According to a new bill passed into law on Wednesday, the western NC city of Boone will lose its rights of extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), seriously limiting the power the city has on residents outside city limits. The bill in question (SB865) passed a House vote 65-47, and the Senate 35-14. As it is a local bill, it does not require the governor’s signature before being implemented.
The issue of extraterritorial jurisdictions is not a new one to North Carolina. In 1959, legislation was passed to allow cities to exercise some regulative and zoning control over areas where the city might soon expand. The areas, known as extraterritorial jurisdictions, are usually defined as being within two miles of city limits. This bill revokes Boone’s right to exercise any control over its ETJ zone.
For such a short bill – it is only 8 lines long – it ignited a fair amount of controversy. The bill was initially voted down in the House Government Committee on Monday, 12-15. In an unconventional move, the bill was resurrected for a second vote on Tuesday with more committee members present. It passed the second vote, 18-16. A number of lawmakers protested the method with which it passed committee. Typically, a bill that is not given a favorable recommendation in committee is considered “dead”, and will not immediately return for a second vote.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Watauga), says that the bill addresses a key problem of “regulation without representation.” Residents of the ETJ cannot vote in city elections, such as that for town council, yet they must still live under regulations enacted by city government. This particular objection is not new. A bill introduced by Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) last year would have abolished all ETJ rights in the state, citing the injustice of ETJ regulations applying to people who were not represented in the ordinance-making process. As a conservative, this is a serious issue – regulating individuals who are not represented in the government hardly seems fair. This alone is sufficient reason to seek the abolition of ETJ rights.
Legislators, as well as residents of Watauga County, have accused the city of Boone of overreaching the bounds of reasonable regulation, and dictating how individuals can develop their lands – a problem for many conservatives who believe that individuals should be free to dispose of their property as they see fit, short of harming others.
On the other hand, it seems ironic that the state government in Raleigh is interfering in city and county affairs, while protesting the city of Boone’s interference in personal affairs. This could be seen as a move towards centralization rather than a system favoring local government. Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guildford) commented in an interview with WRAL that “I don’t think this is the right venue to settle this. It should be settled in Boone or in that county.” He added, however, “But it’s not being settled there, so it’s here.” As mentioned beforehand, the fact that ETJ residents may not vote in town elections makes resolving the issue locally difficult.
Additionally, the law applies only to the city of Boone. If the most common argument for abolishing ETJ rights is the inherent unfairness – “regulation without representation” – then it seems that the law should be re-written to abolish all municipal ETJ rights, instead of singling out the city of Boone alone.
Clearly, there are many contrasting viewpoints on this bill. Is it a case of the state government providing accountability to a city that has overstepped its bounds, or is the state government wrongfully interfering in local affairs? Should House Republicans – who have often criticized President Obama for forcing legislation through Congress – have strong-armed this bill through committee? Does the new law address a serious problem of “regulation without representation,” or does it unfairly apply to one city out of hundreds which exercise ETJ powers?
What do you think? Sound off in the comment section below, and share your opinion with us!
**Edited for clarity: 10:53 AM, July 1**