The legislature is coming back to town Oct. 4, and as usual, sticking it to Gov. Roy Cooper is at the top of the agenda.
Overriding the governor’s vetoes is one of the main reasons we’re seeing the third extra session since the legislature ended its regular session back in June. Every extra session brings another round of controversial legislation, prompting a veto from the Democrat in the governor’s mansion — and bringing the House and Senate back to Raleigh to reverse it.
This time, the House plans to address two vetoes of environmental bills. With Republicans holding a supermajority in both chambers, Cooper’s veto stamp doesn’t stand a chance. The legislature’s funding to address GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River will likely become law. The Outer Banks’ ban on plastic shopping bags — the same bill calls for its repeal — will float away into the sunset like a grocery bag in a sea breeze.
A veto override is also in the works for Senate Bill 16, which is 16 thrilling pages of environmental deregulation provisions. Democrats may try to fight the legislation, but I’d be surprised if they can fit their objections into sound bite and tweet length.
Cooper might have thought he’d scored a victory in the battle over newspaper legal notices. Back in July, he vetoed legislation that would allow some local governments to place required public notices on their own websites — instead of in the classified section of newspapers. The newspaper industry fought the measure, saying it would harm the public’s right to know (not to mention newspapers’ bottom line). Cooper agreed, and so did a number of House Republicans — meaning the House didn’t have the three-fifths majority required to override.
But at the General Assembly, there’s always a work-around if your party is in power. Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson and a supporter of the legal notices bill, said the proposal will be brought back to life this week as a local bill affecting only Guilford County. The earlier version also included a statewide change to worker’s compensation — an unrelated, noncontroversial bill that got hijacked to include the legal notices change. But by making it a local bill, only a simple House and Senate majority is needed. Cooper won’t get a chance to block the measure.
Cooper is, however, on track so far to keep two of his vetoes intact this year. The October to-do list from House Speaker Tim Moore doesn’t include overrides on the “garbage juice” landfill spray bill opposed by environmentalists and the bill allowing nonprofits to hold fundraisers with casino-style games. It will be the third session that the House has delayed an override vote, an indication that Republicans don’t have the votes they need.
For those keeping score at home, Cooper will have managed to maintain two of 12 vetoes in his first year as governor if those two aren’t overridden. But his team will need to wait until next year to break out the champagne, as override votes are still an option until the legislature’s final 2018 adjournment. A little horse trading within the GOP could easily produce enough votes to knock down those vetoes, even if it doesn’t happen this month.
To be fair to Cooper, he has had a few legislative successes this year. The compromise on House Bill 2 likely wouldn’t have happened without his involvement, and his administration had a key role in developing new jobs incentives designed to lure a major manufacturer or even the new Amazon headquarters. But the governor and the legislature have rarely worked together quietly behind the scenes. The appearance of open warfare benefits both sides: Cooper needs fiery rhetoric to keep the Democratic Party base fired up about the 2018 legislative election, when Dems get a chance to break the GOP supermajority and improve the governor’s batting average on vetoes.
Meanwhile, Republican legislators in safe conservative districts don’t have much to gain from cutting deals with Cooper. Unless the courts reject the proposed new district maps, their biggest 2018 worry is a GOP primary challenge from an outsider candidate claiming to be even more conservative.
All those factors guarantee that the State Fair won’t be the only fireworks in Raleigh this October.