The House and Senate reconvene at 2pm Wednesday to reconsider S9, a bill that essentially repeals the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The Republican leadership said the measure was overly broad and not necessary, citing the fact that nearly all of the state’s death row inmates, of all races, had sought relief under the measure.
Perdue vetoed the bill shortly after lawmakers sent it to her November 29th, saying that while she supports the death penalty, she also supports the safeguards against racial bias the act represents.
The vote on S9 was straight party line in both chambers, and there’s little reason to think that will change Wednesday.
The veto will be taken up first in the chamber where the bill originated, the Senate. Republicans hold a 3/5 majority there and are expected to override the veto easily. But it’s likely to be held up in the House, where Republicans need to pick up a handful of Democratic votes to reach the numbers needed for an override.
Playing the numbers
Much depends on who shows up tomorrow, or who, though present, might have an urgent need to leave the House chamber during the vote.
All eyes will be on the Party of Five – the conservative Democrats who sided with the GOP to override a number of other vetoes earlier this year. Those five are Rep. Jim Crawford (D-Granville), Rep. Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank), Rep. Tim Spear (D-Chowan), Rep. Dewey Hill (D-Columbus), and Rep. Bill Brisson (D-Bladen).
Of the five, three have already announced they’re not seeking re-election – Owens, Spear and Hill. Spear is expected to miss Wednesday’s session. Meantime, Crawford has been rewarded by the GOP leadership with a budget chairmanship for his cooperation – but he represents a district with a large African-American population, which could make him less likely to go along with the override. And Brisson is a wild card at this point.
At least four lawmakers are expected to miss Wednesday’s vote. Republican Ric Killian is serving in Afghanistan, and Trudi Walend, the former House member who’s been named to succeed Rep. David Guice, hasn’t yet been formally appointed by Perdue, so his seat will be empty.
On the Dem side, Rep. Larry Womble is still recovering from a car wreck in December. Spear, as noted above, won’t be at the session. And there are rumors (unsubstantiated at this point) that Alamance Rep. Alice Bordsen will also be absent.
If all five are missing, it lowers the House census to 115 – 66 Republicans and 49 Democrats. If they all vote, the margin needed for an override would be 69 – which would require the Republicans to pick up three Democratic votes.
But if five Democrats could be persuaded to “walk” - to be out of the chamber at the time of the vote – the Republicans would only need 66 votes for an override, requiring no Democratic votes at all.
Under the state constitution, when the governor calls lawmakers back to give them a chance to override her veto, they can only take up vetoed bills.
Unlike in the past, however, there are a number of vetoed bills on hold that could find their way onto the agenda if the numbers work out in the leadership's favor. They include the Voter ID bill, the offshore drilling/fracking bill, the federal healthcare reform repeal, and the bill punishing the NC Association of Educators for its anti-GOP activism this year.
"I am not aware of anything else that's going to be taken up (other than Senate Bill 9), but theoretically, we could take up lots of things," said House Majority Leader Paul Stam.
House Minority Whip Deborah Ross (D-Wake) hopes that prospect remains theoretical.
"People are traveling. People are out. Lobbyists and the public are not able to have an influence over what happens," said Ross. "We've been called back for one reason under the constitution, and we need to stick to that business and then go home."