Not dead yet: Republican lawmakers seek to pass several previously vetoed bills

By: - March 6, 2023 12:19 pm

Republicans will test the power of Gov. Cooper’s veto this session.

Republicans will test the power of Gov. Cooper’s veto this session.

Lela Ali was in the Legislative Building last Wednesday when the group, Muslim Women For, of which she is a member, opposed a bill that would require sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

She also happened  to be sitting in the House gallery that day as lawmakers approved a bill along party lines that strips responsibility for North Carolina’s three schools for deaf and blind students from the State Board of Education and gives it to local boards of trustees.

These two measures are among the flurry of bills Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed in previous years, but that Republicans have revived.

Election victories last fall returned Republicans to Raleigh with renewed strength. Senate Republicans have a veto-proof majority, and House Republicans are one vote short of it.  Democrats’ weakened legislative position makes it more likely that Cooper’s vetoes will be overridden.

Asked last week about previously overridden bills gaining new life, House Speaker Tim Moore replied: “Sometimes the circumstances are better to get a good idea passed into law.”

Cooper twice vetoed versions of the ICE cooperation bill, the first time in 2019 and the second on July 26, 2022. That was the same day he vetoed lawmakers’ attempt to change governance of schools for deaf or blind students.

Other previously vetoed proposals — including relaxed gun laws and an “anti-rioting” bill sponsored by Moore that opponents say will stifle public protests — have been revived and are moving quickly through the legislature.

And there’s more to come. Republican legislative leaders have promised more restrictions on abortion this year, now that the U.S.Supreme Court rescinded the constitutional right to abortion and left the issue to the states.

Cooper vetoed anti-abortion bills in 2019 and 2021. Neither was overridden. Those two bills were not as sweeping as the abortion bans Republicans are now contemplating.

The wave of divisive bills coming early in the legislative session has put advocacy groups such as Muslim Women For in a “rapid response situation,” Ali said.

Advocacy groups that Muslim Women For works with are watching a flow of bills that “pose many, many risks and threats to our communities, and to our people, and to our families, Ali said. They now need to mobilize people every week to register opposition to bills either in person, by phone, or online, she said. “It burns our organizers out, it burns our infrastructure out, and it burns our people out.”

Immigration, riot penalties, guns 

The bill increasing penalties for rioting passed the House with a veto-proof majority in early February, despite critics who said it would be used to target peaceful protesters.

When Cooper vetoed a similar bill in September 2021, he wrote: “People who commit crimes during riots and at other times should be prosecuted, and our laws provide for that, but this legislation is unnecessary and intended to intimidate and deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest.”

The House did not attempt to override Cooper’s veto in 2021. Only two House Democrats supported the final version of that 2021 bill. This year, six voted for it.

The bill requiring sheriffs to cooperate with ICE moved through two House committees last month in the space of seven days. It’s teed-up for a vote of the full House.

In 2019, the NC Sheriffs Association initially opposed the mandate, but turned to support a revised version that same year.

However, six sheriffs, including those from Wake, Mecklenburg and Durham, continue their opposition. They sent legislators a letter Wednesday saying sheriffs would be forced to do the jobs of federal immigration authorities if the bill becomes law.

In his veto message last year, Cooper wrote that the law already allows the state to “incarcerate and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of their immigration status.” He wrote that the bill is “only about scoring political points and using fear to divide North Carolinians.”

Republicans have been trying at least since 2017 for a law allowing people to carry concealed guns at private or charter schools that double as places of worship. Cooper vetoed versions of that bill twice, first in 2019 and again in 2021. A veto override failed the first time. No override was attempted for the 2021 bill.

Image: Adobe Stock

The legislature has already acted on two versions of the bill this year: The House passed one and another has cleared the Senate. The House version passed with the support of six Democrats, more than enough to negate a veto. The Senate gun bill that passed along party lines also included the repeal of the requirement to obtain a purchase permit from a sheriff before buying a pistol, and a firearm safe storage awareness initiative.

The House passed a separate bill repealing the pistol permit law along party lines. Supporters of a repeal call the pistol permit requirement redundant to national background checks.

Cooper vetoed a pistol permit repeal in 2021. There was no attempt to override it.

Gun safety advocates want Cooper to veto the bill again if it gets to his desk. They argue that repealing the pistol permit law will create a loophole, because only licensed sellers are required to use the national criminal background check system. Buyers would be able to purchase firearms online or at gun shows without background checks, they say.

When he vetoed the pistol permit repeal in 2021, Cooper wrote: “At a time of rising gun violence, we cannot afford to repeal a system that works to save lives. The legislature should focus on combating gun violence instead of making it easier for guns to end up in the wrong hands.”

To hear more divergent political views, tune in to Cooper’s State of the State address at 7:00 tonight. a Republican response will be delivered afterward by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a likely 2024 candidate for governor.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.