Democratic state legislators successfully sustained Governor Cooper’s vetoes of bills aimed at limiting his authority during the COVID-19 crisis. Most of the vetoes pertained to bills aiming to overturn his limitations on reopening certain businesses. In addition, Republicans were not able to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would have required him to get concurrence from the North Carolina Council of State before declaring any future state of emergency.
Governor Cooper signed SB 232, extending the suspension of the state anti-mask law indefinitely. The law was written decades ago to target the Ku Klux Klan. While it will still be illegal to wear a mask to conceal your identity, and people will still need to remove a mask if asked by an officer of the law, people will be allowed to wear face coverings for health reasons, such as in an effort to lower coronavirus transmission rates.
The NC Department of Health and Human Services issued a standing order that will allow anyone to get tested for COVID-19 without having a referral from a doctor. The order applies to all clinics conducting the test and will remain in effect until the public health emergency ends.
On Friday the NC chapter of the ACLU filed a suit against the NC State Board of Elections and the State Legislature seeking to make voting by mail safer in light of the pandemic. The suit seeks to eliminate the current requirement to have someone else witness and sign the mail-in ballot in order for it to be counted. North Carolina is one of only twelve states with similar witness requirements. Last month legislation passed that reduced the witness requirement from two people to one for the 2020 election.
Republicans filed a motion in the NC Court of Appeals asking that the court’s injunction against the current voter ID law be lifted, allowing the law to take effect in the 2020 election. They argue that a provision included in the recently passed Bipartisan Election Act of 2020 allowing public assistance photo IDs as acceptable voter IDs satisfies the court’s demands. Although HB 1169, which passed with bipartisan support, makes it easier to vote by mail and provides for public health supplies at polling places, a number of Democratic lawmakers predicted Republicans would use the additional amendment to support a request to lift the injunction. Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) says she is unaware of any public assistance IDs that have photos.
Economic and Housing Policy
The legislature adjourned without voting on a bill to limit the power of debt settlement companies. Advocates for HB 1067, including a top Marine Corps leader at Camp Lejeune and the NC State Employees Credit Union, say the bill will protect citizens from the unscrupulous practices of these companies. The bill, which easily passed in the House, failed to get Senate support after industry lobbyists declined to support the bill without amendment.
The North Carolina Legislature adjourned until September 2 without making changes to a state law mandating in-person school instruction for at least the first week of the public school year, which begins August 17. It is not clear if Governor Cooper can use an executive order to override the rule and allow schools to use online instruction during that week. The NC School Boards Association has asked for clarification about the governor’s power in this situation, and the governor has indicated that he will address school reopening plans this week.
Gun Violence Prevention
In a vote on July 8, NC House lawmakers failed to override Governor Cooper’s veto of gun bill HB 652. The bill, named the 2nd Amendment Protection Act, includes provisions allowing concealed permit holders to bring handguns to nonpublic schools outside of school operating hours when that property also serves as a place of worship. Current state law allows permit holders to carry concealed guns in church, but does not allow weapons to be carried on school grounds.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Vinston Rozier Jr. found that North Carolina officials have not complied with his month-old court order to improve COVID-19 response in prisons. Judge Rozier had ruled last month that conditions in state prisons were likely unconstitutional in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Rozier expressed deep concern that the state has failed to comply with these directions, and he instructed the state to provide more information. He indicated he would “appoint a court liaison to monitor the accuracy of information submitted to the court, to be paid for by the state.”
On Monday, Governor Cooper vetoed SB 168, saying the bill could have the unintended consequence of limiting public access to death investigation records held by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner: “While I believe neither the Department of Health and Human Services, which proposed it, nor the General Assembly, which unanimously passed it, had any ill intent, the concerns that have since been raised make it clear this provision should not become law.” The bill was referred back to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.