Governor’s Amendments to Bills of Interest to Local Governments

April 11, 2018

Solar tax exemption
SB 902 (Lucas), a bill introduced at VACo’s request, would provide more local flexibility in the tax treatment of solar facilities.  Under current law, solar facilities greater than 20 megawatts (MW) in generation capacity are provided a mandatory 80 percent exemption from local property taxes.  SB 902 caps this mandatory exemption at facilities of less than 150 MW and enables localities to provide exemptions for facilities of 150 MW or greater, as a local option.  The Governor’s amendments stipulate that the mandatory exemption remains in place for all projects greater than 20 MW (including those 150 MW or greater) for which an initial interconnection request form has been filed before June 30, 2018.  VACo does not support the amendment.  VACo’s preference is to retain the local option to provide preferential tax treatment for facilities 150 MW or greater, regardless of when interconnection requests are filed.

Regulation of mulch as a fire hazard
HB 1595 (Wilt)/SB 972 (Obenshain) limit local authority to regulate the use of mulch, which can pose a fire hazard when applied too close to a structure.  The bills provide that an owner of real property who has an occupancy permit issued as of January 1, 2018, shall not be required to retrofit existing landscape cover materials (including mulch), and shall not be prohibited from continuing to use or adding to existing landscape cover materials.  VACo opposed these bills during the session.  The Governor’s amendment provides that the bills do not apply to certain structures housing larger numbers of people, such as assisted living facilities, certain college dormitories, apartment buildings, or hotels.  VACo supports this amendment.

Other Bills of Interest

Drones
HB 638 (Collins)/SB 526 (Obenshain) deal with trespassing via use of an unmanned aircraft system and limit the ability of political subdivisions to regulate the use of privately-owned unmanned aircraft systems within their boundaries.  The Governor’s amendments provide an exception to the restriction on local authority for local school boards, and add a requirement for the Secretary of Commerce and Trade to work with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to review the impact of the legislation on unmanned aircraft research and economic development.

Vetoes
In addition to HB 1204, the Governor vetoed nine other bills, among them HB 158 (Cole), which would authorize the General Assembly to make technical corrections to legislative district boundaries after the completion of decennial redistricting.  VACo has historically supported this bill as a means of addressing the problem of split voting precincts, but there have been differing interpretations by General Assembly members and the Administration of the language in the Virginia Constitution governing the timing of redistricting, and past legislation has not been successful.  The General Assembly has signaled its intention to work on the issue of split precincts, among other election matters, in a new Joint Subcommittee on Election Review.  Delegate Cole, Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, announced on April 11 that the Joint Subcommittee will hold an initial organizational meeting on April 18.  VACo looks forward to working with the legislature and the Administration on these critical matters in preparation for the next redistricting in 2021.

A list of the Governor’s vetoes is available on the Legislative Information System website.

VACo Contacts: Katie Boyle; Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE; Joe Lerch, AICP; Chris McDonald, Esq.; and Khaki LaRiviere

 

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