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NC lawmakers consider constitutional amendments, veto overrides as they wrap up session

The front of the North Carolina State Legislature Building
Erin Keever
State lawmakers are considering multiple bills Wednesday, including one that would make cocktail deliveries legal again — the state temporarily allowed restaurants and bars to serve alcohol in to-go cups and through delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dozens of bills are moving at the N.C. legislature on Wednesday, as lawmakers consider putting constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes and other matters before taking a summer break.

Here's a look at what's happening:

House overrides three Gov. Cooper vetoes

The state House got the three-fifths vote needed to override three of Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes.

One of the bills would change the state law that allows people to wear masks for public health reasons. It would create criminal penalties for people who wear a mask while committing a crime, while allowing medical or surgical masks to prevent the spread of germs.

Cooper objected to a last-minute addition to the bill that loosens campaign finance laws for out-of-state contributions.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, says the campaign finance change simply "levels the playing field" for contributions, and he says the mask change addressed concerns that state law might ban masks in public.

"I think we got the bill to a softer spot, where people understand that if they want to wear a mask, they can wear a mask," he said. "They need not be fearful of the law."

Another vetoed bill would change the state's "Raise The Age" law to put more 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes in adult courts.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, says she's concerned the change would "roll back" the recent law designed to keep young people in juvenile court. "We are doing it the right way, and the only reason I have heard this bill has come up is for one reason alone: expediency," she said.

The third vetoed bill the House voted to override would allow more trees to be cut down around billboards.

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday to override the vetoes and pass the three bills into law.

Voters could decide on new constitutional amendments

Republicans in the state House want political parties to help fill vacancies in some statewide elected offices.

Currently the governor gets to appoint a replacement when officials like the state treasurer or attorney general don’t finish their term. Rep. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, said the current process could conflict with what voters want, and he wants to put a constitutional amendment before voters this fall.

"I think that the voters in North Carolina also not only elect a person, but they also elect a political party to serve in that position, and so this would give the political party the opportunity to nominate three people and the governor would have to pick one of the three people," Hall said.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters he hasn't seen the proposed amendment and isn't sure if the Senate will support it.

In addition to the appointments change, the House also approved a proposed amendment that says only citizens can vote in North Carolina. That’s already in state law, but it’s an amendment Senate leaders also want to see on November’s ballot.

The Senate also wants an amendment to lower the maximum income tax rate to 5% and tweak the constitution's voter ID requirement to make it clear that photo IDs are also required to vote by mail. House Speaker Tim Moore has said he’s not sure if his chamber will support the tax amendment. The Senate has not yet scheduled a floor vote on its trio of proposed amendments.

Cocktail deliveries could become legal again

Takeout and delivery cocktails could return to North Carolina under a bill moving the House.

When restaurants and bars were shut down or restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state temporarily allowed them to serve alcoholic drinks in to-go cups and through delivery services like DoorDash.

But that change was temporary and ended when the state of emergency was lifted. A House bill would allow that practice again.

It’s part of a wide-ranging alcohol bill that also would allow liquor stores to open on certain holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day. But it wouldn’t allow local ABC boards to open their stores on Sundays, which was part of an earlier version of the bill that passed the Senate.

The House also isn’t including a Senate proposal to allow happy hour drink specials in North Carolina. Also in the House version: A proposal to allow ABC stores to sell gift cards, an effort to allow alcohol sales permits at pickleball clubs, and a plan to allow airport visitors to carry around alcoholic drinks purchased from a bar inside the terminal.

Still no budget deal

In a sign House and Senate leaders aren't getting any closer to an agreement on how to spend a billion-dollar revenue surplus, the House rolled out a pair of bare-bones spending bills for the fiscal year starting next week.

The goal is to avoid losing unspent funds in the absence of a proper budget bill. "It is simply making sure that federal funds do not revert back to the feds," said Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln.

The latest version of Senate Bill 357 also appears to include a temporary lifeline to childcare centers facing the loss of federal COVID-19 grant money. It has a $67 million allocation "to provide grants at a reduced level" for the next few months. That's far short of the roughly $130 million for childcare centers included in both the House and Senate budgets. House budget writers says the hope is that the budget impasse can be resolved in the next few months to allow for more funding.

Supporters of childcare funding from the group Poor People's Campaign held a protest at the Legislative Building on Wednesday calling for full funding to avoid childcare center closures, and some of the protesters were arrested following a noise complaint.

Another spending bill moving in the House Wednesday was described as a "technical" measure to ensure teachers get scheduled raises included in last year's budget. That bill does not include additional raises or funding for private school vouchers. Both stopgap spending bills passed the House unanimously Wednesday afternoon and now go to the Senate. Berger says he's been in talks with the House about passing "discreet, one-issue type of appropriations" bills before the end of the week.

Antisemitism bill returns

After taking no action on the House bill for weeks, the Senate is moving ahead with an antisemitism bill backed by House Speaker Tim Moore.

The bill calls for North Carolina to join other states in using a definition created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That definition includes several types of criticism against Israel as examples of antisemitism.

"I firmly believe that it's the responsibility of the General Assembly to protect our citizens from hate and from bigotry," said Sen. Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck. "The 'SHALOM Act' does just that, while in no way diminishes or infringes on any rights protected by the North Carolina or the United States constitutions."

New face for the UNC Board of Governors

A Senate committee has confirmed Republicans' pick to fill a seat on the UNC Board of Governors. Kathryn Greeley is an interior designer from Waynesville who currently serves on the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees.

Once confirmed, she'll fill the seat vacated by former board member Lee Roberts, who left the position to serve as interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.