Racial Act on hold, lawmakers override other veto

The seal in the North Carolina Legislative Building

January 5, 2012 1:23:21 PM PST
The state House adjourned in the early morning hours Thursday unable to override the veto of the Racial Justice Act, but that did not stop them from overriding another governor veto.

Around 1 a.m., the Legislature overrode Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of a bill that would eliminate the ability of the state's largest teaching group to have voluntary membership dues deducted directly from teachers' paychecks.

The override capped a long day and night at the Legislative Building for a special session called by Perdue for lawmakers to consider her veto that blocked a bill that would eliminate key provisions of the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The Senate overrode that veto, but the House didn't, deciding instead to form a committee to study issues about the death penalty and racial bias.

But Republican legislators decided - over Democratic objections - to approve resolutions late Wednesday night that allowed them to consider any other legislation that Perdue vetoed during 2011 but the Legislature had not overridden. That opened the door to consider the dues check-off issue for association members.

The 69-45 vote removes the block Perdue put on the bill nearly six months ago. The dues are a key revenue stream for the 70,000-member North Carolina Association of Educators' activities, including its political and lobbying advocacy.

The House barely got enough votes to cancel the governor's veto, thanks to the absences of several Democratic members and the return of two Republicans. The Senate already got the three-fifths majority necessary for a successful override back in July, but the House didn't have the votes at that time. With Thursday's vote, the bill now becomes law.

However, opponents are calling for legal action to be taken.

"This is unconstitutional, teachers will respond," said Brian Lewis with the North Carolina Association of Educators. "This is a civics lesson for our students across North Carolina that there are checks and balances. Unfortunately, this legislative branch is more concerned with taking us to 49th in per pupil funding and attacking organizations that criticize them for doing that."

Teachers and Democrats claim the action taken by Republicans was retribution for teachers speaking out against cuts made to education.

Perdue condemned GOP leaders for taking up other legislation when she called the session only to consider the changes to dismantle the Racial Justice Act law.

Republicans "didn't have the votes to get what they wanted legally. So, in the dark of night, they engaged in an unprecedented, unconstitutional power grab," Perdue said in a prepared statement after the vote. "I am saddened for the people of North Carolina that the Republicans abused their power and chose this destructive path."

As for The Racial Justice Act that Republicans were originally scheduled to debate and try to override, they say they might not have had the votes, but they are not finished with the issue.

"Now we've established a committee to look at specific issues and see if we can resolve what I think are very valid and profound concerns that the DA has expressed, that DAs across the state have expressed about the Racial Justice Act," House Speaker Thom Tillis said.

The special committee will look at racial discrimination and how the death penalty is carried out. However, past that Republicans say the Racial Justice Act isn't likely to come up again soon.

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