Gov. McCrory Signs Ride-Sharing Services Bill

UBER_billCHARLOTTE—New regulations for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are now in place.

Gov. Pat McCrory was at the Charlotte Chamber Friday morning to sign the so-called “Uber bill” into law. The legislation imposes restrictions on drivers and requires the services to pay a licensing fee to the state. Drivers will need to undergo background checks and maintain liability insurance on their vehicles.

Law details:

·         Mandatory county, federal, and multi-state background checks

·         $1.5 Million primary insurance coverage on every trip

Ride-Sharing Service Regulations Gets Final Legislative OK

uber-1RALEIGH—The North Carolina legislature has given its final OK to putting state regulations upon mobile phone-based ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of rules hammered out in committees and negotiations over the past several months.

The legislation already received Senate approval and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory. He has said nothing publicly opposing the measure. Uber has publicly endorsed the regulations.

The bill sets minimum standards for background checks of potential drivers and company liability coverage on private cars as they transport customers or wait for jobs. The services would have to pay $5,000 annual state permit fees. There are also rules for companies who want to use local airports.

-Loretta Boniti

More Than 2,000 NC Bridges Considered Structurally Deficient

transportationWASHINGTON — Many of the bridges across North Carolina are in desperate need of repair according to new analysis of government data. Making the problem worse is the fact that federal lawmakers can’t agree on how to pay for the fixes.

• More than 61,000 bridges across the country are considered structurally deficient
• Received equivalent of a “C+” grade
• Nearly 2,300 of the bridges are in North Carolina alone
• Problem stems from aging bridges with increased traffic demands

Analysts with the Washington-based start-up Transit Labs showed me how they crunched the government data. They say the numbers warn of a growing crisis.

“Bridges are getting older, and within the next ten years, these numbers are going to get a lot worse. We’ve built a lot of bridges that have 50-year lifespans, and that time is coming to an end,” said Farhan Daredia, co-founder of Transit Labs.

Most of the bridges deemed ‘structurally deficient’ aren’t necessarily unsafe, but they do need to be repaired. Members of Congress haven’t been able to agree on how to pay for the much-needed repairs.

The House and Senate voted last week to fund highway and transit projects, but only for another two months.
It’s the latest in a series a short-term funding extensions, which business groups and even some members of Congress, say is short-sighted.

“Long-term planning is really what we need to do. I’m in favor of doing something that’s five to seven years out. ‘Long-term’ here in Washington, D.C., is six to 12 months. ‘Long-term’ for a business guy is seven to 10 years. It’s time that we do that and make a proper plan so the states and businesses can plan on what goes forward,” said Rep. Mark Meadows.

Find out how the bridges in your area measure up by clicking here.

– Geoff Bennett

Bill Proposes Giving Undocumented Immigrants Legal Driving Privileges in NC

immigrant_drivingRALEIGH—Undocumented immigrants could soon be able to get legal driving privileges in North Carolina.

The proposal is part of a bill that would take multiple steps to identify criminals who are in the country illegally.

“This bill, I want to start out by saying has nothing to do with immigration, immigration law, or immigration reform. This is a bill about law enforcement and public safety,” said NC Rep. Harry Warren.

Under a bill known as the Highway Safety/ Citizens Protection Act, Warren and his fellow sponsors look to make it easier for law enforcement to identify criminals. It does this by increasing penalties for false IDs and disallowing certain documents for ID cards.

It also provides a way for undocumented immigrants to get restricted drivers permits if the person is given a background check, provides a fingerprint, and proof of insurance.

“Now there is no identification, faulty identification, or absolutely fraudulent identification offered to law enforcement by these people,” said NC Association of Chiefs of Police Legislative Counsel Fred Baggett.

However, some believe this is just opening the door to undocumented immigrants and making it easier for them to call North Carolina home.

“It doesn’t make any sense as to why someone would be in favor of enforcing immigration laws on the one hand and in the same law be encouraging illegal immigration,” said North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement’s James Johnson.

Bill sponsors, including Rep. Warren, disagree and said this restricted permit is tougher to get than some offered in other states. They believe it will make keeping track of undocumented immigrants easier.

“There is nothing wrong with issuing a permit.  It is acknowledging that we have people driving without insurance, without being vetted, without being tested.  And to recognize that and for us as a legislative body to do nothing about it, is in my opinion, a dereliction of duty,” said Rep. Warren.

Similar legislation has been considered by this legislature before, but have not gotten the support needed to become law. The bill will go to the House finance committee for consideration.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Senate Considers School Bus Camera Bill

school_busRALEIGH — Drivers who break the law and pass stopped school buses beware.

A bill is now being considered by the general assembly that would expand the current law, which allows for criminal prosecution and now also allow school districts to penalize you.

Under the proposal, the cost for the violation would be $500.

Bill sponsors say that is a steep fine, but they believe it is necessary.

“We have over 13,300 buses on the road in North Carolina twice a day, every day that school is open. We had a study run and over 3,000 people were running the stop arm on those school buses everyday, which is absolutely deplorable,” said Sen. Tom McInnis.

As the proposal is written, school districts could choose if they participate in the civil penalty program.

The bill is currently being considered in committee.

– Loretta Boniti

Capital Tonight April 2: State Ferry System

Ferry_tolls_PKGOn Capital Tonight: An in depth look at the future of the North Carolina ferry system. What changes are in store? The presidential primary date will soon be released. We talk with an Appalachian State University professor about the presidential primary date and why it matters. Cheaper electricity rates are on the horizon for thousands of North Carolinians. Watch the program here.

New Bill Would Fine Slowpoke Drivers in the Passing Lane

slowpoke_billCHARLOTTE — Driving too slowly could soon cost you.

State Sen. Jeff Tarte, a lawmaker from Mecklenburg County, thinks drivers who don’t go fast enough in the passing lane should be fined. He is sponsoring the Slowpoke Bill, which would make it illegal to drive in the left lane at less than the speed limit.

“Frustrating,” said Charlotte driver Maurice Overton. “Makes me want to jump around them, then I have to jump back in the fast lane.”

If Tarte gets his way, it would soon be illegal to drive too slowly in the fast lane.

“It’s one that the state Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have been concerned with,” said Tarte. “It causes congestion issues, and we also have road rage. So it’s kind of addressing those common issues.”

Under the bill, the fine would be $200 fine for going less than the speed limit in the passing lane. That number didn’t sit well with Charlotte drivers.

“I don’t think a $200 fine,” said Overton. “I’d say $100 or something like that.”

“I think $200 may be just a little too drastic,” said Chiquela Adams.

Tarte said he’s flexible and that amount could be changed.

“There’s a happy medium somewhere,” said Chuck Lehning with Jordan Driving School.

He says driving slowly in the passing lane can be dangerous. They teach drivers to stick to the right and let the faster traffic pass on the left.

“Driving in the righthand lane has been the rule of the road since I’ve been driving,” he said. “That’s just common courtesy.”

And if some drivers don’t follow the etiquette of the road, Adams says it’s just one of those things you have to deal with. That’s why some drivers believe a bill to address the issue is unnecessary. Tarte is moving forward with it, though. He said he is working on the language of the bill with the North Carolina Highway Patrol to make sure troopers will be able to enforce the law if it passes.

The bill passed first reading the senate on Monday. Tarte said it hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet.

– Caroline Vandergriff

Lawmakers Initially Approve Measure to Lower NC’s Gas Tax

gas_pump_0212RALEIGH — State lawmakers have initially approved a measure to lower North Carolina’s gas tax.

The state House and Senate reached a compromised plan on how to reduce the tax rate, while at the same time stabilizing the revenue coming into North Carolina.

Just a few weeks ago, the state House and Senate had very different ideas on how to lower North Carolina’s gas tax. Both wanted it reduced, but the Senate wanted to make the reduction the final one, creating a new so-called floor for the gas tax.

The House wanted a one time reduction that could drop again if oil prices remained low as an incentive for state leaders to act quickly in creating a new revenue source for transportation projects.

On Monday night, the two chambers both took a compromised proposal. The gas tax would be reduced from the current 37 and a half cents to 36 cents on April 1.

At the start of 2016, it would go down again to 35 cents. And in July of 2016, another penny to 34 cents.

Supporters argue this is reduction that North Carolina motorists could notice at the pumps. But opponents say this is still not the amount of reduction motorists would have seen, if the current gas tax formula stayed in place.

“In this conference report, we are denying the gas tax reduction and instead giving a gas tax increase,” said Rep. Larry Hall, minority leader.

Each time the state is dropping the gas tax by a penny it means about 50 million less for state coffers. Lawmakers say they are hopeful that reduced revenue will be the incentive they need to work on a more reliable funding source for the state’s transportation budget.

“It takes an important first step to assure that our state has the resources necessary to keep our roads and bridges open and safe for all members of the public,” said Sen. Bill Rabon, Brunswick Co.

During the conference committee on this bill, a Democrat sat with both the House and Senate side of the negotiations. The original bill saw some bi-partisan support and so did the compromised plan.

But opponents say the negotiators could have done better.

“This is just a tax shift, and I hope you will vote it down,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, Haywood County.

But with both the House and Senate approving the measure. It nows heads to the governor where it is expected he will sign it quickly into law.

This bill also has several other tax provisions in it, including one that mirrors federal tax code to let teachers have a $250 tax deduction for buying school supplies.

– Loretta Boniti

State Lawmakers Reach Compromise on Gas Tax Solution

gas_pump_0212RALEIGH—State lawmakers have reached a compromise on how to structure North Carolina’s gas tax.

Under the new proposal, the gas tax would almost immediately drop down to 36 cents per gallon, which is a cent and a half less than it currently is.  Next year, it would drop another penny, and then to 34 cents in July of 2016.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say this compromise and reduced gas tax revenue will encourage the state to come up with a new transportation funding plan for the state.

“The old funding formula, allowed for some pretty wild, volatile changes in what the tax rate would be. Which made planning for how your repair roads, repair bridges very, very hard,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican.

“Leveling it off now at a reduced level, I think is fair. It is reasonable. It is indeed a tax cut. It could go further. And we’ve created the appropriate incentives. Now whether all Democrats will share that perspective, I cannot tell you. I do believe there will be Democrats in both the House and the Senate that will support the conference report,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham County Democrat.

Both the House and Senate still need to vote on this compromised plan before it is sent to the governor for consideration.

New State Law Waives Emissions Test for Newer Cars

trans_planNORTH CAROLINA — If you have a newer car, you could save a little money when you get your annual inspection.

Starting on April 1, a new state law goes into effect that waives the emissions test for cars that are three years old or newer and have less 70,000 miles.

This saves drivers just over $16.

Officials say newer cars and trucks rarely fail the emissions tests during their first three model years.

“April 1 is when the new law gets into place. Any vehicle that will be 2013 or newer currently will have just the safety, but other than that, everyone will be doing the same thing they’ve been doing for however long they’ve lived here in North Carolina,” said Teddy Bollinger, Peace Street Inspection Center.

All vehicles are still subject to the annual safety inspection which costs about $13 a year. Emissions tests are required in about half of the state’s 100 counties.

The savings to car owners from the “emissions test exemption” will total about $14 million per year.

– Linnie Supall