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RALEIGH — After a long, tense week which saw passage of controversial legislation, the North Carolina legislature was poised to pivot back to a focus on the budget. But by Friday afternoon Gov. Pat McCrory had sent two strong messages to state lawmakers that he was ready to use his veto power if he sensed overreach.
Late Friday, McCrory vetoed the Property Protection Act, the so-called “ag-gag” bill, over concerns that its provisions aimed at stopping animal rights groups and others from conducting sting operations, would make it harder on whistleblowers across many industries.
“While I support the purpose of this bill, I believe it does not adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity,” McCrory said in a veto statement.
A few hours earlier, the governor announced he would veto Senate Bill 2, which would have allowed magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex marriages. The bill was filed in response to an order last year in the wake of federal court rulings that magistrates statewide are required to marry same-sex couples. A handful of magistrates resigned citing religious objections after the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts sent notice they were now required to perform the marriages.
Senate supporters of the bill include Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, who said magistrates in some of the counties he represents have threatened to resign because of religious objections as well.
The measure cleared the Senate late in February by a large enough margin to ensure an override. But last week, a House debate on the bill filled with religious references yielded a win for proponents, but by a much tighter margin.
Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, was one of several Democrats who accused the majority of straying from their promise of a jobs agenda to pursue legislation favored by social conservatives.
“This bill does not create jobs,” Fisher said during floor debate. “In fact, it’s a job killer. This bill targets the LGBTQ community, and bills like it in other states have drawn have drawn incredible opposition from companies as large as American Airlines and Apple.”
The final vote in the chamber on Thursday was 67 to 43, just barely over the mark needed to override the veto. An override of the governor’s veto requires approval by three-fifths of those present.
The Property Protection Act, by contrast, has a much easier route to override. The bill was approved 32-13 in the Senate and 99-19 in the House.
In a joint statement released after the governor’s announcements, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who introduced SB2, said they would seek an override of both vetoes.
Senate leaders have scheduled at least one of the override votes for today (Monday).
Room tax, graffiti, other local bills moving
A final vote is scheduled today (Monday) in the Senate on new legislation that allows for a room tax increase for Buncombe County and put restrictions on how the money can be spent. The language, worked out by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, and a group of Asheville hoteliers, allows the tax rate to rise from 4 percent to 6 percent.
The bill also increases the size of the Buncombe Tourism Development Authority from nine to 11 members, requires that six of the seats on the board be reserved for hotel or bed and breakfast owners or operators.
Although Asheville officials have expressed some concern about the restrictions on how the money can be spent, the bill has the general support of the Buncombe County House delegation.
The provision was added to a House bill sponsored by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, which also authorizes Macon County to set up its own room tax and a local tourism board to manage the funds. If passed by the Senate, the bill would have to return to the House for a vote approving the new language.
Also last week, a bill increasing penalties for graffiti, including raising the charge to a felony in some cases, passed the Senate last week after a modification. The bill, which resulted from complaints about rampant graffiti problems from Buncombe County prosecutors, goes back to the House for concurrence.
The possum drop bill hangs in mid air after a small change in the text of the four-line bill prior to approval by the Senate means that the change has to be approved by the House. The bill has been refereed to the House Committee on Wildlife Resources for a look.
Queen stands alone
In a career that includes stints in both the House and Senate, Rep. Joe Sam Queen has taken some lonely stands, but maybe none as lonely as one earlier this month.
The Waynesville Democrat was the sole no vote on a bill to finally require that all vehicles in the state have two working brake lights.
Citing his rural roots, Queen said in a committee hearing that he didn’t see the point.
He lost on the House floor 113-1. The bill takes effect Oct. 1.