The Senate is often referred to as "the deliberative body" of the N.C. legislature, but it didn't look like it this afternoon, breezing through a half-dozen overrides in about 45 minutes, clearing out the entire stack of bills Gov. Perdue sent back to them.
No chamber has ever overridden so many bills in an entire session, let alone a single meeting – but then, no governor has ever given lawmakers so much ammunition.
On today's override list:
- S33 Medical Malpractice Reform
- S781 Regulatory Reform
- S709 Energy Jobs (drilling/fracking)
- S532 ESC/Jobs Reform
- S496 Medicaid/Health Choice Provider Requirements
- S727 No Dues Checkoff for School Employees
Regulatory Reform: The override vote on S781 Regulatory Reform was unanimous at 48-0. The governor said a provision in it to give administrative judges authority over agencies could be unconstitutional. But Republicans and Democrats disagreed, citing a Court of Appeals precedent.
Medicaid/Health Choice: The override veto on S496 Medicaid/Health Choice was also nearly unanimous at 47-1. Perdue expressed the same constitutional concern with S496 as with Regulatory Reform, and senators again disagreed. There was no floor debate. (The dissenting vote was Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg.)
Two other overrides received no debate, either.
ESC/Jobs Reform: Perdue had vetoed S532 ESC/Jobs Reform, because she said it made changes to NC unemployment law that could violate US Dept. of Labor laws, which could increase the unemployment tax burden on businesses, and potentially cost the state millions.
But sponsor Debbie Clary, R-Cleveland, said she received no notification that USDOL actually objected to the changes, and if it did, the agency could suspend enforcement of any problem provisions till lawmakers could sort it out. That override passed 31-17, with Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, voting with the GOP.
Energy Jobs: There was also no debate on S709, the "Energy Jobs Act," which reorients the focus of state energy policy from renewables toward fossil fuel exploration, and directs the state to take steps toward offshore and onshore (fracking) drilling for natural gas. Perdue vetoed the measure because she said it violated the separation of powers by requiring her to enter into a compact.
Sponsor Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said legislative lawyers don't agree with Perdue. He told the Senate Virginia's leaders are engaged in a bipartisan effort to make their state "the energy capital of the east coast," and North Carolina is in danger of being left in the lurch.
"Virginia is aggressively after this source of jobs and low-cost energy. This is not a warning, this is happening now,” Rucho said. “North Carolina needs to be at the table so that we can protect our interests, environmentally ,economically, and [as] the source of revenue.” The override vote was 31-18, with Michael Walters, D-Robeson, joining GOP senators.
The final two overrides prompted a little discussion.
Medical Malpractice: Perdue said she vetoed S33 Medical Malpractice Reform because it capped damages for patients who are catastrophically injured or killed by malpractice, not just those claiming pain and suffering or other unquantifiable harms. Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, expressed concern about that, as well as another section he says inadvertently applies looser laws meant for the emergency room to any emergency situation in a hospital.
But sponsor Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, disagreed, saying the measure does only what the Senate intended it to do. The override vote was 35-12, with Dems Bob Atwater, Ed Jones, Eric Mansfield, Bill Purcell and Michael Walters siding with the Republicans.
NCAE Dues check-off: S727, No Dues Checkoff for School Employees, targeted the NC Association of Educators by disallowing state payroll deduction for dues to the group. Other employees' groups would still be able to collect dues through the state.
In her veto message, Perdue said the bill sought to "unfairly and arbitrarily single out one group" for political payback. She also said the measure might be unconstitutional because it doesn't treat similar groups the same way.
Sponsor Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, mocked the veto message. "I guess she had to write something - didn’t want to write 'my friends don’t like this',” he said.
But Nesbitt sided with Perdue. "We got no business using the power of the state to come down on one group over another," he said. "It’s clearly being seen by the people of this state as an attempt to single out teachers because they had the audacity to protest what was being done to the public schools."
"We can’t start taking retribution on everybody that disagrees with us," he argued. "Let’s put this dark chapter to bed and go on with the state’s business."
Dannelly also urged the Senate not to override. "I never thought I'd be here long enough to see this body react in a vindictive manner to real citizens of this state," he said, calling teachers "the most important person in your child's life other than their parents."
The override vote on S727 was strictly party-line, 30-18.
All six of today's Senate overrides now have to make it through the House. Speaker Thom Tillis announced this afternoon he intends to put them on the calendar for Monday, July 25th, the beginning of the week lawmakers start voting on the redistricting maps.
UPDATE: Gov. Perdue issued the following statement in response to today's vetoes:
"The Senate today made the wrong choices for North Carolina -- six times over.
"I remain hopeful that the House will take up these issues and make better choices. I strongly support medical malpractice reform and hope the House will make the small change required for us to reach a compromise. I also feel strongly they have an obligation to fix the two issues I believe are unconstitutional. If they choose to find common ground, the legislation -- and the state -- will be better for it."