Tasting the defeat of overrides on his first two vetoes, a defiant Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that he still won’t implement one of the bills the General Assembly passed because lawmakers didn’t give him enough money to do so.
Barely an hour after the Senate completed the overrides first started by the House late Tuesday, McCrory used a State Board of Education meeting to criticize fellow Republicans for passing a bill requiring drug-testing for certain welfare recipients.
Legislators set aside $145,000 in the state budget to carry out the drug-testing law. But McCrory’s health and human services agency said the law required an additional $300,000 to make computer changes, not including expenses incurred by all 100 counties.
“The executive branch will not take any action on the new law’s implementation until sufficient funds with this unfunded mandate are provided,” the governor said in a statement.
Legislative leaders were taken aback by McCrory’s announcement and wondered aloud how he could avoid carrying out a new law that was approved in July and whose veto was overridden by wide margins. The drug testing of Work First applicants and recipients wouldn’t begin until next summer.
“It seems like a little instrument called the state constitution has been forgotten, and the powers of the three branches of government,” Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the Senate Rules Committee chairman, told reporters. The North Carolina constitution says the governor “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
“All governors, without regard to party, swear an oath to uphold the constitution,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement. “We expect Gov. McCrory to perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law.”
The motion to override the veto of the drug-test bill passed 77-39 in the House and 34-10 in the Senate.
Both state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, voted to override McCrory’s veto of the bill.
Cook said he voted to override McCrory’s veto in the Senate because he believes the measure is needed to stop recipients of state assistance from using illegal drugs. He also believes if someone is receiving taxpayer-funded benefits, there ought to some controls on what they are able to do with the funds.
“Namely, you shouldn’t be able to able to spend it on booze and drugs,” Cook said.
Cook also noted that most private employers already check to ensure job applicants aren’t using illegal drugs. He thinks welfare recipients participating in job training programs should be held to the same requirement.
“I don’t know why we expect the same kind of behavior from people on welfare that we expect from people who aren’t working — namely, you don’t use drugs and you keep yourself sober and ready to go to work,” he said.
Steinburg said in voting to override McCrory’s veto, he was following his commitment to do what his constituents want.
“People here support drug-testing for welfare recipients because it ensures our tax dollars help the needy, not the irresponsible,” he said.
State Rep. Annie Mobley, D-Hertford, who voted against the override, could not be reached for comment.
The House and Senate also voted to override a second McCrory veto, this one of a bill that allows employers to create a new definition of a temporary worker that could help them avoid participating in the federal E-Verify program, a system that electronically verifies workers’ legal status.
McCrory claimed the second veto override would create a loophole that would allow all sorts of industries — not just the agricultural interests that had sought the change — to hire immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The motion to override the veto of the E-Verify modification bill passed 84-32 in the House and 39-5 in the Senate.
Cook said he supported overriding McCrory’s veto of the bill because North Carolina’s farmers need the General Assembly’s help.
“They have a heck of a job trying to get somebody to harvest the fruits of their labor,” Cook said. “And it has really gotten out of control.”
Cook said farmers need immigrant farm labor because they’re unable to fill thousands of agricultural jobs during the growing season.
“It’s a serious, serious problem and it’s going to get worse,” Cook said. “So, it’s very important to us that we have some kind of system in place that allows our farmers to find the help they need to harvest their fields.”
Cook said he believes the problem with the current three-month exemption is that it required employers to fill out more paperwork for the E-Verify program.
“It just added another layer of bureaucracy and hassle to the farmers’ task in trying to get people to work,” he said. “So, basically what we’re saying in this bill is simply, ‘No, instead of 90 days, we’re going to make it nine months, so that the folks who are working the fields will be able to work the whole time without the farmer having to worry about a whole lot more paperwork with the E-Verify.’”
Steinburg, who also voted for the override, said local residents understand that temporary farm workers need to work more than 90 days.
“These are good bills that will help our local economy grow,” he said. “And that’s my mission, above all else, to create jobs here.”
For his part, McCrory said he would “explore all legal and executive authority to ensure that the letter and spirit of our nation’s immigration law is followed.”