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Senate Fails To Back House Changes In Regulatory Reform Bill

Republicans have eliminated or updated a variety of state regulations since taking control of the legislature in 2010. But in the past couple of years, they've found it harder to agree on reforms.

On Wednesday, the state Senate rejected the expanded House version of the GOP-backed 2016-2017 regulatory reform bill. It's got both years in the title because the two chambers also failed to agree last year before the legislature adjourned.

This year's measure would ease state regulations on business, the environment and some government agencies.

It started out nearly identical to last year's, at 19 pages, and passed the Senate in March.  The House passed an expanded, 44-page version in early April.  But the Senate didn't like the revised bill, and it failed 48-0 on Wednesday.

State Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius said there wasn't enough time to study all the changes made in the House. And he said some senators may have more to add.  

House and Senate leaders appointed a conference committee to work out their differences. It's chaired by two Republicans, Rep. Chris Millis of Pender County and Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory. Other members include Rep. John Bradford of Cornelius and Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte.

Tarte said the conference committee could decide to split the bill into separate measures on the environment and business. 

Republican supporters of reforms are pushing to update or eliminate unneeded or outdated regulations in the state statutes. But Democrats think some changes in this year's bill could hurt the environment.

One provision would double the area around streams that can be disturbed during development, from 150 to 300 feet. Another would relax rules governing beach restoration projects, by allowing sand to be mined from coastal shoals, even if it's not compatible with sand it's replacing.

Other sections would exempt landscaping materials from storm water rules, exempt storage facilities from energy efficiency standards, reduce state environmental reporting requirements, and exempt more than two dozen counties from vehicle emissions inspections.

Wells said he expects the conference committee to report back next week.