RALEIGH — By a single vote, the state House on Tuesday overrode the governor's veto of a bill intended to discourage abortions by requiring women to wait 24 hours, receive counseling and be shown an ultrasound before the operation can take place.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue once again brought impassioned arguments to the floor. But none were as startling as Rep. Ruth Samuelson's debate-ending disclosure that she had once been raped. She was responding to some Democrats who argued that the bill would traumatize rape victims and in effect give rapists parental rights.
"Respecting her choice is traumatic and victimizing?" Samuelson said. "I'll tell you what's traumatic and victimizing."
Samuelson's remarks came at the conclusion of a lengthy debate, and she immediately moved to vote on the bill. When the override succeeded, pro-life supporters in the gallery broke into applause, and were gaveled to order by Speaker Thom Tillis.
Less dramatic was a vote to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of an unemployment insurance bill. The House also tried but failed to override her veto of legislation that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Tillis has vowed the legislature will try to override any bills on which Republicans can muster a three-fifths majority. But the abortion bill had been one vote short of veto-proof since the House voted to approve it in June.
On Monday night, though, word reached Republican leaders that one Democrat had changed his mind. Rep. James Crawford, one of five conservative Democrats who have bucked their party on some key issues this year, would support the override.
Crawford, who represents Granville and Vance counties, on Tuesday joined three other Democrats who previously voted with Republicans to tip the scales with a 72-47 vote. Afterward, Crawford said he had voted against the abortion bill in June out of obligation to fellow Democrats.
"I tried to support my party but my heart wasn't in it, and I felt like this was the right way to go," Crawford said.
Samuelson, a Mecklenburg County Republican who was the primary sponsor of the bill, said supporters have been working for the past month on persuading holdouts to change their vote. When she heard about Crawford, she said, she called him to confirm his change of heart Monday night. Samuelson, who is the majority whip, said she was elated.
"As a whip, you don't relax until that vote shows up on the board," she said. "But we were really relieved, we were pleased, and I would say today I'm in awe of what we've just done and look forward to seeing what will be done for the women of North Carolina."
Rep. Frank McGuirt, a Democrat representing Anson and Union counties, saw it differently.
"This is big brother bashing its way into the OR (operating room), into the relationship between the doctor and his patient, and this is wrong," McGuirt said. "I cannot believe it's coming from the party in this chamber that advocates for less government."
The override now goes to the Senate, where Samuelson said Republican leaders have been assured it will succeed. The Senate voted 29-20 to approve the bill in June - one vote short of the veto-proof majority it needed. Wake County Republican Sen. Richard Stevens did not vote.
The House and Senate are in session this week to approve new congressional and General Assembly districts, but the Republican-controlled legislature has vowed to challenge as many of the governor's vetoes as possible. Last week, the Senate overrode all six of its vetoed bills. On Monday, the House matched three of those overrides.
Tillis said Tuesday that he didn't think Republicans could muster enough votes to override the veto of a bill that prevented the state's largest teachers' association from collecting dues through an automatic checkoff. The House could still take override votes on a gas-drilling bill that is opposed by environmentalists and favored by the energy industry.
Perdue issued the following statement on the override: "The Republican's social agenda has, with this bill, invaded a woman's life as never before - by marching straight into her doctor's office and dictating the medical advice and treatment she receives."
The House failed to override the voter ID bill, but Republicans used a legislative maneuver to keep the bill alive for reconsideration later this year or next. The vote was 67-52.
Perdue said in a statement her office released: "I want to thank the legislators who stood firm in the belief that every North Carolinian has the constitutional right to vote and that the state should not be creating obstacles to stop them."
The House voted 72-47 to override Perdue's veto of a bill on unemployment insurance and the Employment Security Commission. The Senate canceled her veto earlier this month, so the measure is law. As in the abortion bill, Crawford crossed party lines to support it with Reps. William Brisson, Dewey Hill and Timothy Spear.
Opponents warned that flaws in the law would lead to improper denial of unemployment benefits for those out of work and increased state and federal unemployment tax rates for businesses. The U.S. Department of Labor sent a letter to the state Employment Security Commission outlining flaws that include an unclear process for paying unemployment insurance benefits, and an expanded definition of misconduct that leads to a denial of benefits those conflicts with federal law.
"Why would we go on ahead and override a veto to put something in place we know has problems?" asked Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat.
The bill's supporters said the concerns are overblown, and that the Department of Labor has never sanctioned a state so that unemployment tax rates rise.
"The business community has asked this body to embrace and pass this legislation," said Rep. Julia Howard, a Mocksville Republican.
The law also moves the Employment Security Commission into the Department of Commerce, something Perdue did by executive order when she vetoed the bill.
Perdue also issued a statement on this bill, saying: "The leaders of the General Assembly like to portray themselves as business-friendly, yet they have shoved through a bill that will lead to tax increases on employers.
"It could delay unemployment benefits for people who are entitled to them, and it will likely cost North Carolina millions of dollars that should go to unemployed North Carolinians and their families."
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