Advocates warn House rule change could undermine voters

Published 12:19 pm Saturday, February 4, 2023

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By Hannah Schoenbaum, Associated Press/Report for America

North Carolina civil rights advocates denounced a House rule change Tuesday that could allow Republicans to override vetoes on contentious bills with little notice, saying it subverts democracy and the will of voters.

Republicans pushed through temporary operating rules this month that omitted a longstanding requirement that chamber leaders give at least two days’ notice before holding an override vote. The move could allow Republicans — who would need some Democratic support to veto legislation if all members were present — to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes while a Democrat is absent, even momentarily.

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While Senate Republicans hold the 30 seats necessary for a veto-proof majority in that chamber, House Republicans fell one seat short of a similar supermajority following the November elections.

Calling the change “a shameful power grab meant to thwart the will of the people,” Jillian Riley, of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said it could force legislators to miss important life events to protect abortion access and other rights.

House Speaker Tim Moore “didn’t get the votes he needs to override Cooper’s veto on an abortion ban during the midterm election,” Riley said. “So what now? He wants to change the rules and circumvent the Democratic process so that he can pass a draconian abortion ban in the middle of the night.”

In a show of unity, all Democratic legislators in both chambers have signed on as sponsors of identical bills seeking to codify abortion protections into state law. Moore, who seeks further restrictions beyond the present 20 weeks, said he doesn’t expect the Democrats’ legislation to get considered.

Moore has tried to downplay the potential for mischief by Republicans with the previous rule being eliminated. He told reporters last week that any override attempt of a vetoed measure will have been on the chamber’s public, written agenda.

He reiterated he would not “ambush” Democrats by taking a surprise vote. But given the narrow margin, one unexpected absence by a Democrat could be the difference between a bill becoming law or remaining blocked.

“I want to be clear on this: If we pass a bill and it is vetoed, it will be our intention to override that veto,” Moore said, noting the override attempt “won’t just come out of nowhere.”

As lawmakers prepare to debate bills on abortion access, LGBTQ rights and immigration, Miles Beasley, a Historically Black Colleges and Universities fellow at Common Cause North Carolina, said he worries the rule could be abused to further disadvantage vulnerable communities.

“These surprise votes rob us of our right to speak to our representatives before important votes happen, cutting us out of the lawmaking process,” said Beasley, a student at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh.

He urged House Republicans not to resort to “petty power plays” when they vote on permanent rules in the coming weeks.

Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.