News: Quick Takes

Cooper vetoes elections board and technical corrections bills

As expected, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the General Assembly’s most recent attempt to restructure the state’s elections and ethics enforcement agencies. He also vetoed a “technical corrections” measure, rejecting two provisions in the catch-all legislation.

The vetoes extend Cooper’s record. He has vetoed 28 bills since taking office in January 2017. The General Assembly has overridden 21 of them so far.

Earlier this week, Cooper said he would veto House Bill 1029, a bill largely restoring responsibility for elections, ethics, and lobbying enforcement to the agencies which had those duties before December 2016. Just before Cooper was sworn in as governor, a lame-duck legislative session combined those functions into a Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The new board limited Cooper’s appointment powers.

Cooper sued, arguing the new system violated separation of powers. He won, and after a series of court cases and legislative do-overs, earlier this month H.B. 1029 emerged. It split the combined board into a new State Board of Elections and state Ethics Commission, each primarily handling their pre-2017 duties. Lobbying enforcement was returned to the Department of Secretary of State.

H.B. 1029 passed easily — by an 84-18 margin in the House and 34-3 in the Senate — but Tuesday Cooper said the bill watered down enforcement of campaign finance violations. He added he would veto it unless the General Assembly, which was still in town for a separate veto-override session, fixed those provisions.

It didn’t, so he did.

State Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes fired back. In a statement, Hayes said,

Governor Cooper has vetoed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support to re-establish a State Board of Elections, the Ethics Commission, and the entire set of laws that govern our elections. This compromise legislation, which involved negotiations with both sides for quite some time, was passed with 80-percent support in the House and 90-percent support in the Senate. Cooper’s veto means North Carolina would have electoral chaos with no election board, no laws governing elections, and no ability to conduct said elections or hold elected officials to account for ethical lapses.

Cooper also vetoed Senate Bill 469, the customary end-of-session “technical corrections” bill, a vehicle often including policy provisions which may not have passed on their own.

S.B. 469 also passed both chambers easily — 57-35 in the House; 19-8 in the Senate. But Cooper objected to a provision dealing with enforcing stormwater rules on some parcels of property. He also cited a section allowing charter schools operated by municipalities to enroll employees in the state pension and health plans. Cooper opposes letting towns or cities operate charter schools, saying they may lead to resegregation.

The Republican-led General Assembly is expected to return Dec. 27 to hold override votes on those bills and then adjourn the session sine die.