RALEIGH — Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed bills Thursday that would have pushed North Carolina toward offshore drilling and limited the ability of agencies to place rules on businesses.
The four vetoes Perdue issued Thursday bring her total to 15 for the year, five more than had been issued combined in the 14 years since governors first got the power to reject bills.
Lawmakers ended their legislative session earlier this month and the state constitution gave Perdue 10 days to sign or veto measures. For bills they passed on their final weekend of work, that authority ran out at midnight Thursday.
Among the bills she signed was a technical corrections bill that adjusted the $19.7 billion budget that goes into effect today and a bill that gives tax breaks to multistate companies. A third bill allows the state to issue dozens of specialty license plates, including one controversial provision that makes way for a “choose life” plate pursued by anti-abortion activists.
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Perdue allowed several other bills to become law without her signature, including one that gives Triad cities like Greensboro more time to meet water quality rules meant to clean up Jordan Lake, a Triangle water supply. Not signing a bill is frequently interpreted as a sign the governor does not want to endorse a bill but that its language does not trouble her enough to provoke a veto.
Perdue’s most notable actions Thursday included the veto of four bills, including two that had been pilloried by environmentalists.
The Energy Jobs Act would have directed the governor to work with other states to push for offshore energy exploration. It also remade the state’s existing Energy Policy Council into an Energy Jobs Council. The new council would have had a strong bias toward business interests and lost dedicated slots set aside for renewable energy and environmental advocates.
“All of our attempts to put those positions back were rebuffed,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat who works on environmental issues.
Harrison said the bill also ignored the state’s potential for development of renewable energy like wind and solar power.
In a statement accompanying the veto, Perdue wrote that the bill was “unconstitutional as it infringes on the powers assigned to the Governor.” Specifically, the bill directs the governor to enter into cooperative offshore energy exploration agreements with other states.
The bill’s backers decried that logic.
“You know what? She is clueless,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican who authored the bill. He said North Carolina would continue to “lag behind and study” while other states, such as Virginia, looked to create a new economic sector from energy production.
He called Perdue’s constitutional objection “absurd” and added, “She put the people of North Carolina in second place behind her political cronies and her political base. She should be ashamed of herself.”
Perdue also rejected a second bill that rankled environmental groups. The regulatory reform measure would have restricted state agencies’ abilities to draft administrative rules. This would affect the work of environmental regulators the most, but could have had consequences for everything from liquor regulation to workplace safety rules.
“It would handcuff the state’s ability to protect its own air and water,” said Margaret Hartzell, a policy advocate for Environment North Carolina. Hartzell, whose group lobbies the General Assembly for stronger environmental regulations, said the bill could have led to the rollback of some rules that limit the amount of toxins like mercury that come out of industrial smokestacks.
Perdue said she vetoed the bill because it violated the state constitution by putting the final decisions regarding agency rulemaking in the hands of administrative law judges rather than the agencies themselves.
That, Perdue said, is “a result that the attorney general has repeatedly declared is in violation of the North Carolina constitution.”
Republicans made regulatory reform a key component of both their 2010 campaign and their efforts in the General Assembly this spring.
“It’s just funny that in the Senate, you had (this) bill that was unanimous, that she now has decided has constitutional problems. It’s curious to me that no one else has seen that,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.
“The only conclusion that I can draw is that she would prefer to stand on the side of the regulators as opposed to the job creators.”
Perdue’s two other vetoes Thursday dealt with more specialized areas of law.
One of those bills would have made changes to portions of the state’s unemployment laws. Perdue said those changes could have increased the time to process first-time unemployment claims. The changes, according to an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Labor that Perdue distributed with her veto, could have ended the flow of federal unemployment funds to the state.
House Speaker Thom Tillis called that explanation “fake and plastic.” He added, “This bill actually prevents unemployment benefits from being paid to employees who steal money from their employers.”
Perdue’s final veto of the day dealt with a bill changing how the state’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled worked. Perdue said those changes would have violated both the state constitution and federal Medicaid law, potentially interrupting the flow of federal Medicaid money to the state.
Contact Mark Binker at (919) 832-5549 or mark. binker @news-record.com