State Politics

NC House votes down Democrat’s plan to close the ‘veto garage’

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson’s proposal to put a time limit on veto overrides was defeated Tuesday.
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson’s proposal to put a time limit on veto overrides was defeated Tuesday. clowenst@newsobserver.com

The N.C. House voted 45-71 Tuesday against a proposal to put a time limit on veto override votes – curbing a common practice known as the “veto garage.”

House speakers have often delayed votes to override a governor’s veto if they’re concerned they might not have enough votes for the required three-fifths majority. Sometimes, a veto override appears on the chamber’s agenda for weeks before a vote, which then happens when several legislators from the minority party are absent.

In 2015, for example, Speaker Tim Moore repeatedly delayed an effort to override then-Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill allowing magistrates to opt out of marriage duties on religious grounds. Democrats complained that Republicans sprang an “ambush” vote without proper notice.

On Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Knightdale proposed an amendment to the chamber’s operating rules that would require an override vote within five days of the item being placed on the House agenda. Jackson spoke about a legislator who attended sessions when he had just weeks to live because he didn’t want to miss an important veto override vote.

Jackson said the ability to delay override votes “creates a type of a game, of head-counting. ... I don’t think anybody is trying to take advantage of somebody’s sickness, but that is the result of the rule.”

House Rules Chairman David Lewis of Dunn said he opposes Jackson’s proposed time limit. “We have tried and continue to improve the level of transparency in which the House operates,” he said. “This amendment is not a workable amendment, and it’s not one we need.”

Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican, said he thinks the time limit would be “frankly unconstitutional,” although he did not cite a section of the constitution that the proposal might violate.

The amendment was rejected mostly along party lines, with Rep. John Blust of Greensboro as the only Republican supporter of the time limit and Rep. William Brisson of Bladen County as the only Democrat in opposition.

The House also rejected a proposal from Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, to require special budget provisions to include the name of the legislator who proposed them. Insko said the rule is needed after UNC-Chapel Hill faculty sought to contact the legislator behind a newly created N.C. Policy Collaboratory there.

“They were unable to do so because there was no identification on the provision,” she said. “I believe that transparency is part of good government. We have to be held accountable to our voters.”

Lewis said he liked Insko’s idea but opposes the amendment because it would be difficult to determine which legislator should have their name attached – in part because the Senate has no such transparency rule. “I support transparency, I just don’t see this to be a workable amendment,” he said.

Insko’s amendment to the House operating rules was defeated in a 48-68 vote, with only three Republicans joining Democrats in support of the proposal.

Insko has filed a separate bill that would require budget transparency in both chambers. That bill has support from an unlikely ally for a Democrat: The conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity, which issued a news release praising Insko’s bill last week.

“Anonymous earmarking ends when the legislature passes Rep. Insko’s common-sense reform,” AFP state director Donald Bryson said. “If legislators feel strongly enough about requesting taxpayer money for a special, localized project, they should be proud to sign their name to it. If legislators are hesitant to publicly claim the provision they have introduced, maybe it deserves a second thought.”

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