Raleigh, N.C. — The state House voted Tuesday to override Gov. Pat McCrory's vetoes of two bills, easily brushing aside the governor's objections and sending both measures to the state Senate.
Senators are due to reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday to consider the overrides and potentially hand McCrory a pair of stinging defeats.
"Though we disagreed with the governor on these two issues, we appreciate his leadership and continue to have great confidence in his administration," House Speaker Thom Tillis said in a prepared statement.
One measure would have required drug testing and criminal background checks for applicants to certain welfare programs. Those applying for federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, a cash assistance program, would have to undergo both background checks and drug screenings under the bill. Applicants for food stamps would have to undergo only background checks, including fingerprinting.
"What's the problem this bill seeks to remedy?" asked Rep. Jim Fulgham, R-Wake, who opposed the bill. "These new provisions meet the definition of kicking a man while he's down."
Opponents of the measure say that the drug-testing provisions had caught very few users when applied in others states, and the background check measures would be costly and possibly unconstitutional.
Backers of the measures say they are designed to ensure that taxpayer support doesn't go to criminals and or to support drug habits.
"If you vote for this bill, you are saying that fleeing felons are not entitled to welfare benefits," said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union.
Opponents pointed out that McCrory had already put executive orders in place to provide for better identification of fleeing criminals who apply for welfare.
But Arp insisted the new measures were needed.
The federal TANF program, he pointed out, provided cash that some could use for drugs rather than rent. That money, he said, was meant to support those looking for work.
"Being drug free is an essential part of being able to find and keep a job," he said.
The House voted for the measure 77-39, easily beating the three-fifths majority needed to pass the bill, notwithstanding the governor's objections.
Second override vote addresses immigration law
House members backing House Bill 786, which eases requirements for employees to be checked against the federal E-Verify system, passed with even more cushion. House members voted 84-32 in favor of the bill, also sending it to the Senate.
The bill would extend from 90 days to nine months the amount of time that an employee could work without undergoing a background check in the E-Verify system, which is meant to ensure workers are legal U.S. residents or citizens.
"We've got a 9-percent unemployment rate, and here we are with a jobs bill for illegal aliens? It makes absolutely no sense," Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said.
Cleveland backed McCrory's veto, as did sheriffs around the state who said it was important to enforce current immigration laws.
But agricultural interests, including Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and roughly a dozen growers' associations, said they needed the bill.
"Ninety days will not work for the farmers in my area," said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, the House majority whip.
Collins said that immigrant workers frequently work three or four different crops and that requiring an E-Verify search for seasonal labor could leave produce rotting in the fields.
The Senate could not take action until the House cast its votes. With the House schedule uncertain early Tuesday, senators opted to come back Wednesday morning.
Although they have not taken a formal count of votes, top leaders say it's more than likely they will vote to override both vetoes as well.
"If the House sends one or both of those back to us, I would anticipate the Senate would follow through on what we did before," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said. "I don't have any information that leads me to believe the vote would be much different than it was before."
If so, the Senate vote would represent a stinging rebuke for the first-term governor.
Although McCrory is a Republican and the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, the executive and legislative branches haven't always seen eye-to-eye this session. Often, the legislature plotted a course on issues while McCrory was still triangulating his position.
"They kind of climbed up on the tree stump and established who is in charge here in Raleigh," said Carter Wrenn, a long-time Republican strategist.
He said the veto overrides are a bad sign for the governor.
"This is one of those things that's like a warning sign or a symptom," Wrenn said. "You don't know where it goes from here for the governor, but it indicates there's a problem."
Although the governor has the power to manage the daily operations of state government, he cannot make sweeping changes without legislative support.
The overrides could cause McCrory problems outside Raleigh too, Wrenn said. People will be watching to see how he grabs the reins of state government and patches his relationship with lawmakers.
"For right now," Wrenn said, "he looks weak."