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This week in disappointment: billboards, environmental laws and protest petitions



While our eyes were watching the #motorcyclevagina bill zoom through the Legislature last week, other pernicious measures were humming along, including Senate Bill 112, which would significantly affect all municipalities, and notably Durham.

"Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform" (the title is an egregious example of greenwashing), the bill would prevent cities from regulating the repair and reconstruction of billboards. The language even could be construed to force Durham to allow the construction of digital billboards.

Durham has a strict billboard ordinance, which is why you don't see outdoor advertisements here for JR Discount Outlet's "Brassieres and Chandeliers." Several years ago, the billboard lobby unsuccessfully tried to ram through an ordinance that would have allowed digital outdoor advertisements in Durham; now state lawmakers are overstepping their boundaries by meddling with yet another local decision.

Other horrificness (we use that term under the Create New Words Through Regulatory Reform bill): Local ordinances could not pass any environmental regulations more stringent than those enacted by the state or federal government. Many of Durham's environmental provisions are stronger than those statutes, including some governing wetlands, erosion control and watershed protection.

Protest petitions—a legal mechanism by which citizens can challenge a zoning case—would also be eliminated. If a certain percentage of residents in an area sign a petition, it requires a council or commission to pass the zoning case with a supermajority, not a simple majority, such as one vote. Residents of South Durham used protest petitions to fight the 751 South development.

House Bill 150 would limit local governments' regulatory power over room types and layouts in single- and two-family homes. Get the government out of my house, you might say. It's not that simple. According to city documents, Durham could be hampered in preventing the "illegal conversion" of single-family houses and duplexes into multi-family dwellings. In other words, that quiet '50s ranch next door could be a flophouse in the time it takes to say "cars up on blocks."

The good bill: HB 786 would allow all undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license, not just those who qualify under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Applicants would have to meet certain critieria: They could not have a criminal history, would have to reside in North Carolina for at least a year and provide proof of insurance, among other requirements.

The bad outcome: An amendment diluted the measure to a study bill directing state agencies to analyze the impact of offering driver's licenses to all qualified undocumented immigrants and other related ID and criminal justice issues. It passed 106–5.

The House passed a second reading of the bill, 84–29. Forty-five Republicans voted for the bill, including the entire Triangle delegation except Rep. Paul Stam. The Wake County Republican had an excused absence.

If you haven't read N.C. GOP Chairman Claude Pope's retort to The New York Times' editorial that criticized the Republicans in the Tar Heel state, it's worth the two minutes you'll never get back. Pope's screed begins: "Thank you, New York Times. We southern hillbillies are always honored when the Old Gray Lady's beacons of intelligence bestow their political wisdom from on high." We posted a link and commentary on our Triangulator blog.

Because of an editing error, the paragraph about the amendment to the immigration bill was accidentally deleted in the print version of this story.

This article appeared in print with the headline "We don't need no stinking regulations!"

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