involving construction of both public and private facilities, there is a statute designed just for that purpose: G.S. 160A-458.3 Downtown development projects. The statute makes some potentially confusing references to a variety of other statutes when authorizing disposition of real property and therefore requires some explanation. This post provides historical context for the statute and describes the property disposition procedures. Read more »

  • A Penny (or a Wheelbarrow Full) for Your Thoughts?

    Authored by: on Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

    The Machinery Act requires taxpayers to pay their bills in our “national currency,” meaning in money.  This provision allows tax offices to reject creative non-monetary payments offered by disgruntled taxpayers such the bushels of wheat sent via overnight mail to Yadkin County a few years back.

    But what about pennies? Thousands and thousands of pennies?

    In 2012, a Winston-Salem resident, sporting a t-shirt that read “taxation is theft,” hauled a box containing 11,722 pennies into the Forsyth County tax office to pay his vehicle tax bill.  In 2015, a UNC-Charlotte student paid his parking ticket fines with over 10,000 pennies to protest the fact that most of the revenue generated by university parking citations goes to public school districts.  The town of Columbia, N.C. reports that one taxpayer who owns a coin-operated laundromat routinely drags in huge laundry bags full of quarters to pay his taxes and water bills.

    Google “paying with pennies” and you’ll discover that paying fines, taxes, and other government bills with thousands of coins as a protest is very common.   Do local governments have to accept these protest payments? Read more »

  • A Statutory Modification for Plan Consistency Statements

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

    Cities and counties routinely consider proposals to amend their zoning ordinances. Amendments vary from the rezoning of a single parcel of land to major rewrites of the whole ordinance. The decision of whether or not to make a particular amendment is a legislative policy choice left to the good judgment and discretion of the elected governing board.

    A variety of factors are considered by the governing board in making these decisions. For the past decade in North Carolina, one of the factors that must be considered is how the proposal relates to previously adopted plans. Under the General Statutes a zoning amendment is not required to be consistent with the plan, but both the planning board and governing board are required to consider the plan and to document that consideration with a written statement approved by the board.  For the most part this has become a routine and noncontroversial step in the zoning amendment process.  But there has been enough confusion about this requirement that the General Assembly has amended the plan consistency statement requirement, with the changes to take effect for zoning amendments made on or after October 1, 2017. Read more »