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Lawmakers override veto of Racial Justice Act overhaul

Posted July 2, 2012 1:40 p.m. EDT
Updated July 2, 2012 6:44 p.m. EDT

— State lawmakers voted Monday to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of a bill that overhauls the landmark Racial Justice Act.

About 90 minutes after the Senate voted 31-11 to override Perdue's veto, the House followed suit with a 72-48 vote. The measure now becomes law.

The original version of the 2009 law allowed defendants to challenge their death sentence based on statistical data. Now, statistical data alone is no longer enough to convert sentences to life in prison, and defendants would have to show details particular to their case in order to be successful.

"It's time to go froward with real justice," House Majority Leader Paul Stam said, adding that justice "is about individuals, not groups."

Opponents of the revision, mainly Democrats, say that the changes gut the landmark bill, but backers say the law has been abused.

“What we’re doing today is turning our back on the only sensible remedy that has been devised for racism in court as it relates to the death penalty, and I think that’s a sad thing for us to do in North Carolina," House Minority Leader Joe Hackney said.

"We’re supposed to be progressing, rather than regressing," said Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth. "We can still kill people if we want to kill them. It does not get rid of the death penalty. These people (who are successful in a Racial Justice Act appeal) will not walk the streets. They will not be your neighbors. They will not walk beside you. They will be incarcerated for life."

"This is nothing but a backdoor attempt, as we all know, to get rid of the death penalty," said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover.

Judges and prosecutors could be trusted, Goolsby said. "Who I don't trust are statisticians," he said.

The Senate also voted 29-13 to override Perdue's veto of a bill that would allow natural gas drilling in North Carolina. The House hasn't yet taken up the veto.

Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed the bill Sunday. The legislation would begin the process of opening the state to natural gas exploration, including the controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking.". 

"This bill does not do enough to ensure that adequate protections for our drinking water, landowners, county and municipal governments, and the health and safety of our families will be in place before fracking begins," Perdue said in her veto message.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, told members that the environmental protections in the bill would avoid any ill effects from the horizontal drilling and fracturing processes.

But opponents said the bill would leave landowners vulnerable to abuses by energy companies.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said one part of the measure would allow gas drillers to force some landowners to sell their mineral rights. 

"You're going to find that people don't like being told their land can be taken without due process," Nesbitt said.