Raleigh, N.C. — Several key lawmakers say they are primed to override Gov. Pat McCrory's vetoes of two bills when they convene for a short special session on Tuesday.
McCrory rejected one measure that would require drug testing for those seeking certain kinds of welfare, saying it was unfair, costly and could lead to legal action. He vetoed a second bill designed to give farmers better access to immigrant labor because he said it would allow all employers to circumvent rules designed to require workers to pass background checks in the federal E-verify system.
However, both measures passed the House and Senate by wide margins, and legislative leaders say they expect lawmakers to pass the bills despite the governor's objections. If all members are present and voting, that would require 72 votes in the 120-member House and 30 votes in the 50-member Senate.
"If the House overrides those two bills, I would think the Senate would do the same," Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said.
His comments track with those of other senior senators, who say the prevailing sentiment is to override the vetoes.
Procedurally, the House has first crack at both bills because both measures were first drafted by House lawmakers.
Although the special legislative session is expected to convene formally at noon, the House isn't expected to take action until late afternoon. House Republicans say they expect to hold a caucus – a closed-door meeting among members of the same party – around 3 p.m. Tuesday. They do not anticipate taking up the vetoes until 4 p.m. or after. It is unclear whether the Senate will wait for the House to take action Tuesday night or come into session on Wednesday morning to handle the bills.
"We do not anticipate being here on Wednesday," said Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis.
"On House Bill 392, I would vote to override," House Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore said this week.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate said legislators had little compunction about the bill and that it almost certainly would pass.
Moore, R-Cleveland, was more circumspect about the E-verify bill.
"I would like to see some kind of dialogue with the governor to see if there's some kind of compromise that can be reached," Moore said.
But Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, the lead sponsor of the measure, said the governor's office has not been in contact with him since July. He pointed out that much of the bill had already been altered at the request of the governor. Measures dealing with driver's licenses for immigrants and rules on when people have to produce citizenship papers will be studied rather than going into effect right away.
The E-verify measures, he said, were preserved at the request of the agricultural community.
"I can't envision what any sort of compromise might be," Warren said.
He and others House Republicans said they are inclined to override the governor's vetoes and at this point believe they have mustered the votes to do so.
Agricultural interests have been bombarding lawmakers with letters asking them to override the vetoes.
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, a Republican, said congressional inaction has left a hodgepodge of laws to determine rules for agricultural guest workers. North Carolina's current exemption for using the E-verify is shorter than other states and puts farmers here at a disadvantage, he said.
"These inequities could put farmers at risk of not being able to hire enough workers, and, ultimately, crops could be left in the fields to rot," Troxler said.
McCrory has argued the E-verify bill will allow immigrants to take jobs from North Carolina residents. Farming organizations say that is not the case.
"Regrettably, some people seem to believe that unemployed North Carolinians will flock to farms in search of agricultural jobs. Our members know all too well this view is detached from reality," wrote J. Michael Quinn, president of the Cotton Grower Cooperative based in Garner. "Few North Carolinians want to work in agriculture, and there is no evidence that immigrant laborers take farm jobs from North Carolinians."
The North Carolina Farm Bureau and trade groups representing sweet potato, Christmas tree, dairy, tobacco, watermelon and vegetable growers, along with other farming interests, also called on the General Assembly to override McCrory's veto of the bill.