Gov. Perdue vetoes challenge to health overhaul

March 5, 2011 3:43:53 PM PST
Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue on Saturday vetoed a Republican-backed challenge to the federal health care overhaul that North Carolina's attorney general argues is unenforceable, setting up another political showdown early in the legislative session. Perdue said she formally rejected the measure, which attempts to block a provision requiring most people in 2014 to buy health insurance or face a penalty, because the state law violates the U.S. Constitution. She said the challenge could negatively affect the state's Medicaid program.

"A state can't pass a law that is out of obeyance with federal laws, and this House Bill 2 clearly is," Perdue wrote in her veto message. "This is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that's not good for the people of North Carolina."

The governor had seemed willing to let the bill become law without her signature, saying that it was a distraction to education and the economy and that it already was working its way through the courts. But she changed her mind when Attorney General Roy Cooper wrote a memo dated Feb. 23 -- one day after final General Assembly approval of the bill. The memo said the federal law trumped state legislation and suggested the language could harm state health programs.

Cooper also said he shouldn't defend the state law in court, as the bill would require, because it can't be enforced. Republican legislators disagree and have General Assembly staff lawyers challenging Cooper's view.

Still, they now must decide if they will try to override Perdue's second veto in less than two weeks. They declined to do so on the first veto of a budget savings bill. Like the first bill, the largely party-line votes for its passage mean House Republicans appear a few votes short of canceling Perdue's veto.

Three-fifths of the members voting on an override in the House and Senate would have to agree to make the vetoed measure become law anyway.

Senate leader Phil Berger pointed out that Perdue used her veto stamp a few days after a trip to Washington that included meetings with President Barack Obama, who sought the 2010 overhaul law.

"The people of North Carolina expect their leaders to change the course of state government, not score political points or protect their political patrons," Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement.

Two federal judges already have found all or parts of the federal law unconstitutional in rulings in lawsuits joined by two dozen states, but not North Carolina. Three other federal judges have upheld the law. The final destination is likely to be the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Feb. 28 memo from attorneys in the General Assembly's nonpartisan research office contradicted Cooper's memo, saying that the bill has a narrower scope and that it's appropriate Cooper pursue a defense of the state law. The bill doesn't directly contradict the federal health care bill because the state measure would take effect when it becomes law, and the insurance mandate doesn't start for three years, according to the memo, which didn't weigh in on the mandate's constitutionality.

"The right of a state to challenge the constitutionality of a congressional action is not denied simply because Congress chose to act," the lawyers wrote in the memo obtained by The Associated Press. "If this were true, no state could ever challenge an act of Congress."

North Carolina governors have now vetoed 12 bills since the chief executive received the authority in 1997. This is Perdue's third. Only one veto has been overridden in state history.

Raw video of the Governor's veto - supplied by the Governor's office - can be seen here.

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