As Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper considers whether to veto a return-to-work N.C. Senate bill, Republican legislative leaders and the N.C. Chamber are ramping up their pressure to dissuade him.
The General Assembly approved on June 23 Senate Bill 116, a Republican-sponsored bill compromise that requires North Carolina to withdraw early from two federal pandemic relief unemployment benefit programs set to expire Sept. 6.
Those programs pay a $300 weekly federal benefit to eligible North Carolinians.
The Senate voted 25-22 along party lines to approve the compromise. The House voted 65-45, crucially with three Democrats in support.
At full attendance, at least 72 votes are required to override a veto in the House, while at least 30 votes are required in the Senate. Republicans hold a 69-53 margin in the House and 28-22 in the Senate.
Cooper had 10 days from being presented with SB116 on June 24 to either sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
A statement released Thursday by House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, emphasizes Cooper’s veto actions during his 4½ years as governor.
According to the statement, Cooper has vetoed 56 bills — “more than any other governor in our history” — with 37 of them being issued “under cover of night or over a weekend.”
Rep. John Bell IV, R-Johnston, and House Majority leader, said that “on top of vetoing the most bills in North Carolina history, the governor has made it a pattern of doing so on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to bury the news heading into the weekend.”
“This is not leadership.”
Political analysts say it is highly likely Cooper vetoes the bill because he would prefer allowing the benefits to expire on the timing set by the Biden administration, and because SB116 chips away at his emergency management authority.
N.C. veto history
A little state veto history is required to put the statement into context.
After N.C. governors gained veto power in January 1996 — the last state to do so — with the authority added to the state Constitution, it took another six years before the first veto was issued by Democratic Gov. Mike Easley in 2002.
According to Ballotpedia.com, 35 vetoes were issued by Democratic Govs. Easley and Bev Perdue and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory between 2002 and 2016. A total of 16 were overridden.
Cooper vetoed 25 bills in 2017, three in 2018, 14 in 2019, 11 in 2020 and three so far in 2021.
The latest version of SB116 also makes permanent changes to work-search requirements that significantly stiffen eligibility criteria, such as a claimant must respond within 48 hours of an employer’s interview request.
Moore said on June 3 in advocating for SB116 on the House floor that the perceived worker shortage in North Carolina “is probably one of the more critical issues that we are now dealing with.”
“This bill is the way to restore strength in our economy, and finally move forward, to put this pandemic in the rear-view mirror.”
Bell claims that “polling is clear that on both sides of the aisle (that) people want to end the extra federal unemployment benefits and get our state back to work.”
“Every day, I hear from local businesses who cannot find employees to fill open jobs. I encourage the governor to sign this bipartisan legislation without delay.”
Gary Salamido, president and chief executive of the conservative-leaning NC Chamber, said in urging Cooper that “Senate Bill 116 provides the critical solutions we need to reinvigorate our workforce, reduce COVID-related childcare constraints on families to empower their return to a job, and end our dependence on federal programs created for a moment when jobs were not readily available across our state.”
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter has said that “unemployment continues to decline as more North Carolinians get vaccinated and back to work.”
“This legislation falls far short on helping remove barriers like affordable child care, while hurting people who are looking for jobs and removing money from our economy which is being used for things like buying groceries and paying rent.”
During Cooper’s first two years as governor, the Republican legislative super-majority overrode 20 of his 25 vetoes during the 2017 session and all three of his 2018 vetoes.
The 20 successful veto override votes are the most in any session.
However, with the super-majorities in both chambers being broken in the November 2018 general election, Cooper had since had all 28 votes stick.
Republicans failed in six veto override attempts in 2020 and three in 2020.
The House did override in a controversial and hotly contested fashion vetoes of the state budget and Medicaid transformation bills on Sept. 11, 2019.
Cooper vetoed House Bill 966 primarily because it did not include expanding Medicaid to between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians, and failed to provide public school teacher raises at the level Cooper wants.
House Republican leaders waited 76 days to conduct their veto override votes. Each day’s delay during the 2019 session required most House Democrats to be ready to vote on a moment’s notice.
Most Democratic members were not on the floor the morning of Sept. 11, 2019, because they said they had been told by Republican House leadership that no votes would be taken during the first session that day.
On Jan. 14, 2020, after Senate Republicans failed to override two Cooper vetoes, they pulled a planned veto override vote on HB966.
In April 2020, in the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, pledged not to hold for the entire 2020 legislative session an override vote on the state budget bill.
Berger said the state would continue to operate through a series of mini-budget funding bills.