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Cooper vetoes slew of reopening bills

Posted July 2, 2020 3:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 2, 2020 3:56 p.m. EDT

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper listens to a question during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, May 28, 2020. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

— Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday vetoed eight bills that lawmakers passed last week, including four that would have overridden his orders closing various businesses and limiting mass gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic and one that would have undercut his ability to issue such orders.

Republican lawmakers have complained about the slow pace of Cooper's plan to resume business and social activities during the pandemic and have repeatedly tried to push the effort by passing bills to reopen bars, gyms and other businesses. The governor last month vetoed the initial bills to reopen bars and gyms.

On Thursday, he vetoed bills that would have reopened bowling alleys, skating rinks, amusement parks, event venues and other businesses, as well as another attempt to get gyms operating again. He also vetoed a measure that would have prevented cities from using the pandemic as a reason to halt any local Fourth of July parades or fireworks shows sponsored by private groups.

"Tying the hands of public health and executive branch officials in times of pandemic is dangerous, especially when case counts and hospitalizations are rising at a concerning rate," Cooper said in several of his veto messages. "As we see in other states with surging COVID-19 case counts, state and local officials must be able to take swift action during this emergency to prevent a surge of patients from overwhelming hospitals and endangering the lives of North Carolinians."

A fifth vetoed bill would have prohibited any governor from extending a state of emergency for more than 30 days without the approval of the Council of State, a group of 10 statewide elected officials. Likewise, the Council of State would have to sign off on any effort to shut down an entire business segment.

"The Emergency Management Act clearly provides the Governor with statutory authority to direct the state’s response to a public health emergency that could affect the entire state’s population," Cooper wrote in his veto message. "Placing additional bureaucratic and administrative obligations on the declaration of a state of emergency is a substantial change in the law, frustrates executive branch officials’ ability to quickly and efficiently respond to such an emergency by requiring the concurrence of officials with limited involvement in managing the response, and would risk diverting focus from responding to such an emergency."

House Speaker Tim Moore quickly blasted the vetoes.

"Governor Cooper's scattershot executive orders are picking winners and losers instead of delivering real results for the people of North Carolina," Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. "Families and individuals are desperate for a balanced approach to recovery that protects the public's health without permanently devastating small businesses across our state. Actions always speak louder than words, and it is clear Governor Cooper is unwilling to prioritize struggling North Carolinians over his own power."

The other three vetoed bills were as follows:

  • House Bill 652: 2nd Amendment Protection Act, which included various changes to loosen North Carolina's gun laws, including a provision to allow people to carry concealed weapons in churches that use school buildings to hold services. "This bill allows guns on school property, which threatens the safety of students and teachers," Cooper wrote.
  • House Bill 612: DSS Review of Procedures/Criminal History/OAH, which would void by July 2022 any rules the state Division of Social Services follows in its policies and procedures if not approved by the state Rules Review Commission. Cooper complained the bill "limits the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to implement, adapt to and oversee programs of public assistance and child welfare which are regulated and driven by federal law, thereby jeopardizing the health, safety and well-being of our most vulnerable populations. Additionally, this is an overreach of legislative authority to effectively nullify executive branch policy and rulemaking, which is unconstitutional.
  • House Bill 918: Expedite Permanency/DHHS Report SNAP/TANF, which would, among other things, make it easier for DSS to take custody of infants born to mothers abusing drugs or alcohol. Cooper said that "discourages pregnant women with substance use disorders from seeking treatment and prenatal care, risking their health and the health of newborns. And while it penalizes pregnant women with substance use disorders, it does nothing to expand access to treatment. This would disproportionately impact women of color and low-income women, who are already less likely to have access to the substance use treatment and quality healthcare they need."

The governor also signed five bills on Thursday:

  • House Bill 902: P&C Changes/Global Tranpark/Prison Pilot
  • Senate Bill 808: Medicaid Funding Act
  • House Bill 118: COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor
  • House Bill 425: Implement Conner’s Law
  • House Bill 1053: PED/Military OL & Audiology Interstate Compact

Senate Bill 808 "contains additional funding for COVID-19 testing and tracing, which are vital in our fight against the pandemic," Cooper wrote. "I will continue working with legislators and the federal government to increase our testing and tracing capabilities to protect North Carolinians from this virus."