Lawmakers adjourn after overriding two more vetoes
The General Assembly’s 2018 “short session” finally came to a close Thursday afternoon, but not before lawmakers overrode two more of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.
Cooper last Friday vetoed legislation revamping the state board of elections and the annual “technical corrections” bill that includes policy changes as well as technical fixes and clarifications to previous bills.
Although he praised the plan to return the elections board to the structure and responsibilities it had before lawmakers started tinkering with it two years ago, he criticized a provision of the bill that would make investigations of potential campaign finance violations confidential. As for the technical corrections bill, he balked at provisions allowing any charter schools run by four towns near Charlotte to participate in the State Health Plan and the state pension fund and rolling back some stormwater regulations.
Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers through next Monday, however, and they quickly passed the two bills over his objections.
The override votes on the elections board bill were 68-40 in the House and 28-12 in the Senate. The technical corrections bill was overridden 31-10 in the Senate and 70-40 in the House.
But they didn’t come without some protests from Democrats, who will soon have more leverage in the legislature after ending the super-majorities Republicans have held for six years.
“Protecting criminal politicians doesn’t advance the public interest,” Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said of the elections board bill. “Public servants ought to have due process, not secrecy.”
But Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said the proposal implements some protections to ensure a partisan elections board doesn’t “create violations for political purposes.”
The elections board last month reached a $4,500 settlement with Hise over a 2-year-old campaign finance complaint involving the accounting on his financial reports. The matter wouldn’t have come to light until that final resolution under the newly implemented law.
“It’s not about covering up something. It’s about making sure you’ve got a fair opportunity to hear both sides,” Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, said during the House debate.
The measure also requires a new primary election in the 9th Congressional District if the state board requires a new general election there because of absentee ballot fraud. House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said lawmakers shouldn’t interfere.
“I don’t think that’s fair to Mr. Harris. I don’t think it’s fair to Mr. McCready to open it back up,” Jackson, D-Wake, said of Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, “and allow people in this chamber and other people across the state to file for an election after it’s already taken place.”
Some Republicans agreed, but GOP leaders reminded them the courts found the current board of elections unconstitutional and has ordered it dissolved – a decision by the three-judge panel that has overseen lawsuits over the board structure is set to take effect Friday – even though it’s in the middle of the 9th District investigation.
“Absent the passage of this bill, there will be no board of elections to continue this work,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.
On the technical corrections bill, Hise said Cooper’s arguments had nothing to do with the substance of the legislation.
“I think the governor was just looking for a reason to say no to one more bill before the session was over,” he said.
But Jackson said the bill violated House rules by including provisions that shouldn’t have been allowed, and Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, added that the state shouldn’t be rolling back stormwater regulations at a time when parts of North Carolina are seeing record rainfall.
Following the overrides, the House and the Senate held a ceremonial adjournment ceremony in which the doors to each chamber were opened, members lined up opposite each other and a handkerchief was dropped.
Lawmakers return Jan. 9 for the start of the 2019 legislative session.