Update: BCR reached Sen. McKissick after the story went to press; we've added his view to a second post on the matter.
Folks, a lot of interesting stuff seems to happen in the General Assembly. And all too often, the behind-the-scenes machinations don't make their way into general view. (An exception: Laura Leslie's outstanding blog Isaac Hunter's Tavern; the WUNC-FM statehouse reporter's site is a must-add to your RSS reader if it's not there already.)
But kudos to the N&O for picking up on one very interesting, and possibly worrisome, element happening in the General Assembly.
The good news: the legislature is contemplating taking steps to crack down on towing practices, which got scrutiny in Durham at least after the owner of a parking lot adjacent to a scooter-and-gun shop (I am not making this up) enforced its asphalt rights strictly, impacting particularly the patrons of a neighboring Indian restaurant.
The bad news: although the rules would help most of the Triangle and Mecklenburg Co. (Charlotte), it would have specifically exempted Durham from the standards -- by the request of Durham's own Floyd McKissick, Jr.
That's been changed, as the Herald-Sun notes in a follow-up story today, after state Rep. Paul Luebke and the City intervened.
But the bizarre part in all this is, it doesn't look like that request to exempt Durham came from City Hall in the first place.
So what, exactly, did state Sen. McKissick have in mind?
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Specifically, the N&O notes, the bill under consideration would:
- Require clearer signage at the entries to parking lots;
- Limit towing distances to a 15 to 25 mile range;
- Towers would have to provide written notices of rights to towed car owners, including the right to appeal the tow to a magistrate;
- Require towers not to require waiver of towed vehicle owners' rights, such as compensation for damages to their car.
Seems pretty logical, right, and something we'd benefit from, right?
Well, as of early June, there'd have been no joy if you're a Durhamite. Per the N&O:
The measure would apply only to a list of cities and mostly urban counties including Wake and Orange, as well as Mecklenburg, [state Sen. Bob] Rucho's home. Durham was cut from Rucho's list before the Senate gave unanimous approval to the bill June 10.
(Kudos to the Char-Meck Republican, by the way, for seeking to bring some control to the often out-of-control towing industry in this state.)
So why the deletion?
BCR called Sen. Rucho's office in the 8am hour on Tuesday, and received a prompt reply: Durham was explicitly stricken from the draft bill at the request of the Bull City's own Floyd McKissick, Jr.
But it wasn't gone for long. According to today's Herald-Sun:
The bill cleared the Senate on June 10. But Luebke got a look at it on July 1 when it came to the House Finance Committee, which he chairs. He noted Durham's omission, wondered about it and called city officials to check on their wishes.
After consultations with city attorneys, they soon sent word they thought the bill would strengthen consumer protections and that they wanted Durham on board.
So Durham's back in the towing rights game.
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Still, that doesn't address just what McKissick had in mind here. What exactly led the senator -- whom we've written about here before regarding his strong words on the Falls Lake issue, and whose father's work in civil rights and economic development issues literally touched national politics in the 1960s and 70s -- to oppose the bill?
BCR reached out to McKissick's office over lunch on Tuesday but haven't heard back from him or his office as of this writing.
But the senator told the Herald-Sun that he had concerns over the signage requirements that the bill would create.
McKissick tells the paper that he thinks it could lead to "frivolous and unnecessary" disagreements between towers and the towed, "particularly by people who know" they're on the wrong side of the law.
Yet according to a knowledgeable source in City government, the signage requirement calls only for signs that are at least 24 inches by 24 inches -- though McKissick's told City Hall, too, that he thinks most private towers' signs aren't that big.
And this is where some of the head-scratching comes in on this one.
The H-S notes that Durham municipal officials never requested that the Bull City be dropped from the legislation; that happened on McKissick's initiative.
And it also notes that the matter didn't come to attention to Paul Luebke until he saw the bill in the house, wondered why Durham had been omitted, and called City Hall.
I hate to slice things too thinly, but the quote above from the Herald-Sun story -- noting that City staff had to consult with the City Attorney's office and mull it over before asking Luebke for the add-back -- suggests that they may not have ever been aware that such a bill was being contemplated.
In other words, Durham officials not only didn't ask for Durham to be deleted, it certainly looks like McKissick's office never reached out to them to ask their thoughts on the matter.
Of course, that's a big assumption into the history here. And the City had also not included towing as one of its concerns in the last couple of years' legislative agenda item wishlists, insofar as a quick search of the City website could find. Perhaps the senator didn't know they'd be interested?
We'll update this story if we hear back more from the senator's office today.
Sen. McKissick tells BCR that he reached out to City Hall a month ago to get their opinion on how to proceed, citing the removal of Durham as a temporary hold pending the municipality's wishes -- and that he didn't hear back until just this week on their desire to be included in the bill. More on this in a separate post.