Obviously not content with dominant majorities in both chambers of the North Carolina legislature, Republican lawmakers last week changed the rules in the state House to further tip the balance in their favor.
In a shift that threatens to turn votes into games of musical chairs, a new rule in the House now allows veto override votes to be held without notice.
And if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time when the music stops? Well, too bad.
The previously existing rule allowed a veto override vote to be taken only “until the second legislative day” after it had been placed on the calendar.
The new rule, passed last week along party lines, requires no advance warning at all. None.
That means if too many Democrats step out of the chamber at the wrong time Republicans could hold a quick veto override vote in their absence.
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In other words, take a bathroom break at your own risk.
This ploy could be particularly instrumental in thwarting Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of hotly debated measures such as relaxed gun regulations and tougher abortion restrictions.
This raises concerns from Democrats that the GOP could hold “ambush votes.”
House Minority Leader Robert Reives didn’t mince words, saying the new rule “holds people hostage.”
“Say we’re in the middle of notices and announcements. People have started clearing out. They’re going home. They’re going to see their families, to have dinner, things of that sort. All of a sudden, that (veto override) can be called up,” Reives said.
House Speaker Tim Moore says he doesn’t see what the big deal is.
“Why are we treating a veto override procedural vote different than the others?” said Moore, overlooking the fact that he had supported the old rule … until now he doesn’t.
It’s not as if Republicans don’t already hold a firm grip on the legislature.
Republicans hold a supermajority in the Senate and fell only one vote short of one in the House in last fall’s midterm election.
Moore and his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Phil Berger, even said in November that they were confident that they could persuade at least one Democrat to side with them.
House Majority Whip Jon Hardister of Greensboro said he voted for the new rule beccause “This streamlines the process.” Hardister said the rule makes it unnecessary for the House Principal Clerk to place veto override votes on the calendar each day.”
Democrats don’t see it that way.
The governor said last week in a written statement: “Not letting the public know when veto override votes will occur slaps democracy in the face and deceives citizen legislators who have overlapping work, family and constituent responsibilities they could change if they have proper notice,” Cooper’s statement said.
“Critical issues like women’s health, gun safety and voting rights are on the line, and Republican House leaders need to keep things above board and offer at least 24 hours notice before veto override votes as Senator Berger has done in the Senate,” he said. “It’s a shame that House Republican leaders believe they can only override a veto through deception, surprise and trickery.”
Cooper has a point.
In 2019, House Republicans overrode Cooper’s veto of their budget one morning when nearly half of the House’s membership was absent. A number of Democrats said they were not there because they had been told there would be no votes that morning. One Democrat was attending a 9/11 memorial service in Raeford.
For his part, Moore’s defense of the rule is, at best, confusing. And contradictory.
On the one hand, he says, he doesn’t really need it.
On the other he says there’ll be no surprises.
Except like in 2019 because, well, you know, things happen.
Bottom line: Moore wants us to trust what he says rather than what he does. No, thank you.