Following Governor Cooper’s vetoes of nine bills, the legislature came back into session to consider overriding the vetoes. While back in session, the House took up a few other non-veto-related bills.
Aside from a noncontroversial appointment bill and a confirmation of a gubernatorial appointment, the substantive bills included Senate Bill 226 [Delay Certain ABC Permit Renewal Payments]. SB380 [DHHS Block Grants] and SB232 [Repeal Death Investigation Confidentiality/Masks/Health and Safety]. SB226 would allow alcoholic beverage permit holders currently prohibited from operating because of the epidemic to delay the payment of permit renewal fees until 90 days after the Governor rescinds his executive order closing these businesses. Permittees who have already paid permit fees may also request refund of these fees until the expiration of the extended deadline. With the pandemic, the legislature has rolled back various filing deadlines, including tax filing deadlines and motor vehicle registration deadlines. This is just another rollback of a deadline allowing restaurants, bars and other establishments some financial relief from being stuck with costly permits they cannot use.
SB380 has a strange history. It came about when Governor Cooper vetoed legislation his own Administration had sought, SB168 [DHHS & Other Revisions]. SB168 was a bill with a mix of health policies and funding sought by the Administration. The bill passed nearly unanimously, but shortly after passage a tempest in a teapot arose over one provision having to do with death investigation records. The controversial provision provided that death investigation records that were in law enforcement custody would remain confidential when they circulated to the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The issue is fully outlined in a WRAL report.
When the uproar occurred, the legislature started to repeal that confidentiality provision in SB232. In addition to repealing the confidentiality provision, SB232 will allow the wearing of masks for health purposes. This latter issue is necessary because of an anti-KKK law which generally prohibits the wearing of masks in public. Clearly, an exception to the general prohibition about wearing masks in public is necessary when needed for health reasons.
Apparently, Governor Cooper was unsure that SB232 would become law, so he vetoed SB168. However, the vetoed bill also appropriated a range of federal funds passing through the state for human services programs. In vetoing the bill because of the confidentiality provision, the Governor also vetoed needed funding. So SB380 fixes that — re-appropriating the funding.
The first of the vetoed bills to be taken up was HB652 [2nd Amendment Protection Act], a bill that would allow a person who holds a concealed handgun permit to possess and carry a handgun on educational property that serves as a religious place of worship. With a required three-fifths vote of Members present and voting, 69 votes were required to override the veto. The vote to override failed by a vote of 66-48. One has to wonder why House leaders brought up the bill for a vote, when five House members who supported the bill were not in attendance. If they had been there, the veto would have been overridden.
One should note there are lots of reasons that might lead to a legislator missing a session. Even before the pandemic, it was common for members to have to be away for personal reasons, including deaths of family members or friends. Medical appointments may cause a member to miss a session. With respect to today’s votes, for example, Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) became a grandfather during today’s session and was absent. While being a legislator is supposed to be a part-time job, in recent years the legislature has had nearly year-round sessions; so periodically most legislators will miss some sessions. When we nearly two weeks ago, no one knew we’d be back so soon.
The second of the vetoed bills to be taken up was HB806 [Open Exercise and Fitness Facilities]. Essentially, it authorized gyms and fitness facilities to resume operations under certain conditions including social distancing and enhanced disinfecting of exercise equipment. The override of the veto failed on a vote of 63 to 51. In this case, if the five House members who had earlier supported the bill had been present, the veto still would not have been overridden.
The third of the bills that was considered was HB686 [Freedom to Celebrate the Fourth of July], a bill that would have allowed parades or firework displays done in accordance with the pyrotechnics’ laws during the pandemic. Again, the override failed, but the vote was not close to getting a three-fifth’s vote, 58-50. On this vote, I voted against override. This bill lacked any pandemic related conditions that had to be met to hold a parade, and that distinguished this bill, in my opinion from the other reopening bills.
Since the two bills that originally passed with the requisite majority failed, HB652 and HB806, it seemed pointless to continue to take votes on the remaining vetoed bills. The Senate took up two vetoed bills, SB105 [Clarify Emergency Powers] and SB599 [Open Skating Rinks/Bowling Alleys] but the overrides were unsuccessful.
Our previously passed adjournment resolution will bring the legislature back on September 3. The reason for coming back is to appropriate the remaining federal COVID funds. The hope is that the federal government will give the legislature more leeway in how those funds can be spent which will allow the legislature to backfill its revenue shortfalls in the budget.
My expectation, though, is we’ll be back in session earlier than that, probably in late July or early August. The Governor’s staff has consistently communicated they expect the Governor to call us back in session upon receiving further direction from the federal government on spending the COVID funds. The Governor recognizes, as do legislative leaders, the easiest way to balance the budget, which is required under the North Carolina constitution, is to allocate the federal funds to cover the state budget deficit. It is also possible that when tax revenues become clear after the July 15 tax filing deadline that the budget picture will become clearer.
The other unknown is whether the federal government will provide additional federal assistance to state and local governments. Additional funding could be used to make up for the transportation cuts made in the most recent transportation budget bill. With Congress typically heading home in August, states — not just North Carolina — are waiting to see if further financial help is on the way.