N.C. House Democrats filed a formal complaint Tuesday arguing that the veto override of a bill exempting magistrates from marriage duties should be “null and void.”
The three-page letter – signed by House Democratic Leader Larry Hall and nearly all House Democrats – says that Speaker Tim Moore violated the chamber’s procedural rules when he left Senate Bill 2 on the calendar for a week before taking a vote.
The legislation, now a law, allows magistrates and register of deeds employees to avoid marriage duties if they invoke “any sincerely held religious objection.” The law is intended to prevent employees who oppose same-sex marriage from losing their jobs.
The complaint was made under a little-used provision in the state constitution that allows legislators to “dissent from and protest against any act or resolve which he may think injurious to the public or to any individual, and have the reasons of his dissent entered on the journal.” The journal is the official record of House proceedings; the complaint doesn’t prevent Senate Bill 2 from becoming law.
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In the letter, Democrats say that debate on the override was “severely limited,” and the entire process took place in only 240 seconds.
The letter notes that the constitution requires the legislature to “proceed to reconsider” a bill following the governor’s veto. “For 10 days the House calendared the veto override for a vote each legislative day, but never proceeded to debate or vote on it,” the Democrats wrote.
Democrats also say the override vote should have taken place as soon as it appeared on the published House calendar. Moore said he planned to bring up the override when he had the votes he needed.
“Holding a governor’s veto in limbo until the timing pleases the majority is unconstitutional,” the letter said.
In addition to the constitutional concern, Democrats said the override procedure violated House Rule 5, which they say requires a vote to change the chamber’s agenda order or postpone a bill. Senate Bill 2 appeared on the calendar for several days under the heading “unfinished business” and was skipped over without comment.
“All of these provisions work in tandem and were synergistically violated from June 2-11, 2015, rendering the House override vote null and void,” the Democrats’ letter concludes.
Moore made no comments about the issue during Tuesday’s session when Hall presented the complaint. But the speaker defended the process shortly after the override vote on June 11. “We had multiple hours of debate on this bill, so it’s had a full process,” he said at the time.