The first major test of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto power for the 2021 session has been placed on the House floor calendar, but for more than three weeks away on July 21.
A potential veto override vote on House Bill 453 could represent the latest round of political gamesmanship between Cooper and Republican legislative leaders.
Cooper recently vetoed the Republican-sponsored bill aimed at preventing abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
HB453, titled “Human Life Nondiscrimination Act/No Eugenics,” also would prevent women from having an abortion based on the race or sex of the fetus.
Bill sponsors in both chambers, including Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, have tried to frame the debate as a eugenics issue — an intensely sensitive topic in North Carolina.
Cooper has vetoed three Republican-sponsored bills so far in the current session.
Last week, House Republican leadership placed HB453 on Wednesday's floor calendar for a potential veto override vote.
However, the bill was removed Tuesday evening and transferred to the July 21 calendar.
At least 30 votes are required in the Senate to override a governor’s veto, as well as at least 72 in the House.
The Senate is made up of 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats, while the House has 69 Republicans and 53 Democrats.
The Senate approved HB453 on June 10 with no Democratic “yes” votes. The House approved the bill May 6 with six Democrats voting yes.
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said if Cooper is confident of no Senate Democratic support for the veto-override vote in that chamber, "it’s possible that his political team will give House Democrats a free pass to vote as they choose on this veto override.”
Bill opponents said they fear the doctor-patient conversation requirements in the bill could jeopardize women’s trust in medical care and could lead some women with other reasons for considering an abortion to carry pregnancies to term once they learn of a Down syndrome diagnosis.
“This bill gives the government control over what happens and what is said in the exam room between a woman and her doctor at a time she faces one of the most difficult decisions of her life,” Cooper wrote in his veto statement.
“This bill is unconstitutional and it damages the doctor-patient relationship with an unprecedented government intrusion.”
Republican legislative leaders responded swiftly to decry Cooper’s veto.
“Gender, race, and disability are protected classes in most other contexts,” House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. “Why should we allow the unborn to be discriminated against for these same traits?
“The message sent by this veto is that some human life is more valuable than others based on immutable characteristics.”
Senate Bill 359
HB453 could follow a similar path to another abortion-focused “Born Alive” bill, Senate Bill 359, that cleared the legislature in 2019.
That bill also was vetoed by Cooper. The Senate overrode Cooper's veto by a 30-20 vote on April 30.
Moore approved placing, and then removing, SB359 on the House floor calendar for 10 sessions — covering all of May 2019 — before a vote was held on June 5, 2019, in which the override vote failed by a 67-53 margin.
Placing a veto override vote on the floor agenda indefinitely is known in legislative terms as a veto garage.
"If legislative leaders don’t have the numbers, but think they can change some minds, they might" employ the veto garage, Kokai said.
"Otherwise, they are more likely to go ahead and vote and see where the chips fall."
Recent legislative history shows "it is very difficult for Republicans to persuade Democratic legislators to vote with them in sufficient numbers to override Gov. Cooper's vetoes," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University who is a national expert on state legislatures.