Many bills passed in the last two weeks of the session and are awaiting action from the Governor. He has until the end of the month to decide whether he will sign or veto most of these bills. He also has the option of allowing bills to become law without his signature. At this point, House Members have been told that we’ll be coming into session on Thursday, August 3, and that we should expect votes to be taken. Presumably, that means that we’ll be taking votes on the vetoed bills. However, under the adjournment resolution, other bills are eligible to be considered.
The Governor has vetoed three bills since the end of the session: House Bill 205 [WC for Inmates/UI &WC/Newsprint Employees], HB511 [Game Nights/Nonprofit Fund-Raiser], and HB576 [Allow Aerosolization of Leachate]. Previously, the Governor had vetoed five bills, including the budget bills, but in each case his vetoes were overridden. However, he has a likelihood of being more successful with one or more of the most recently vetoed bills.
HB205 is a bill that became a vehicle for moving several bills dealing with different topics. The original bill simply dealt with how the workers’ compensation laws related to prison labor. However, it got amended to include two Senate bills, SB436 [UI & WC/Newsprint Employees] and SB343 [Legal Notices/Newsprint Employees]. One of the Senate bills had to do with workers’ compensation laws relating to newsprint employees, but once the provision dealing with newspapers was added, the bill also had the so-called electronic notice bill added. The electronic notice bill would have allowed some counties to set up their own websites to print government notices, avoiding paying to print them in newspapers.
I introduced a companion bill to SB343, which means I worked with the Senate sponsor of legislation, Senator Trudy Wade (R-Guilford), and introduced the same bill in the House, HB432. My interest was not in the provisions relating to newsprint employees, but in electronic notice, of which I have long been an advocate. My view is that the law gives a monopoly to newspapers to publish certain notices, and we ought to move away from such published notices which are nothing more than subsidies to newspapers.
Newspaper publishers argue that the notices they publish are critical for some who don’t have access to internet, but they admit that without the monies from these notices some newspapers would not be profitable.
As passed, the electronic notice provision in HB205 was a shadow of its former self. It only provided for a pilot electronic notice project in Guilford County, but that didn’t change the NC Press Association’s opposition to the bill, which continued to suggest newspapers were going to go out of business if the bill passed. While the press association continued to argue the need for published notices, my suspicion is that the association’s real issue was having newspaper carriers treated as employees rather than independent contractors. For years, newspapers been able to avoid treating newspaper carriers as employees—thus not having to provide workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.
Surprisingly, my best example of the over-the-top rhetoric surrounding this bill came from the publisher and editor of the Hendersonville Lightning, Bill Moss, who said his NC Press Association colleagues, friends of his newspaper and his newspapers readers asked him what he did to cause Rep. McGrady to attempt “to destroy our business.” He said his “honest answer is I don’t know.” My experience is Moss is usually pretty level-headed, but clearly when his paper is about to lose its government-mandated subsidy he, like others, loses objectivity.
Evidently, the press association thought I was going to play some role in passing HB205. While I was willing to handle SB343 on the House floor, that bill never made it to the floor. HB205 has provisions unrelated to my interest in expanding the use of electronic notice, and I had no interest in being the bill’s manager on the House floor.
HB205 passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority. However, in the House, the vote was 60 to 53, not the three-fifths vote that it would need to override the Governor’s veto. My guess is that the bill will not come up for a vote unless House leadership determines that it has the votes to override.
HB511 is a bill that authorizes tax-exempt organizations to operate game nights, where games of chance are played and prizes are awarded by raffle, at facilities serving alcoholic beverages. These game nights are intended to allow nonprofit organizations to raise money. The House passed this bill with a veto proof majority, but in the Senate the vote was 27 to 15. There were a lot of absences, since the vote occurred late on the last night of the session, and it is possible that some of the missing senators could provide the votes to override the veto. However, it really isn’t clear whether there are enough votes to override the veto.
Most of the “no” votes came from conservative Republican senators — social conservatives — who don’t support expansion of gaming, even as support of nonprofit organizations. While Democrats generally supported the bill, with Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoing it, one can expect some number of the Democrats to change their vote on the override to support their Democratic Governor.
While it makes no sense to me why a legislator would change his or her vote on some policy issue on a veto override, it happens. I’ve heard, for example, from some of the Republican House Members who voted against the omnibus gun bill, HB746, that they would likely vote to override Governor Cooper’s veto if the Senate passed the bill. Evidently, politics trumps policy for some legislators; I’m not one of them.
HB576 is a bill that deals with leachate from landfills and has been nicknamed the “garbage juice” bill by its environmental opponents. It allows for leachate from a landfill to be sprayed or “aerosolized” and, under certain conditions, without a permit. This provision has been included in several regulatory reform bills and environmental amends bills in recent sessions, and I’ve managed to strip this provision from these broader bills prior to their passage. This time, the proponent of this method of disposing of leachate, Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin), filed a bill dealing only with this issue, and it got a veto-proof majority in the House and was within one vote of a veto-proof majority in the Senate. With most of the missing Senators being Republicans, it looks like this veto could be overridden, but environmental organizations are mounting an effort to sustain the Governor’s veto.
As for me, I voted for HB205, for HB511 and against HB576. I don’t intend to change my vote with respect to any of these bills, so I’m prepared to vote to override Governor Cooper’s vetoes of HB201 and HB511, but I’ll vote to sustain his veto on HB576. I will give a little more thought to HB511, however. Governor Cooper’s arguments made in his Veto Message on the bill were not arguments that were made on the House floor. Before casting my vote, I will do a little more research.
Each time a governor vetoes a bill, he or she provides a statement of his or her objections to the bill along with a veto message. The actual bill is returned to the chamber where the bill was first introduced, and the bill shows the signatures of the presiding officers of each chamber along with a red veto stamp and the governor’s signature. If and when the veto is overridden, the bill receives stamps from both the House and Senate showing that the bill “passed notwithstanding executive objection”—a nice way of saying the veto was overridden.
In the next two weeks, there are potentially other bills that Governor Cooper will veto. The bill that is receiving most of the attention is HB589 [Competitive Energy Solutions for NC], the grand compromise between Duke Energy and the sustainable energy industry, primarily solar companies. The bill was just short of a veto-proof majority in the House, but there were a fair number of legislators missing when the bill was voted on in the wee hours of the morning on the last day of the session. The bill could have a huge financial impact on a number of energy companies, and lobbyists for Duke Energy and the solar companies are likely to do a full-court press to overturn a veto if it materializes.