The Republican-controlled General Assembly failed Wednesday to override five Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes after several Democratic legislators switched their votes.

That includes House Bill 652 and House Bill 806, both of which cleared the legislature by veto-proof margins.

Cooper has now succeeded in defeating seven veto override votes during the 2020 session, including House Bill 594 that would have partially reopened private bars and clubs.

There were three unsuccessful attempts of 14 Cooper vetoes in the 2019 session.

"States that reopened too fast are having to backtrack and Gov.  Cooper is relying on the science and the data to protect North Carolinians," Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan said. "Pandemic response is not a time for partisan politics."

Cooper’s undefeated veto streak has been made possible after voters ended the Republican super-majority in both chambers in November 2018.

“It’s not terribly surprising that most legislative Democrats decided to stick with Gov. Cooper,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

“The heartburn wasn’t worth it for Democrats who might otherwise have supported the vetoed legislation.”

HB652, according to House speaker Tim Moore’s office, would allow concealed carry permit holders to lawfully carry on the grounds of a place of worship that also serves as educational property. The permission is allowed “as long as such possession does not take place during any time of school curricular or extracurricular activities.”

HB652 failed by a 66-48 vote. At full attendance, 72 votes are required in the House to override a veto.

HB808 would allow for partial reopening of fitness centers and gyms without the contentious Council of State concurrence requirement. That bill failed by a 63-51 vote.

House Bill 686 would have permitted larger mass gatherings for Fourth of July celebration that Cooper’s Phase Two guidelines allow. The veto override vote failed 58-54.

Republican House leaders opted to withdraw House Bill 258, which would open partially amusement parks, arcades and carnivals.

It doesn’t appear that there will be an attempt — for now — of Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 168.

SB168 contains a provision that would make private “all information and records provided by a city, county or other public entity to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or its agents, concerning a death investigation.”

Cooper said in his veto statement the provision “could have the unintended consequence of limiting transparency in death investigations.”

Senate action

The Senate failed to override vetoes of Senate Bill 105 and Senate Bill 599.

SB105 is the Republican-sponsored attempt to require agreement from the 10-member Council of State before the governor can invoke or extend an executive order, particularly during a public health emergency.

The bill failed on a partisan 26-21 vote.

SB105 would require the governor to gain approval from at least six of the Council of State’s 10 members to create or extend an executive order. Several Democratic legislators have called the concurrence requirement “a poison pill.”

All six GOP council members have expressed their desire to fully reopen the state’s businesses sooner than Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the N.C. secretary of health, have wanted.

SB599 would have partially reopened bowling alleys and skating rinks. That override vote failed by the same 26-21 margin. SB599 and HB258 contained similar Council of State language.

However, a coalition of North Carolina bowling alleys gained a legal victory Tuesday in its pursuit of reopening in North Carolina.

Judge James Gale of Wake Superior Court ruled in favor of N.C. Bowling Proprietors Association Inc., granting a preliminary injunction of Cooper’s executive order that has kept bowling alleys closed since mid-March.

The ruling applies only to bowling alleys that are members of the association. A list of members wasn’t immediately available. Cooper is appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Little debate

The Senate spent little time debating its two veto override attempts even though the chamber cleared SB599 by a 32-15 votes on June 18.

However, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, quickly issued a statement saying legislative Democrats “showed where their loyalty stands when they voted to keep more than 1.1 million North Carolinians unemployed.”

“Instead of voting to get those residents back to work safely, they voted to uphold Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

Berger said Cooper’s initial intention with his emergency executive orders was to keep hospitals’ intensive-care units from being overrun with COVID-19 patients.

“We did that, and our hospitals continue to have the capacity,” Berger said. “Now, we should be focusing on protecting those most vulnerable to the virus and ensuring those who can safely return to work do so.”

“It’s clear that his decision-making is being led by political science instead of legitimate science.”

Guns on school property

The most contentious debate on the five veto override attempts came with HB652.

Cooper’s statement on vetoing HB652 was “this bill allows guns on school property, which threatens the safety of students and teachers.”

During the HB652 debate, House Republicans repeatedly asked 12 House Democrats to be consistent with their previous support of the bill, and not let Cooper dictate their vote.

“We need to not let the people of God be left defenseless on Sunday mornings,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said the override is about “correcting an unfair” loophole for affected churches.

Those opposing the override claimed it was another effort to erode state gun laws involving schools.

Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Forsyth, said the veto override is more about political posturing and “being on the record” during an election year than about protecting schools and churches.

Minority leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said what led the 12 Democrats to change their vote was the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Statewide hospitalizations related to COVID-19 were at a record high of 994 Wednesday, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data. The state recorded 1,435 new cases Tuesday, continuing a five-day trend of relatively stagnant increases in new cases.

“We will soon have in five months more deaths from COVID-19 than from 11 years of the flu,” Jackson said.

“We have examples across the country of states reopening too soon, and their citizens are paying the price.”

Jackson later said in a statement "the developments underline just how critical Democratic legislative victories were in 2018."

"Especially in this moment of crisis, our state needs measured, steady leadership, not the toxic agenda voters rejected when they broke the Republican supermajority two years ago.

"House Democrats will stand strong against Republican efforts to ram through dangerous, ideological legislation that puts the public at risk.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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