RALEIGH — Republicans leading the General Assembly and the executive branch find themselves in an intraparty tug-of-war over relatively low-key legislation that may reveal who’s got political strength in Raleigh and let Gov. Pat McCrory display some independence.
The legislature reconvenes Tuesday to consider whether to override two McCrory vetoes on bills requiring government drug testing of some welfare applicants and broadening exceptions for employers required to confirm whether new employees can work in the country.
Both bills passed the House and Senate by comfortable veto-proof margins in July. While a couple of legislators have suggested they’ll change their minds, GOP leaders in both chambers sound ready to override the new governor on his first-ever vetoes.
“We’re still on track as far as I know … the votes are there,” said House Majority Whip Mike Hager, R-Rutherford. “We have a responsibility to the people the state to pass what we think is good legislation.”
A veto override requires yes votes from three-fifths of the members present in each chamber. Tuesday’s discussion will begin in the House. Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, wouldn’t say late last week what Tillis would do but downplayed the disagreements, saying McCrory signed hundreds of bills into law this year. “That’s a good batting average,” he said.
On the Senate side, Amy Auth with chamber leader Republican Phil Berger’s office said that while the House must make override decisions, “both pieces of legislation passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.”
McCrory’s public lobbying effort to preserve the vetoes, which included accusing Republican lawmakers on Facebook of passing “job-killing” legislation, didn’t earn him favors with lawmakers.
Republican lawmakers overrode 11 of the 19 vetoes Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue sent them in 2011 and 2012, negating vetoes on two state budgets, abortion restrictions and fracking legislation.
McCrory’s vetoed bills lack the prominence of those Perdue vetoed, evoking instead vetoes Democratic Gov. Mike Easley issued while Democrats largely controlled the legislature last decade. Only one Easley veto was overridden on a bill about boat-towing rules.
McCrory may benefit regardless of Tuesday’s outcome by portraying himself as someone willing to challenge the legislature. He’s been criticized by some for enabling the General Assembly by signing a law directing new abortion clinic rules and an elections overhaul that went beyond voter identification requirements he sought.
The vetoes may be “a genuine expression of his view on the issues (but) it’s probably also some kind of political value,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. McCrory “may well be signaling to voters, particularly those that are not Republicans, that he’s not in lockstep with those guys at the General Assembly.”
McCrory said he vetoed the bills in the name of good government. “I don’t veto for the purpose of wins and losses or to seek control or power,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
The drug-testing bill requires the state to test Work First welfare program applicants or recipients whom the agency “reasonably suspects” are engaged in illegal drug use. Bill supporters say it will ensure welfare funds are distributed wisely. McCrory said carrying out the bill would be expensive, won’t help many drug abusers and raises government intrusion issues. The American Civil Liberties Union praised the veto.
The immigration bill would exempt employers from counting temporary employees who work less than nine months in a calendar year while calculating whether they must utilize the federal E-Verify system. The current law exempted workers of no more than three months. McCrory said the legislation doesn’t just apply to agriculture — the intended focus of the bill — and will mean North Carolinians will lose out on jobs.
The agriculture industry, led by North Carolina Farm Bureau and state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, has sent letters to Tillis and Berger urging them to override the veto.
Specialty crop organizations — from growers of watermelons to Christmas trees —say the 90-day rule makes it hard for them to hire enough foreign workers, which already must show them documents to work. Native-born workers aren’t interested in field work, and the E-Verify and federal guest-worker programs add to their costs and paperwork, they say.
“Unless you are able to override the veto, the ‘jobs killed’ that the governor may actually realize are the family farms themselves,” leaders of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina wrote.
McCrory’s office announced support for the exemption veto from six sheriffs, including those from Tillis and Berger’s home counties. The exemption will “lead to additional undocumented workers in the area and would greatly impact our schools, our hospitals, our roads and our local social programs,” Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes was quoted as saying in a McCrory release.