Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Going to Incredible Lengths

Update on Annexation Study, H86

The proponents of annexation reform have been assured repeatedly that "There WILL be study of annexation in this year's legislation".

So where are we with this now that the 2007 Legislative Session is over?

In spite of the assurances, I ended up spending the evening of August 2 observing the final hours of House business on the floor, so I could see and hear for myself whether the "omnibus study bill"- SB1256, was going to include a study of annexation.

What I witnessed was a bit of last minute drama regarding the inclusion of an annexation study.

The Omnibus Study Bill had been hashed out in a joint conference that afternoon. The result of that House/Senate conference was the removal of the annexation study by the Senate. The Senate stood strongly opposed to any study of annexation. Rules Committee Chair Rep. Owens gave me an explanation of why the Senate opposed an annexation study, which I will share later.

But back to the final hours of the House debate.

Sometime shortly after the joint conference, some of the House members who have been working to reform the annexation statutes found out that the annexation study had been removed by the Senate. An objection was raised regarding the removal. There must have been some significant objection, although how many or which Representatives raised the objection, is unknown to me. The objection was sent to the Senate to try and reconcile the differences by amendment before the Bill would be voted on.

When the Omnibus Study Bill was introduced to the floor of the House, Rep. Owens gave a somewhat lengthy explanation about what had happened and stated that the House was awaiting an amendment from the Senate that would add the annexation study back to the Bill.

From what I heard, the amendment was received and the House voted on the Study Bill with the amendments.
Afterward, I spoke to several Representatives about the annexation study and was told that the Senate agreed to an annexation study that did not include participation by Senate members. The Study Bill would be a "House only" study of annexation reform.

In my conversation with Rep. Owens, he explained that the Senate was opposed because they remembered how the study of annexation done in 2001 or 2002 brought SO MANY people to the General Assembly, taking up SO MUCH of their time, that it was nearly impossible for them to "get anything done". Hmmm......

Since, from all appearances, the fact that the amendment adding the annexation study was received and included in the House vote to approve the Omnibus Study Bill, I asked a couple of Legislators where I could get a copy of the amendment. I was directed to the office on the first floor where the Bills and drafts are printed. When I went to the office, I was told that a copy of the amendment would not be available for a couple of days. I'm still waiting for it, and I doubt that the amendment itself will ever be available to the public.

I am greeted this morning by an article from the Associated Press stating that the Omnibus Study Bill as amended and approved by the House, which included the annexation study, didn't get a confirming vote from the Senate before the 2007 legislative session ended.
Here is a link to the story posted on the Eyewitness News 9 WNCT.COM website:

NC Legislature goes home without "studies" bill

I've been trying to reach key legislators to ask them what is going on with the annexation study and Rep.Goforth is the only one who called back. I also spoke to his Assistant, Ann Jordan. She was very helpful to my understanding the status of the annexation study.

Regardless of whether the Senate "finalized" the Study Bill topics that the House version included, IF the annexation study was going to be done, the final version of the Study Bill would reflect that. IT DOESN'T.

I've looked for the study in SB1256, someone at JLF has looked for it, Rep. Goforth's LA has looked for it and a reporter from the Asheville Citizen-Times has looked for it.
Take a look and see if you can find any reference to annexation in it at all.

Looks like more undercover legislative 'slight-of-hand' to me, which has been the way the efforts to reform annexation have handled ever since last fall.

There are two possibilities left for an annexation reform study to become a reality this year; the ratified bill has some blank sections that could possibly be used to add another study after the fact, OR Speaker Hackney could authorize a study using General Statute 120-19.6. But that would depend on Speaker Hackney being convinced that the annexation study should be undertaken.

More phone calls and letters anyone?
Even though the 2007 Session is officially over, the doors and offices of the legislators remain staffed and open. You can send them your thoughts about the annexation issue and how the citizens call for reform is being shuffled around the dance floor.

It seems that our current crop of legislators still contain far too many who would go to incredible lengths to bow to the wishes of the tax funded lobbyists of the Municipal League.

It will be far more important to get seriously involved in the November elections on behalf of the annexation reform effort than anything else we can do. We need to get more people elected and unelected on whether they think the the current NC annexation laws "are good for NC"!

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