Commentary

Lawmakers return today; Cooper vetoes of small loan, “garbage juice,” casino nights and newspaper bills at risk?

The North Carolina General Assembly takes yet another step toward becoming a more or less full-time legislature today as it returns for its umpteenth special legislative session in recent years. To make the whole exercise that much more fun and in keeping with the way things have run during recent so-called “regular” sessions, no one — least of all the general public — has any clear idea of what the heck lawmakers will do.

One thing that had been expected — votes on motions to override four vetoes issued by Governor Cooper in July — now appear much in doubt. The official excuse for this advanced by Republican legislative leaders is that it will be hard to get enough lawmakers to attend the session in order to conduct override votes. Setting aside the fact that this calls into question the very idea of having the session to begin with, it should also be noted that this is explanation is starting to sound a little questionable.

The truth of the matter, as its has been so often over the last several months, is that Cooper seems to have out-maneuvered lawmakers once again. Each of the four bills vetoed by the Guv faced bipartisan opposition during the session and have received lots of negative publicity.

As we reported a few weeks back, one of the proposals (House Bill 140) constitutes an absurd giveaway to the high cost lending industry.  Under language added to the bill in the session’s waning hours – language that was never discussed previously in a committee or even as the subject of another “stand alone” bill – loan shops would get new opportunities to sell an especially predatory product known as credit property insurance. As Cooper said in his veto message:

“Making small loans more expensive by expanding credit insurance can drive borrowers further into debt, especially those who can least afford it. If this bill becomes law, consumers will have higher-cost loans because they will be borrowing the money to pay the credit insurance premiums. Borrowers who need short-term loans should not have to pay more for unnecessary insurance.”

Let’s hope lawmaker leave the veto alone as consumer advocates are urging them to do. And let’s hope they do the same for the three other vetoes bills. As veteran journalist Steve Ford explained earlier this week:

HB 576, which requires the state to approve “aerosolization” to get rid of liquid leachate – i.e., drainage — from lined municipal solid waste landfills and allows such approval for unlined landfills. In other words, the nasty stuff would be sprayed into the air. Cooper sensibly criticized the bill for short-circuiting scientific assessments of safe disposal methods.

HB 511, which eases the rules for “game nights” operated by charities. The governor said he perceived a risk that the activities could be infiltrated by illegal video poker. His long service as attorney general gives him credibility on the issue.

HB 205, which includes an effort to weaken the rules mandating publication of legal notices in printed newspapers. Supporters tout the savings to local governments if they can put the notices on their websites and avoid print, but news organizations view the change as economic punishment for coverage and commentary that has put legislators on the spot. The bill’s scope was narrowed so that the rules changes apply only in Guilford County, but Cooper doesn’t buy it. “Legislation that enacts retribution on the media,” he said in his veto message, “threatens a free and open press, which is fundamental to our democracy.”

Stay tuned to NC Policy Watch today and tomorrow for updates on the vetoes, redistricting proposals and any other matters the honorables get around to taking up.

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