Bill Summary for S 605 (2021-2022)

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Summary date: 

Apr 7 2021

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2021
Senate Bill 605 (Public) Filed Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Intro. by B. Jackson, Sanderson, Edwards.

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Bill summary

Section 1

Amends the requirements that must be met under GS 106-737 in order for farmland to qualify for inclusion in a voluntary agricultural district, as follows: (1) requires it to be real property used for bona fide farm purposes (was, engaged in agriculture), defined as the term is defined under two existing statutes, including the production and activities relating or incidental to the production of crops, grains, fruits, vegetables, ornamental and flowering plants, dairy, livestock, poultry, and all other forms of agriculture; (2) requires it to be real property subject to a conservation easement agreement and adds that the agreement must be between the local government administering the voluntary agricultural district program (was, the county) and the land owner, and adds the requirement that the form of the agreement be approved by the agricultural advisory board; and (3) retains other existing requirements.

Amends the process for revoking a conservation easement under GS 106-737.1 to require the landowner to give written notice to the local government administering the voluntary agricultural district program instead of the county.

Amends GS 106-738, which sets out the requirements for adopting an ordinance to establish a voluntary agricultural district, as follows. Deletes all of the existing requirements and instead requires the ordinance to provide: (1) for the establishment of voluntary agricultural districts upon the execution of a conservation agreement and (2) the minimum size, including specified measurements. Amends the stated purpose of these districts by replacing increasing protection from nuisance suits with decreasing the likelihood of legal disputes, such as nuisance actions between farm owners and their neighbors.

Amends GS 106-739 by amending the requirements for the agricultural advisory board (board), as follows. Requires the board to be organized and appointed by the board of county commissioners or the city council adopting the ordinance (was, organized and adopted as the county or city adopting the ordinance deems appropriate). Amends the board's authority as follows: (1) allows the board of county commissioners or city council to delegate the authority to make decisions on the establishment and modification of voluntary agricultural districts to the board; makes the board's decisions appealable to the county commissioners or city council and (2) gives the board authority to execute agreements with landowners for enrollment of land in a voluntary agricultural district. Adds requirements for board membership including broad geographical representation and representation of all segments of agricultural production; requires all members to be actively engaged in agriculture. Allows the board, at the discretion of the county commissioners or city council, to use an existing local government agency for administration, recordkeeping, and related tasks.

Amends GS 106-741 to require land records to include notice reasonably calculated to alert a person doing title research that the tract is located within one-half mile of the property line of any tract of land enrolled in a voluntary agricultural district (previously also included within one-half mile of a poultry, swine, or dairy farm or 600 feet of any other qualifying farm). Removes the provision prohibiting a cause of action when a person doing the research fails to report to any person on the proximity of the tract to a qualifying farm or voluntary agricultural district. Removes the provision prohibiting a cause of action due to the failure of a person licensed under GS Chapters 93A (real estate license laws) or 93E (North Carolina Appraisers Act) to report to any person the proximity of the tract to a qualifying farm or voluntary agricultural district. 

Amends GS 106-743 to require the city or county annual report to the Commissioner of Agriculture to also include the number of enrolled farms and acres. Makes language gender-neutral.

Amends GS 106-743.1, concerning the adoption of ordinances to establish an enhanced voluntary agricultural district, to no longer require the ordinance to provide that each enhanced voluntary agricultural district have a representative on the agricultural advisory board.

Section 2

Amends GS 7A-273 to give magistrates the power, in misdemeanor and infraction cases involving State forest rule offenses under Articles 74 (Acquisition and Control of State Forests and State Recreational Forests) and 75 (Protection and Development of Forests; Fire Control) of GS Chapter 106, to accept written appearances, waivers of trial or hearing, and pleas of guilty or admissions of responsibility, and to enter judgment and collect the fines or penalties and costs. Applies to offenses committed on or after December 1, 2021.

Section 3

Amends GS 106-950 to exempt from Article 78 (Regulation of Open Fires) of GS Chapter 106, fires started, or caused to be started, for cooking, warming, or ceremonial events, if the fire is confined (1) within an enclosure from which burning material may not escape or (2) within a protected area that is being watched and is provided with adequate fire protection equipment. This does not apply when all open burning has been prohibited during periods of hazardous forest fire conditions or during air pollution episodes. Applies to offenses committed on or after December 1, 2021.

Section 4

Amends GS 106-903 to require NC Forest Service employees who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and are fighting forest fires to be compensated for overtime either monetarily or with compensatory leave at the rate of an hour-for-hour. Sets out additional requirements for when compensatory leave is provided.

Section 5

Amends GS 14-135 by removing the current provisions concerning the cutting, injuring, or removing of another's timber, and replaces it with the following concerning the larceny of timber. Establishes the offense of larceny of timber when any person: (1) knowingly and willfully cuts down, injures, or removes any timber owned by another, without the land owner's or timber owner's consent, or without a lawful easement running with the land or (2) buys timber directly from a timber owner but does not make payment in full by the date specified in the written sales agreement or when there is no agreement, 60 days from the date that the buyer removes the timber from the property. Sets out exceptions to the offense, including one for electric power supplier employers and agents. Sets out what is considered to be prima facie evidence of a timber buyer's intent to commit an offense by failure to pay. Makes violations a Class G felony and requires restitution in the specified amounts. 

Amends GS 1-539.1 to make anyone who without consent, cuts or removes any valuable wood, timber, shrubs, or tree, liable for triple (was, double) the value of the wood, timber, shrubs, or trees. Makes the same changes applicable to someone who sets fire to any valuable wood, timber, or trees on another's land.

Amends GS 1-539.2B to make anyone who injures or destroys any other person's agricultural commodities or production system liable for triple (was, double) the value.

Effective December 1, 2021.

Section 6

Enacts new GS 14-135.1 to require, when a timber buyer or operator buys wood product by the load from a grower or seller and it is sold by weight, cord, or measure of board feet, that the buyer or operator give the grower or seller a wood load ticket for each load of wood product removed from the grower or seller's property; requires the ticket to be provided within 30 days. Requires the wood load ticket to include specified information including the amount of wood product severed. Sets out items excluded from these requirements. Makes violations a Class 2 misdemeanor. Applies to offenses committed on or after December 1, 2021.

Section 7

Amends GS 106-897 to include GS 14-135 (cutting, injuring, or removing another's timber) within the scope of forest laws. Applies to offenses committed on or after December 1, 2021.

Section 8

Amends GS 106-92.8 to require that when records of the tonnage of liming material that an individual sells in the state are available electronically, they must be made available to the Commissioner of Agriculture or the Commissioner's representative. Makes the same changes in the following statutes: (1) GS 106-277.12 concerning records of seeds transported or delivered for transportation, or sold, (2) GS 106-284.40 concerning records of tonnage of commercial feed distributed in this state, and (3) GS 106-671 concerning records of the tonnage of commercial fertilizer sold in the state. Makes language gender-neutral.

Section 9

Increases the amount from the Tobacco Trust Fund that may be used for administrative and operating expenses from $350,000 to $375,000.

Section 10

Amends GS 143-135.26, concerning the State Building Commission's powers, to make the Board of Agriculture, instead of the Commission, responsible for the final selection of the designer, consultant, or the construction manger at risk, when the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) is the funded agency. Makes additional clarifying changes.

Enacts new GS 106-22.8 setting out four specified actions the Board of Agriculture must take with respect to the design, construction, or renovation of buildings, utilities, and other property developments of DACS requiring the estimated expenditure of public funds of $2 million or less, including conducting the fee negotiations for all design contracts and supervising the letting of all construction and design contracts. Prohibits dividing a contract to evade the monetary limit. Requires the Board of Agriculture to report annually to the State Building Commission on four related items. 

Effective July 1, 2021.

Section 11

Amends GS 143-215.10C to require the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) to develop a general permit for animal operations that includes authorizing the permittee to construct and operate a farm digester system. Defines farm digester system under GS 143-213 as a system, including all associated equipment, by which gases are collected and processed from an animal waste management system for the digestion of animal biomass for use as a renewable energy resource; sets out items that may also be included in the term and specifies that the system is considered to be an agricultural feedlot activity within the meaning of "animal operation." Also adds and defines the terms animal biomass gas facility, animal waste and animal waste management system, lagoon cover, and renewable animal biomass energy resource.

Requires the EMC to immediately initiate the process of developing and issuing the permit. Requires the permit to include, in addition to conditions required to describe and authorize the construction of farm digester systems, the same conditions that are included in the currently existing general permits for animal operations, with specified exceptions. Requires the general permit to become effective no later than six months after this section's effective date. Allows, until the general permit becomes effective,  any animal operation that holds a general or individual permit that (1) is in effect on the effective date of this section and (2) authorizes the construction and operation of a farm digester system, to construct and continue to operate the farm digester system. Allows the operator of any animal operation that holds a general or individual permit that does not authorize the construction and operation of a farm digester system to submit a notice of intent to be covered under the general permit; sets out the requirements for the EMC to then either issue a certificate of coverage allowing the construction or notifying the operator of the denial. Allows the EMC to solicit public comment when acting on the notice of intent, but prohibits holding a public hearing.

Amends GS 106-806, concerning the construction or renovation of swine houses at preexisting swine farms, as follows. Allows the construction or renovation of a farm digester system that is a component of a preexisting swine farm so long as the following requirements are met: there is not an increase in the permitted capacity of the swine farm; there is not an increase in the total permitted capacity of the animal waste management system or systems located at the swine farm; with exceptions, the portion of the constructed or renovated farm digester system is not located any closer to the building, property, or well that is the object of the siting requirement that the farm digester system fails to meet for a lagoon siting. Also prohibits such renovation or construction in the 100-year floodplain.

Amends GS 150B-34 by adding that in any contested case involving a permitting action for a general permit for animal operations that includes authorization for the permittee to construct and operate a farm digester system, unless otherwise agreed upon, the hearing must be conducted and final decision made no later than 90 days after the commencement of the contested case. Allows for extending this deadline no more than two times and no more than 30 days each time.

Amends GS 150B-44 by specifying that an agency's failure to make a final permitting decision on a general permit for animal operations that includes authorization for the permittee to construct and operate a farm digester system within 90 days of the agency's receipt of a notice of intent is justification for a person affected by the delay to seek a court order compelling agency action. Gives such claims expedited review.

Amends GS 105-275 to no longer limit the animal waste management systems that are excluded from tax to those that accomplish specified objectives. 

Section 12

Amends GS 20-7 by making driver's licenses issued to H-2A workers expire three years after the date of issuance of the H-2A worker's visa. Provides that if during those three years the worker's visa is not extended, the license expires on the date the H-2A worker's visa expires. Defines H-2A worker as a foreign worker holding a valid H-2A visa who is legally residing in this state.

Section 13

Includes a severability clause.