Recent Blog Posts

  • Property Tax Exemptions and Economic Development

    Authored by: on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

    North Carolina property tax law, nicknamed the Machinery Act, contains over 60 full or partial exemptions for property as diverse as free drug samples, uranium 233, and Loyal Order of the Moose clubhouses.

    A number of these exemptions are aimed at property that might be part of a local government’s community economic development plans. This blog attempts to identify these economic development exemptions and summarize their key statutory provisions.  If you think I’ve missed any relevant exemptions, please don’t be shy—that’s what the comment section is for! Read more »

  • You’ve Won Your Election – Time for Ethics Training!

    Authored by: on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

    Elections are over, TV ads are back to normal, and mail boxes are no longer full of campaign flyers. Ballots have been counted, results certified, and oaths of office taken. Among the other duties and obligations required of newly elected and reelected local government officials is that they participate in mandatory ethics training. If you are a newly elected official, you may not be familiar with this requirement and don’t know where, when, or how to get this training. If you are an incumbent, you most likely completed ethics training after your last election or reelection, and are now wondering if you have to take the training again. And, if you are elected to local office and serve on a state board or commission covered under the State Government Ethics Act, you may be wondering whether you have to take ethics training twice. The short answer to each of these questions is that all individuals elected or reelected during this election cycle to a local governing board covered by the local government ethics education statute must receive the local government ethics training within 12 months of the date of election. Read more »

  • Magistrates and Same-sex Marriages

    Authored by: on Monday, November 3rd, 2014

    Last month when the federal courts opened the door to same-sex marriages in North Carolina there was a rush to courthouses, where magistrates are the only state officials authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. Some magistrates, because of their religious beliefs, resigned rather than marry same-sex couples. Are magistrates entitled to be excused from performing assigned duties when those duties conflict with their religious beliefs? It is a complicated and politically charged question. This post is an attempt to explain some of the legal issues involved. It expands on Shea Denning’s earlier post on the School of Government’s Criminal Law Blog.

    There really are two questions. First, does current law entitle a magistrate to refuse to perform a duty of the office based on the magistrate’s religious beliefs? The answer seems to be no, at least so far has we know from current case law, as discussed below. Second, should magistrates have such a right? You will have to answer that one yourself, but this blog post will try to point out some of the policy considerations to take into account when thinking about the answer. Read more »

  • Ebola and the Law of Isolation and Quarantine in North Carolina

    Authored by: on Friday, October 31st, 2014

    Just over a month ago, the first case of Ebola virus disease to be diagnosed in the United States occurred in Dallas, Texas. It was considered an “imported” case, meaning that the infected individual, Thomas Eric Duncan, contracted the virus elsewhere (Liberia) before traveling to this country. There have since been three additional cases diagnosed in the U.S. Two of the cases were contracted in Dallas by nurses who provided treatment for Mr. Duncan. While a number of other people had contact with Mr. Duncan during his illness—family members and friends, as well as health care workers—no one else contracted the disease. Sadly, Mr. Duncan did not survive his illness. However, both of the infected nurses have recovered.

    The fourth case diagnosed in the United States was imported by Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician who had treated Ebola patients in Guinea. Dr. Spencer is hospitalized and is reported to be in serious but stable condition at the time of this writing.

    As a result of the four infections, a number of people have been placed under quarantine orders in different parts of the United States. In Dallas, Mr. Duncan’s close contacts were quarantined for 21 days—the incubation period for the Ebola virus. At present, three individuals who had close contact with Dr. Spencer are in quarantine in New York. In a handful of other highly reported cases, other health care workers and travelers from west African countries have been placed under quarantine orders. Some of those quarantines have been questioned or criticized by medical and public health professionals and legal experts, and at least one lawsuit challenging a quarantine order for a non-health care worker has been filed. (The case of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who publicized her intention to violate a quarantine order in Maine and then did so, is changing so rapidly as I write that I’ve abandoned efforts to report the latest and would refer you to your favorite search engine for an update.)

    What is the law of isolation and quarantine in North Carolina? Several years ago I wrote a health law bulletin examining that question in a fair amount of detail. Although the bulletin has aged a bit, the law has not changed and I hope you will read it if you would like a full treatment of the subject. I also have an on-line resource addressing several topics in communicable disease law that is available here. Both the bulletin and the on-line resource were written to address all types of communicable disease outbreaks, so they may have more information than Coates’ Canons readers need or want at this time. This post distills the information a bit, identifying the top 10 things to know about isolation, quarantine, and general communicable disease law, and how it applies to Ebola in particular.

    Before we get into the top ten, I want to note that as of this writing there have been no diagnoses of Ebola in North Carolina. However, public health officials and others have been preparing for the possibility that Ebola could occur in our state for several months. Following my “top ten” list, there are several links to additional resources about Ebola, including the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Ebola website. I hope you will check it out. Read more »

  • 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.

    Read more »

  • 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 »