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Local Policy Digest

By Matt Crawley and John Lunde | June 25, 2018
Topics: Local

MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.

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Piscataway, New Jersey, passes precedent-setting ordinance banning firearm and ammunition sales. Last Thursday, the Piscataway City Council passed a zoning ordinance “prohibiting the retail sale of firearms or ammunition within 1,000 feet of sensitive locations,” such as schools, day cares, college campuses, medical facilities, bars, parks, and places of worship. The ordinance is considered to be the first-of-its-kind in the state, and comes on the heels of six new gun laws that Governor Phil Murphy signed into law just the day before.

Currently, no store in Piscataway currently sells firearms or ammunition. But according to the author of the ordinance, Councilman Steven Cahn, “the federal government has been willingly absent on the epidemic of gun violence” and “it is left to states and local governments to protect our residents, so we acted.”

The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC), the New Jersey affiliate of the NRA, voiced its opposition to the ordinance in a letter, calling it unconstitutional and accusing the council of trying to block retail gun stores from setting up shop in Piscataway. On these grounds, ANJRPC Executive Director Scott Bach says there's a strong case to be made against the ordinance. "Criminals don't get their guns from licensed dealers," he said. "As far as lawsuit, we are examining all options."

Councilman Cahn believes the city is on strong legal footing, and maintains that the ordinance addresses what the city sees as a public health issue, not a political one. He argues that Piscataway “can force a national discussion.”

The ordinance is set to take effect next month.

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Portland, Oregon, advances resolution limiting the use of plastic straws. On Wednesday, the Portland City Council voted to adopt a resolution aimed at curbing the use of plastic straws in an effort to minimize damage done to nearby marine ecosystems.

The resolution does not call for an outright ban, but it does authorize the city council and mayor to “direct the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to introduce a single-use non-recyclable plastic reduction strategy including plastic straws, no later than October 1, 2018.” Mayor Ted Wheeler says that plastic straws are of particular concern as they cannot be recycled and subsequently, have become one of the most prevalent forms of litter in the city. More than 100 local businesses have already pledged support for the ”Ditch The Straw PDX” campaign, a local effort to reduce plastic straw usage in the city.

Still, there's no guarantee that Portland's future legislation will have the impact its authors envisioned. Writing in Bloomberg, opinion columnist Adam Minter noted that fishing nets account for 46 percent of plastic garbage in the Pacific, and said that is where environmental activists should focus their efforts if they want to create lasting change. However, he admits that the issue is “a harder sell than trendy anti-straw activism.”

Minter's take notwithstanding, Mayor Wheeler remains optimistic about Portland's future as an environmentally-friendly city: "This is but a start, but I think it's a meaningful and important start.” According to him, "we need to move aggressively."

While the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has until October to present their strategy plan, the bureau anticipates meeting with interested and affected stakeholders during July and August 2018.

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Santa Barbara, California scrambles to regulate scooter-share companies following “rogue launch.” Earlier this month, bike and scooter-share company LimeBike launched a scooter-sharing system without any governmental authorization in Santa Barbara, California, forcing the city to impound roughly 140 scooters. Additionally, during its regular session on Wednesday, the city council passed emergency legislation that established procedures for regulating scooter-sharing services.

The ordinance, which passed by a unanimous 6-0 vote, establishes a one-year pilot program permitting procedure, which grants the city council power to review proposed service area plans, approve contracts, and levy permit application fees, as well as safety guidelines for companies operating within city limits.

City officials said that their main concern was that without proper regulation, the scooter-sharing system's lack of helmets and designated lock-up areas could pose a threat to residents’ safety. “The city is responsible for the safety of our sidewalks, streets, and public spaces,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo “These areas belong to the people, to all of us, and for-profit entities must work with the city before using them.”

Because the ordinance passed a full vote, it is scheduled to go into effect 30 days from adoption. While no official date has been scheduled for adoption, the council will tentatively meet on July 10 to adopt the ordinance.

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Campbell County, Virginia, enacts ordinance regulating solar farms. Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors in Campbell County, Virginia, voted to impose new regulations on solar farms. As part of the conversation, the board also debated existing solar farms generating noise pollution. Passed by a 5-1 margin, the ordinance will now include a traffic study along with a decommission plan for the solar farms to be inspected, reviewed, and approved by the planning commission.

While it didn’t make it into the final version of the bill, a large portion of the ordinance’s public hearing centered around adding a rule limiting noise pollution. Introduced by Supervisor Jon Hardie, the rule would have required solar inverters—small solar power stations—to be placed at least 500 feet back from nearby property lines.

Supervisor Hardie said he felt compelled to regulate the solar inverters because they emit a “noticeable hum” that he feared could potentially suppress future development in the area and annoy neighbors.

Still, some supervisors felt the noise discussion was unnecessary because the maximum noise levels emitted from solar inverters are below the city's violation threshold. “I don’t see any reason to box ourselves in like that,” said Supervisor Bob Good.

The noise provision ultimately failed, and the ordinance was passed as it was originally authored. The ordinance will take effect July 1.


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