Retention Elections, Abortion, Budget: May 29, 2015 Jones Street Update
Within 24 hours, Governor McCrory has vetoed two bills sent to his desk by the General Assembly. Both bills will now go back to the legislature for each chamber to consider whether they will attempt to override the veto. A veto override requires the support of three-fifths of the members present and voting in both chambers.
SB 2– Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies – would allow magistrates to refuse to perform marriages without fear of being fired by citing a “sincerely held religious objection.” Once their objection is submitted in writing, they would be barred from performing any marriage for six months or until they removed their objection. The bill also applies to registers of deeds who issue marriage certificates. While the Senate has the support to override the veto, the House passed the bill by a vote of 67-43, which is barely above the three-fifths threshold; the veto override will start in the Senate. Also a factor, ten House members were absent and didn’t vote. This bill arose from magistrates being required to perform gay marriages.
HB 405– Property Protection Act – is commonly referred to by opponents as the “ag-gag” bill because they believe the bill is specifically intended to prevent undercover investigations of farms and agriculture facilities. The bill allows employers to sue employees who use their positions to gain access to documents or to secretly record areas that aren’t open to the public. McCrory explained, “I am concerned that subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities.” The bill easily cleared the three-fifths threshold in both the House and Senate when it was initially passed but a veto override effort will begin in the House. The Governor’s office was flooded with calls to veto this bill, and the First Lady has made puppy mill legislation her top priority.
HB 222– Retention Elections/Supreme Court – was approved by the Senate on Thursday. The bill calls for retention elections—where a “yes” or “no” vote would be given instead of an election between opponents— for sitting members of the NC Supreme Court, reasoning that it would cut down on the high costs of judicial campaigns if sitting judges didn’t have to run against opponents. It would also prevent sitting judges from having to raise campaign money from individuals who might appear before them in court. The original House version of the bill also applied to the state Court of Appeals, but the Senate removed that provision.
Senate Democrats were suspicious of the timing for this bill, noting that retention elections would begin in 2016 when only one member of the Supreme Court, Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican, faces re-election. Senator Josh Stein called it “the Justice Bob Edmunds Protection Act” since it would begin in 2016 when Edmunds is up. However, Senate Republicans argued that having only one sitting judge up for re-election makes for a great opportunity to test out the new type of election.
The bill will now go back to the concurrence in the Senate changes.
HB 465– Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015 – gained initial approval in the Senate on Thursday and will receive a final vote on Monday. The bill extends the waiting period for an abortion in NC from 24 hours to 72 hours and contains a new provision that requires doctors who perform abortions during weeks 19 and 20 to send ultrasounds, measurements, and other information to the NC Department of Health and Human Services so that the state can ensure no abortions are being performed after 16 weeks. The Senate also added in several bipartisan provisions aimed at the safety of women and children, including two provisions that were introduced in bill-form earlier this session by Senator Jeff Jackson which would strengthen laws for statutory rape and sex offenders. This resulted in complaints from Democrats and calls to divide the bill and vote separately on the issues. However, the bill was voted on in its entirety by a vote of 31-15.
Once the bill receives its expected final Senate approval on Monday, it will be sent back to the House for approval. We haven’t yet heard if the House will accept the changes.
Senate Budget Underway
Senate appropriations subcommittees met all week to review the House budget. Senators adopted a schedule for approving its version of the budget on June 11. This would leave two full legislative weeks for a conference committee to develop a compromise budget and for the compromise to be approved by both chambers on June 30, which is the final day of the fiscal year.
While the House budget increased spending by about 6%, Senate leaders have said that they will limit any budget growth to 3%.