Legislature’s back on stage, still carrying some old baggage

Legislature’s back on stage, still carrying some old baggage-attachment0

The N.C. General Assembly’s short session reconvenes at noon on Wednesday, May 16, in the looming shadow of another budget battle (featuring education funding) that is expected to be the session’s main focus.

But loitering in the halls will be one last bill — calling for photo ID in order to vote — that was among the 10 initiatives vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue during the 2011-2012 long session. Another veto, which rejected legalizing the natural-gas extraction method known as fracking in the state, is likely to be circumvented by a brand new committee bill that would put the extraction method in place in 2014.

The Restore Confidence in Government bill (HB 351) would mandate the presentation of photo identification before being allowed to vote at the polls. The governor vetoed the bill on June 23, referring to its provisions as “the creation of new obstacles to voting.” A July 26 attempt to override the veto failed, but the bill was then kept alive with a motion to reconsider. Since it was not brought forward again during the several special sessions in the interim, an override vote is still technically possible during the pending short session. And that could lead to an interesting scenario between now and this fall’s general election.

According to Erika Churchill, legislative research staff attorney, if the veto is overridden, “then the contents of the bill would need to be precleared by the United States Department of Justice prior to its implementation in North Carolina.” The DOJ has 60 days to “either object, enter no objection, or request additional information. If no objection is entered, then the law affecting elections can be implemented,” Churchill said in an email to Rep. Ray Rapp of Mars Hill, in response to an Xpress inquiry.

Rep. Susan Fisher of Asheville, also noting the necessity of Justice Department preclearance in the event of an override, commented that it was “hard to imagine that all of that could take place in time for early voting in October,” which has a start date of October 18.

Meanwhile, the Energy Jobs Act (SB 709) vetoed by the governor may be retired from override consideration in favor of a new bill being put forward by a Senate committee on energy policy. The draft bill, currently called the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act,  would create an oil and gas board with jurisdiction over oil and gas exploration and development in the state. It would legalize fracking, but set a moratorium until July of 2014 in order to establish safety regulations. To see the full committee report, which touches on other energy issues including national energy policies, go here.

In addition to the voter ID and energy bills, the Legislature failed to override two other vetoes: the politically charged No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty (SB 9) – a bill that would in effect do away with North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act; and a Water Supply Lines bill (HB 482). The latter veto was partially negated by moving much of the language of the original bill to a prisons bill (HB 335) that was then passed and made law. The racial justice bill’s veto resulted in the appointment of a Select Committee on Racial Discrimination in Capital Cases, with no anticipated action forthcoming until the next Legislature is seated.

The current Legislature did override six of Perdue’s vetoes outright by the constitutionally required three-fifths majority of “those present and voting” in each chamber. The overrides included such high-profile bills as the Regulatory Reform Act (SB 781),which became law effective July 25, 2011; the Woman’s Right to Know Act (HB 854), July 28, 2011; Medical Liability Reforms (SB 33), October 1, 2011; No Dues Checkoff for School Employees (SB 727), January 5, 2012 – the latter taking place in a post-midnight vote that created opposing party and public objection. Additional overrides were achieved for the Employment Security Commission/Jobs Reform Act (SB 532), November 1, 2011; and the Medicaid and Health Choice Provider bill (SB 496), July 25, 2011 (some parts January 1, 2012).

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor

(To see the governor’s proposed budget for 2012-2013, go here.)

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