The deadline for acting on bills passed by the General Assembly and sent to Gov. Roy Cooper has come and gone. His options included signing bills into law, vetoing them or allowing bills to become law without his signature. Cooper passed on the final four bills that were on is desk, and they have become law without his signature.
The governor’s website states, “The governor returned four bills to the General Assembly without signature.”
The four bills are; HB527: An Act to Restore and Preserve Free Speech on the Campuses of the Constituent Institutions of the University of North Carolina. HB528: An Act to Make Technical, Clarifying, and Other Modifications to the Current Operations Appropriations Act of 2017. HB704: An Act to Establish the Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units. HB719: An Act to Allocate the Parking Spaces in the Upper Level of State Parking Deck 65 to the Legislative Services Commission to Support Security Measures for the Legislative Complex.
It can be speculated that a governor allows a bill to become law without signing it in some cases due to political expediency. For example, Cooper could not come out against free speech by vetoing the bill that promotes free speech on the University of North Carolina system, yet some on the Left do not like the bill. Rather than taking a stand either way, allowing it to become law without signing it provides some political cover.
In a story Monday at wral.com, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter is reported as having said in an email, “The legislature should trust its university leaders on how best to do this rather than dictate the terms.”
Without putting himself in the political line of fire, Cooper pandered to those who are concerned about free speech on college campuses in letting the bill become law, while leaving himself an “out” with his Leftist base to whom he can say, “I didn’t sign that bill.”
The same can be said of the budget technical corrections bill, HB528. While the bill is 19 pages long, and addresses multiple parts of the state budget, one section would have been difficult for Cooper to explain should he have vetoed the bill.
A portion of the bill provides funding for employees and operations at the Eastern Carolina State Veteran’s Cemetery in Goldsboro. Also, the bill states that no veteran’s cemeteries in the state will be closed, but remain open and operated by the state’s Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs.
Porter said, “While the budget technical bill contains some needed fixes, it also continues the wrongheaded approach to state budgeting by delivering major policy changes under the guise of budgeting and without discussion or review.”
Here again is a situation wherein Cooper could not go on record vetoing a bill that supports veterans’ cemeteries. But, his base would prefer he veto the bill because it does not add to the budget Cooper’s desire for rampant spending. The best solution politically for Cooper was to allow the bill to become law without signing it.
House Bill 704 is simply a study bill, looking into the feasibility of dividing the state’s largest school districts. It did not make any changes, it simply looked into whether dividing the districts would be a good idea.
In the email statement Porter said, “HB704 forecasts a troubling undoing of communities’ difficult decisions regarding public schools. Rather than focusing on how to improve education, this study threatens to undo merged districts and lead to more schools separated by race and income.”
Studying the question of creating smaller districts out of large districts such as Mecklenburg and Wake can be said to be focusing on how to improve education. But, Cooper decided to stand aside, rather than be seen as open to new ideas, and allowed the bill to become law maintaining his commitment to the education status quo, and thereby appeasing his base.
Finally, the fourth bill, HB719, moves the control of a parking deck for state employees from the Department of Administration (DOA), to the Legislative Services Commission, which oversees the legislative buildings and grounds.
According to one lawmaker, “The legislative services staff had tried to get the Department of Administration staff to work together on granting additional parking spaces for staff members of the General Assembly, but the DOA staff refused to help or try to work with the legislative staff. Unfortunately, we had to write a bill to get something done.”
Of Cooper’s reason for keeping himself out of the issue Porter said, “The bill was a power play, plain and simple.”
Cooper was not inclined to spend a veto on a bill that affected only a number of state employees, but allowing the bill to become law without his signature shows that he wasn’t happy with the bill.
Signing it would have shown the DOA that working together for the good of all state employees is a priority.
Cooper’s desk is now clear of all the bills sent to him this past legislative session. Never one to miss a chance to play politics, he did so with the final four. With the General Assembly convening again this Thursday, some of the bills Cooper vetoed will likely be overridden. If he gets any new legislation, it would be nice if he would sign or veto it, instead of standing in the shadow of inaction, trying to please both sides.
Why a governor allows a bill to become law without his signature can be grounded in many factors. But, a case can be made that politics is at times the underlying reason. Governors have allowed bills to become law since 1997. In fact, 49 bills have become law without being signed by the governor.
For example, former Gov. Pat McCrory allowed HB488 to become law without his signature in 2013. The bill opened the door for the transfer of public utilities to a municipal water and sewerage district.
The underlying issue of this bill was the changing of the ownership and oversight of the Asheville water system. The issue was heatedly fought by the City of Asheville and dragged on for several years.
McCrory said when he allowed the bill to become law without his signature, “The issues surrounding the transfer of the assets of the Asheville water department to a regional authority potentially raise a number of complicated inter-governmental issues. The city of Asheville has made it clear it will turn to the courts to resolve those issues should HB488 become law. To permit the process to run its proper course, HB488 will become law without my signature.” McCrory turned out to be correct, in that the city did take the case to court.
It wound up in the NC Supreme Court, which ruled that Asheville would maintain its water system. A bill that became law in May 2013 was finally adjudicated in December 2016, with a great deal of angry citizens speaking out during the entire process. McCrory was able to stand to the side and garner whatever political capital he could by saying that he did not sign the bill.
There is nothing uncommon related to a governor allowing a bill to become law without his or her signature. But, in many cases, the reasons appear to be politically motivated.
Citizens can look at these unsigned bills that become laws and see that the leader of their (or the opposition’s party) has likely made a political move. Both sides can use it for campaign fodder saying things like, “Our guy didn’t sign that unpopular bill,” shifting blame to the legislature, or, “Their guy didn’t have the fortitude to sign that bill.” For example, the bill working to ensure free-speech on North Carolina college campuses might end up in a mailer or campaign ad in the future.