NC legislature appears ready to override vetoes

cjarvis@newsobserver.comAugust 29, 2013 

north carolina

Firmly in control: In their second session in control of the legislature, Senate leader Phil Berger, left, and House Speaker Thom Tillis pursued a more ambitious agenda. "Anyone who listened to what we said we intended to do should not be surprised," Berger says.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The legislature appears poised to override both of Gov. Pat McCrory’s first two vetoes when its members convene Tuesday.

It has been uncertain what the General Assembly would do in response to the vetoes earlier this month of bills on immigration and drug testing for welfare recipients. Lawmakers could have declined to return to Raleigh and let the vetoes stand, or they could have delayed voting on the issues until they return for their short session in May.

But on Thursday, House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office confirmed that the chamber would go into session Tuesday afternoon or early evening, allowing time for members to come to Raleigh after the Labor Day weekend. The House is expected to finish its business before Wednesday, Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw said.

Shaw declined to comment on whether override votes would be taken, but other legislators said they thought they would and that they had the votes to succeed.

The House has first crack at overriding the vetoes since the bills originated in that chamber. If they do, the vetoes would then go to the Senate. A spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger wouldn’t predict the outcome but pointed out that both bills passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate, as they did in the House.

In the House, the E-Verify immigration bill, H.B. 786, passed 85-28, and the drug testing bill, H.B. 392, passed 92-21.

House Majority Whip Mike Hager of Rutherfordton has been checking with representatives to see whether they are sticking by their votes and would be willing to override. Hager noted the final decision on whether to vote will be up to Tillis, but he said there is enough support to sustain overrides.

“The votes are there, pretty much on the same lines as they passed the House,” Hager said. “I think we’ll end up in the low 80s on E-Verify, probably in the high 70s, close to 80 on the other.”

Warren expects override

Overriding a veto requires a vote of at least three-fifths of those present.

“I’m very confident that we’ll override the veto on H 786,” said Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican from Salisbury and the key sponsor of the immigration bill. “That’ll pass.”

The bill would require the state, cities and counties to use the federal E-Verify system to determine the immigrant status of contractors. It also would expand the exemption from E-Verify for seasonal workers from the current 90 days to as long as nine months.

The exemption provision is what prompted McCrory’s veto. The governor said it created a loophole that would take jobs away from legal residents.

A much more controversial part of the bill requires an extensive, multiagency study of public safety issues involving illegal immigrants. If the bill becomes law, that study would get underway soon and be completed in time for the May legislative session, Warren said.

Troxler urges override

In the last few days Tillis’ office has received more than a dozen letters from agricultural interests, including from state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, urging that the immigration bill veto be overridden. Farmers say not expanding the E-Verify exemption will be devastating because they will not be able hire enough seasonal workers to pick crops.

The other vetoed bill, H.B. 392 would require people applying for the state’s Work First and food stamps programs to be tested if a social worker suspects they are abusing drugs. It would also require county social services to make sure applicants didn’t have outstanding felony warrants and weren’t violating parole.

The governor said that wasn’t a smart way to fight drug abuse and that such a law would lead to inconsistent enforcement across the state. In vetoing the bill, he issued an executive order requiring county social service departments to check criminal records and come up with recommendations to improve sharing that information with law enforcement.

McCrory urges waiting

McCrory has been working to sway lawmakers against overriding his vetoes. He had urged them not to convene at all and to let his decisions stand. He said some of his concerns could be addressed next year.

That would be an option for legislators. If they didn’t bring one or both of the vetoes to the floor for a vote, they could hold onto them for the session that begins in May, parking them in the so-called veto garage.

But when the House did that last session, it was a controversial maneuver that led to a lawsuit. In 2011, House Republicans delayed taking override votes on five bills for as long as a year. The practice was challenged in a lawsuit the N.C. Association of Educators brought against the state after the legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. The vetoed bill took away the association’s ability to collect dues automatically from members’ paychecks.

The teachers won their lawsuit last December on the argument that it violated constitutional free speech protection. The judge didn’t rule on their claim that the veto garage was unconstitutional because overrides have to be considered soon after bills are vetoed.

The legislature’s special counsel contends the veto garage is legal as long as overrides are dealt with sometime in the legislative session, which is held over two years.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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