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NC lawmakers override another Perdue veto

Gary D. Robertson

The Legislature early Thursday overrode Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of a bill that eliminates the ability of North Carolina's largest teachers' group to have dues deducted directly from teacher paychecks, giving Republicans a victory over an organization historically aligned with Democrats.

The House barely got enough votes to cancel the governor's veto, thanks to the absences of several Democratic members, the return of two Republicans and GOP parliamentary maneuvers that ultimately led to a vote shortly after 1 a.m. The Senate already got the three-fifths majority necessary for a successful override back in July, but the House didn't have the votes at that time.

The override removes the block Perdue put on the bill nearly six months ago that stripped the 70,000-member North Carolina Association of Educators of the ability to have voluntary membership dues deducted directly from paychecks. The revenue stream is a key element of the association's activities, including its political and lobbying advocacy.

The override capped a long day and night at the Legislative Building for a special session called by Perdue for lawmakers to consider her veto that blocked a bill that would eliminate key provisions of the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The Senate overrode that veto, but the House didn't, deciding instead to form a committee to study issues about the death penalty and racial bias.

But Republican legislators decided _ over Democratic objections _ to approve resolutions late Wednesday night that allowed them to consider any other legislation that Perdue vetoed during 2011 but the Legislature had not overridden. That opened the door to consider the dues check-off issue for the association's members.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, defended the maneuvering, even though his lieutenants wouldn't tell Democrats late Wednesday what other vetoed legislation would be considered.

"Everybody knows that every veto override ... is unfinished business," Tillis told reporters after the 69-45 vote. "I made it very clear from the beginning that unfinished business would be taken up when we had an opportunity to override the vetoes."

Democrats, including Perdue, condemned GOP leaders for taking up other legislation when Perdue called the session only to consider the changes to dismantle the Racial Justice Act law. The vote came following a day of intrigue and allegations of wrongdoing and broken promises by legislative leaders. Democrats accused the GOP of violating the state constitution, while Republicans cited a 2007 resolution they argue justified their decision to take up another bill.

Republicans "didn't have the votes to get what they wanted legally. So, in the dark of night, they engaged in an unprecedented, unconstitutional power grab," Perdue said in a prepared statement after the vote. "I am saddened for the people of North Carolina that the Republicans abused their power and chose this destructive path."

While Republicans have said they didn't think it was a proper role of government to deduct dues for the association, the bill didn't touch the paycheck deduction for many other groups, including three unions such as the State Employees Association of North Carolina. Other education groups also would be affected by the new law.

The GOP hasn't strongly refuted arguments that the vetoed bill was designed to punish the NCAE, who counts Perdue among its allies. Association members and leaders criticized Republicans for education cuts in their state budget. The association sent mailers to voters in the districts of five Democrats who sided with the GOP on the state budget.

The NCAE also gave money to an organization who attempted to counter political attacks against incumbent Democrats in the Legislature during the 2010 elections. Republicans took over the General Assembly after the elections.

Association lobbyist Brian Lewis said early Thursday the group would challenge the law in court. Democrats said the bill was illegally singling out the group and discourage freedom of association.

"We will continue to speak out," Lewis said. "Teachers will not be silenced."

Two Democrats _ Reps. Bill Brisson of Bladen County and Jim Crawford of Granville County _ joined all 67 Republicans present in voting for the override. Democratic leaders called the vote a travesty because five Democrats were absent, including Rep. Larry Womble of Forsyth County, who is still hospitalized after a car wreck.

"I think this session was a sham and a shame," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, a House minority whip.

Tillis said Womble's presence wouldn't have changed Thursday's outcome.

Thursday's override success also could be attributed to the seating of new GOP Rep. Trudi Walend on Wednesday evening, which gave Republicans another vote to reach the three-fifths threshold.

Tillis and other House Republicans held a news conference earlier Wednesday criticizing Perdue for failing to appoint Walend, who was chosen Monday by Republican leaders in a district covering three mountain counties to succeed Rep. David Guice, who resigned Jan. 1. Perdue's office said the governor, who had seven days to appoint Walend before she would be automatically appointed, was waiting for Walend's economic disclosure form to be filed. Perdue officially appointed her late Wednesday afternoon.

The Legislature has now overridden seven of the record 16 vetoes Perdue issued in 2011.

The Associated Press