RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina House may have set a record on Tuesday afternoon when it voted to overturn six vetoes by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Five of those vetoes concurred with votes from the Senate, meaning they created new state law, and one – of House Bill 750, “Address Environmental, Social, and Governance Factors” – will get its final vote in the Senate.
The five bills on which the Senate already had voted to override the veto were:
- SB 299: “Reimburse Late Audit Costs with Sales Tax Revenue.”
- SB 329: “Retail Installment Sales Act Amendments.”
- SB 331: “Consumer Finance Act Amendments.”
- SB 364: “Nondiscrimination and Dignity in State Work.”
- SB 582: “North Carolina Farm Act of 2023.”
Bryan Anderson, a longtime reporter covering the state house, wrote on his Twitter feed that he had “dug through history books, and it appears a record for vetoes fully overridden in a single day.” He cited three each on July 25, 2011, and June 27, 2018, as the previous record.
All the vetoes were overridden pretty much along party lines, with votes only slightly wavering. There were impassioned debates and pleas on several of them, but none was feistier than Cooper’s veto of the Farm Bill, a regular bill to address issues involving the state agriculture industry and family farmers.
The bill covers some 30 topics, but Cooper focused on impacts on wetlands following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reduction in protections under the federal Clean Water Act.
Cooper said the bill “severely weakens protection for wetlands,” which could mean “more severe flooding for homes, roads and businesses and dirtier water for our people, particularly in eastern North Carolina.
“The General Assembly has allocated tens of millions of dollars to protect the state from flooding and my administration is working to stop pollution like PFAS and other contaminants. This bill reverses our progress and leaves the state vulnerable without vital flood mitigation and water purification tools.”
Effects on wetlands
Before the Senate voted, 29-17, along party lines (with four absences) on Monday night to override the veto of the Farm Bill, state Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Bladen) said, “It is obvious that we have a huge divide in our philosophies about what wetlands are or is in North Carolina.
“Being from Eastern North Carolina, where most of the wetlands are, I know what is a wetland or a rainy-day mud hole. Our philosophical difference, we will not mend together. “
Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell), noting that 7% of the state’s land is considered wetlands, advocated that the veto be upheld, saying, “This isn’t so much a difference of philosophy. This is a difference in impact. … After the Supreme Court’s decision on wetlands, other states around us in hurricane alley are going in the opposite direction.”
That argument continued Tuesday, with Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), one of the House’s most aggressive environmentalists: “As I think about the future of this state … this is the most destructive bill this chamber has voted on since I was elected in 2004.”
She said the wetlands issues “shouldn’t even be in the farm bill,” cited the recent court decision that places the onus on regulation with the state and noted that both South Carolina and Tennessee had taken another look at their regulations.
“This bill is going in the opposite direction,” she said. “We have high-energy storms coming every couple of years, causing flooding in North Carolina. The wetlands play a very important role in the function of our state.”
Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) said lawmakers are “schizophrenic. … We’ve done a lot to clean our water and protect our natural resources. Our wetlands are magic. … They do that work by themselves if they are just left alone.
“Do we value clean water? Do we use the natural approach when possible? Do we spend hundreds of millions after the fact? On one hand, we do great work; on the other hand, we shoot our foot off.”
Said Rep. Abe Jones (D-Wake): “This bill could be much, much better if we would take our time and take out the junk and protect the wetlands.”
A heated debate about discrimination
But there was much more ire delivered in the debate about Senate Bill 364, the “Nondiscrimination & Dignity in State Work Bill,” which is designed to limit the kinds of questions applicants can be asked about topics involving inclusion and affiliation.
But Hall, who said the bill was about “making sure we don’t discriminate based on politics,” cited language from an old UNC system application that asked for definitions of “unjust,” among other things, an example that inflamed some members.
“One thing I agree with is that some of this is in the eye of the beholder,” Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Randolph), the House minority leader, said. “What I disagree with is that the question the school asks is being compelled to give a certain answer.”
He cited how applications are about deciding who fits into culture, whether it is a student considering a historically Black college or university or an employer trying to find the best person for a job.
He cited the particular atmospheres of schools and workplaces and how people fit into that atmosphere. “Why have we gotten point to where we stop asking?” he asked. “Some applicants might want to explain their positions in social media, explain context … give that person a chance to explain.
“Now we are overreaching like never before at a state level, saying we can’t have these conversations. … The people who are paying the money have a right to say you don’t fit.”
So if this bill is passed, you would “have universities hiring people – in my mind – blind. That is the way this bill reads, sounds, feels and appears.”
Rep. Brad Lofton (D-Mecklenburg) said he was “appalled that we would consider this.”
Rep. Amos Quick (D-Guilford) asked Hall why UNC no longer used that application. Hall couldn’t answer, saying it “was reported. It’s not something that’s appropriate.”
Said Quick: “I, like Rep. Lofton, was taken aback that we would be voting on a bill that would speak against an inclusive environment.”
Said Jones: “Sometimes the titles of the bills do just the opposite of what the bill is. … I want to ask the drafters, what triggered you wanting this bill? What’s behind this? Why? Is this needed?
“No. We don’t need to make a law unless there’s a problem. I don’t think you could give me 10 examples out of 10 million people. When you get into the First Amendment you are on dangerous doggone ground, I can promise you.
“This bill will do exactly the opposite of its title. It’s a shameful bill. Shame, shame, shame, shame. Unneeded, unnecessary. Enough said.”
Said Harrison: “We are going to be paying more for lawyers to defend this unconstitutional bill.”