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NC governor vetoes another bill reining in emergency powers

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a July 28, 2020, press conference in Raleigh.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a July 28, 2020, press conference in Raleigh.

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday vetoed the latest Republican bill seeking to rein in his powers, this time legislation that would have required other elected leaders to sign off on long-term emergency declarations like those for COVID-19.

The governor vetoed a measure that is somewhat similar to a 2020 bill that he also formally blocked. This year's bill would have required enforcement of a gubernatorial statewide emergency order for only seven days unless a majority of the Council of State agreed to extend it for up to 45 days. For the emergency order to go longer, the legislature would have to pass a law doing so.

Many GOP officials and their allies have complained about Cooper's directives restricting commerce and requiring masks that ensued after his first coronavirus emergency declaration issued in March 2020. That declaration remains in place.

Cooper said that the legislation, which would have applied immediately to him and future governors, would discourage the “decisive, quick and comprehensive action" that an emergency needs, "not bureaucracy and politics.”

“North Carolina is emerging from a global pandemic with lives saved and a strong economy because of effective statewide measures to protect public health under" the current emergency management law, Cooper said in his veto message. “Critical decisions about stopping deadly diseases, or responding to any other emergency, should stay with experts in public health and safety, not a committee of partisan politicians.”

As with the 2020 vetoed bill, Republican lawmakers are unlikely to locate the votes needed to override the veto on this bill. Only one Democrat joined Republicans in voting for the final measure. GOP leaders said the measure is not about maligning the governor’s past actions, but rather restoring some checks and balances to emergency management by taking decision-making out of the hands of one leader.

“The governor’s veto undermines our constitution, the balance of powers and the rule of law,” said Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Beaufort County Republican and bill sponsor. "It also further shows the dangers of when power is centralized in the hands of one person.”

Often the governor has issued orders during the pandemic without the “concurrence” of the Council of State. and in many cases state law doesn't require that, or courts have upheld his actions. The council is defined in the measure as the nine other statewide elected executive branch leaders, such as the lieutenant governor and attorney general. Republicans currently hold majorities on both the council and at the legislature.

The bill also would have demanded that a governor obtain formal Council of State support when the state health director wants to issue quarantine and isolation orders for groups of people that last longer than seven days.

Cooper had until midnight Monday to sign the bill or veto it. Otherwise, it would have become law without his signature.

Cooper vetoed several additional measures last year that reined in his power or overturned his COVID-19 decisions.

Monday's veto marks Cooper's 12th overall this year. None of the previous 11 have been overridden, due largely to the fact that Republicans majorities in the House and Senate aren't veto-proof.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Gary D. Robertson | Associated Press