2019 Farm Bill gets first committee vote, contains troubling agritourism provisions for counties

After several hearings, Senate Bill 315, the North Carolina Farm Act of 2019 (https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookup/2019/s315) passed its first committee this week. As previously reported, the bulk of the legislation is aimed at regulating and expanding North Carolina’s industrial hemp industry, but contains two provisions that NCACC opposes.

Section 20 of the bill expands the definition of agritourism to include “hunting, fishing, shooting sports, and equestrian activities.” Previous versions of the bill did not include the equestrian activities language and did not define “shooting sports.”  Both activities are undefined in the newest version, but the bill says that “properties used for shooting sports shall comply with guidelines for design and site evaluation as established by the Wildlife Resources Commission,” prompting questions as to what these guidelines will be and whether indoor shooting ranges will also be covered. The legislation further says that “a vote of the full board of county commissioners shall be required to determine whether a property used for shooting sports is in compliance with the guidelines adopted by the Wildlife Resources Commission.” It is unclear whether “full board” requires a unanimous vote of the board or that the entire board vote on the question of compliance. The changes in the provision appear to give some authority to county boards of commissioners while simultaneously eroding counties’ ability to develop and enforce their own land-use and zoning policies by expanding the definition of agritourism.

Section 23 of the bill lays out changes to the process for notice and appeal of land that has fallen out of present use value eligibility. The first piece of the provision requires tax assessors who have determined that land does not meet requirements for present-use value classification to provide written notice with a specific reason for the disqualification along with the date of the decision. The notice must be sent separately from the property owner’s tax bill.  However, the last piece of the amendment states that if notice is not given to the owner regarding a subsequent decision to disqualify the land, “a reinstatement of the property by the county board or the Property Tax Commission shall be deemed effective for any assessments occurring from the date of the assessor’s decision under appeal to the date of the final decision of the county board or the Property Tax Commission to reinstate the property.”  While NCACC is supportive of the first part of the provision, the latter section sets a problematic precedent by allowing potentially improper tax assessments to remain due to insufficient noticing, which also creates a possible conflict with law and practice in this area.

NCACC is opposed to these provisions and will work with bill sponsors to find solutions where possible. Please share concerns or potential impacts these changes could cause in your county with NCACC and/or your legislators.

The bill is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee and will then receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.