New NC House rules would ‘hold people hostage’ and erode transparency, Democratic leader says

Published January 12, 2023

By Lynn Bonner

North Carolina’s legislative session opened Wednesday with a controversy in the state House over a proposed rule change that would allow Republicans to call snap votes to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

The House rules adopted as temporary on Wednesday no longer include the section requiring advanced notice of veto override votes.

The legislature has a full slate of important issues it’s going to consider this session, including more curbs on abortion rights. House Republicans are one vote shy of a veto-proof majority, meaning they can override vetoes if all 71 vote together and not all Democrats are in their seats. A three-fifths majority of 120 House members present and voting are needed to override vetoes. The 50-member Senate needs 30 votes to override if all senators are there. Republicans have a veto-proof Senate majority.

House Democratic leader Robert Reives said the rule change is unfair to members who miss votes to attend to family obligations or work, and is unfair to the public, which won’t know when votes are imminent.

“This ends up circumventing a lot of the processes we have in place for public notice,” he said.

Republicans could call for an override vote when a House member left for the bathroom, Reives told reporters.

“We don’t want to have a situation where, basically, we’re holding people hostage all session,” Reives said. “It brings the potential for gamesmanship.”

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives

The legislature usually meets from Monday night through Thursday afternoon. Typically, there are few votes of consequence on Mondays, and Monday night sessions can be sparsely attended. The legislature is theoretically part time, with members working in Raleigh about half the year. But it’s not unusual for the legislature to meet throughout the summer and into fall.

Rules Committee Chairman Destin Hall said a vote on permanent rules will come in February, after he and Reives have time to negotiate.

WRAL first reported the rules change.

After the House session, Moore said the change would “more than likely” be in the permanent rules.

The rule is meant to give “flexibility to the body,” Moore told reporters. “Why are we treating the veto override procedural vote different from the others?”

Moore said he told Reives he didn’t want to do “an ambush kind of vote.”

House Democrats in 2019 protested they were ambushed when House Republicans called a surprise vote to override a Cooper budget veto when many Democrats were absent. The former House Democratic leader, Darren Jackson, said he was told there weren’t going to be any votes during the early-morning session. House Republican leaders denied they told Democrats there weren’t going to be votes. The shock House vote to override made national news. Both chambers must vote to override a veto, and the Senate did not complete that override.

Cooper has vetoed bills on abortion restrictions, sheriff cooperation with ICE, and loosened gun laws, among dozens of others. Some dealt with the most controversial issues in the legislature and passed by party-line or near party-line votes. Republicans have not had enough votes to override Cooper’s vetoes for four years.

Moore told reporters that House Republicans put together a working group of its members with diverse opinions on abortion to meet with a working group in the Senate to try to come up with a bill.

Priorities he announced on the House floor:

  • Addressing learning loss
  • Health care access
  • The behavioral health crisis
  • Public safety
  • Transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, and broadband