RALEIGH — The House overrode three of Gov. Bev Perdue's vetoes on Monday to approve laws limiting medical malpractice lawsuits, state regulations and the state health agency's power over providers.
The House had six other override votes on its Monday schedule which it did not take up, including a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls and one requiring 24-hour waiting periods, ultrasounds and state-mandated counseling for women seeking abortions.
The voter identification bill is the only measure guaranteed to come up this week, said Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, though none have been ruled out.
Republicans said their votes Monday to limit state regulations and medical malpractice suits were important to job creation and the expansion of medical care, while dissenters argued that they hurt citizens.
Some Democrats joined Republicans in overriding Perdue's vetoes. The Senate voted to override earlier this month, so the bills become law over Perdue's objections.
The law limiting medical malpractice suits caps awards for non-economic damage - pain and suffering, emotional distress and less tangible injuries - at $500,000. The cap can be exceeded only in cases of severe injury if patients can prove their doctor was grossly negligent.
Republicans have pushed for such a law for years but were rebuffed by Democrats who controlled both chambers. Prospects for a law limiting medical malpractice awards rose when Republicans won control of the legislature.
Perdue said in her veto message that she could go along with the bill if it was changed to protect "the catastrophically injured." The House voted 74-42 to override after a limited debate.
Rep. Jonathan Rhyne, a Lincolnton Republican, said the $500,000 cap fell within the range of other state award limits.
"The cap is tested and proven," he said, and the law will make health care "more accessible and affordable."
Minority Leader Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat, said the law discriminates against children, stay-at-home mothers and the elderly because they cannot claim economic damages that come from lost earning power.
"It does not protect those who are most at risk," he said.
The House voted to limit debate to two speakers, which Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said was "beneath the dignity of the House" and did a disservice to citizens.
The law limiting new state regulations was also hotly contested, with supporters saying it would help job growth, while detractors argued it would compromise the environment and residents' health.
The House overrode Perdue's veto with a 76-42 vote.
The law will allow new regulations only to comply with state or federal laws. The state cannot adopt a regulation more stringent than a federal rule, and agencies must review their rules each year to make sure they meet those standards.
Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Wake Republican, said the law responds to complaints about vague rules, unpredictable enforcement and time wasted in attempts to comply.
"What we've done is go back and work on our process," she said.
Legislators formed a special committee and held public hearings on state regulations. The law's critics contend that it has little resemblance to the public comments gathered.
"This is not regulatory reform, it's regulatory retreat," said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat.
The law will make it more difficult to protect public health, said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, and could compromise control of swine waste.
The third law sets out rules for Medicaid and Health Choice providers. The controversial part of it gives administrative law judges the final say in disputes between providers and the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Perdue said that provision makes the law unconstitutional. The House voted 74-41 to override her veto.
Republicans said the law has no constitutional problems.
Perdue said in a statement that the laws limiting regulations and DHHS control of providers were wrong-headed.
"For more than a year, I have pushed to reform business regulations and clear the way for growth and new jobs for our people," she said.
"There is still work to be done, but the General Assembly's approach is bull-headed and wrong for North Carolina. These two bills clearly violate state constitution or federal law; that's why I vetoed them. If the Republican leadership is truly concerned about our business community, they should work with me to achieve balanced and meaningful reform. Today's actions will only lead to unnecessary lawsuits and wasted opportunities."
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