RALEIGH The state House on Tuesday took little more than half an hour to override the governor’s vetoes of two bills, on immigration and drug-testing welfare recipients.
The resurrected legislation now passes to the Senate, which will vote Wednesday morning and is expected to easily override.
The votes marked the first split between Republican lawmakers, who control the General Assembly with a veto-proof majority, and the new governor of the same party. These were the first two bills that Gov. Pat McCrory had vetoed, and he had been working hard to sway support to sustain them over the past few weeks.
But immediately after the votes, House Speaker Thom Tillis issued a statement downplaying the split, stressing that these were the only two vetoes among hundreds of bills passed this year.
“I believe that is a reflection of the close working relationship we enjoy with Gov. McCrory,” Tillis said. “… Though we disagreed with the governor on these two issues, we appreciate his leadership and continue to have great confidence in his administration.”
Tillis, who as speaker doesn’t have to vote, did in this case. He sided with overrides of both vetoes.
The politics of the day made for a strange landscape, with the Democrats praising the Republican governor – albeit faintly – for his veto of the drug-testing bill. On the immigration bill, however, Democrats sided with the GOP majority in the House in bucking the governor.
“I believe the governor is more right than wrong on this,” Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said in urging the drug-testing bill veto be sustained.
Overrides require the support of three-fifths of those voting, and the override of the veto of the drug-testing bill, House Bill 392, passed 77-39. It lost a sizeable chunk of support from Democrats who had helped pass it 92-21 in July. Only six Democrats voted to override.
The drug-testing bill
The new law will require welfare recipients to be tested if they are suspected of abusing drugs, and they could be fingerprinted, if deemed necessary. It would also require county social workers to make sure applicants don’t have outstanding felony warrants and aren’t violating the terms of probation or parole.
Glazier said the 20 Democrats who voted for the bill in July had been reassured by an earlier version of the bill that softened the fingerprinting provision and would have delayed implementation until 2015, allowing sufficient time to work out any problems. But last-minute changes constituted a “breach of agreement,” he said. Based on that, Glazier said, the governor’s veto should be sustained.
Rep. Jim Fulgham, a Republican from Raleigh, was the only Republican to vote against the bill in July. He reiterated his opposition Tuesday, saying the current system works well.
He said the bill was poorly written and unfair – adding it meets “the definition of kicking a man while he is down.”
Change for E-Verify
The override of the veto of the immigration bill, House Bill 786, remained close to its original margin. It originally passed 85-28 in July, and the veto was overridden on Tuesday by a vote of 84-32.
It expands the period of exempting seasonal workers from the E-Verify immigration status check system from the current 90 days to up to nine months. It also initiates a multi-agency study to determine whether more stringent laws need to be imposed on immigrants in the criminal justice area.
The state’s agriculture industry made a big push on legislators to override, saying they would not be able to hire enough workers unless they could avoid having to do status checks after only three months.
Democrats sided with agriculture. House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Democrat from Durham, said he supported the override because the bill helps farmers.
“This bill gives them an opportunity to have more stability in their workforce,” Hall said. “It doesn’t force anyone to do anything illegal.”
But a number of Republicans remain opposed to expanding the seasonal worker exemption, agreeing with McCrory that other businesses that are not farms would take advantage of such a law and weaken the E-Verify system.
“What we’re doing is opening up illegal aliens to just about every other profession in this state,” said Rep. George Cleveland, a Republican from Jacksonville. “This is a jobs bill for illegal aliens.”
Action in the Senate
The Senate will take up the bills first thing Wednesday. Earlier on Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger pointed out that both bills had large bipartisan support the first time.
“I would anticipate the Senate would follow through on what we did before,” Berger said.
McCrory fought override
McCrory had been pushing hard to find the votes to sustain his vetoes, touting public support from Republicans and Democrats to reject the legislation. He vetoed the bill requiring drug testing for welfare recipients saying it was expensive and ineffectual; he nullified the immigration bill saying it weakened rules designed to keep immigrants in the country illegally from taking jobs.
McCrory’s decisions allowed him to straddle the political fence – opposing the drug-testing bill allowed McCrory to side with Democrats and take a more moderate stance, while opposing the immigration measure aligned him with conservative Republicans who want tougher enforcement measures.
McCrory personally targeted House lawmakers on Facebook, urging them to sustain the vetoes, but then retreated from the effort and removed the posts. Still, he pressed his case Friday releasing statements from six county sheriffs supporting the veto of the immigration bill. Over the weekend, a drumbeat of reasons to sustain his vetoes went out over Twitter.
McCrory’s office said it would have no comment on the overrides until after the Senate votes.