Flipped vote, absence enough to sustain veto of school reopening bill

Members of the Senate are sworn in during the opening session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH — A March 1 N.C. Senate floor session to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of SB 37, a bill to give all school districts the option to return students to full-time in-person instruction, failed by one vote.

The tally was 29-20, with one absence. Three-fifths of the members would have had to support the override, meaning Senate Republicans needed just one Democratic vote.

When the bill passed the chamber and was sent to the governor on Feb. 17, three Senate Democrats – Ben Clark and Kirk deViere of Cumberland County and Paul Lowe of Forsyth County, voted along with all 28 Senate Republicans.

Yet following Cooper’s veto on Feb. 26, pressure appeared to mount on the three Democrats to vote with his position.

A few hours before the vote, Lowe wrote on Twitter, “After some careful consideration, I will be voting to sustain the governor’s veto. Our students and teachers must come back to a healthy learning environment. I hope we can come to a compromise.”

Following Lowe’s announcement, both Clark and deViere said they also supported a “compromise” measure.

Clark said in an email to WRAL, “I believe that it would be prudent for the General Assembly to make the adjustments to SB37 as requested by the Governor;” however, he ultimately did not attend Monday evening’s session due to an unspecified absence.

Clark was the only Democrat to co-sponsor the bill.

When the vote was taken, deViere voted along with Senate Republicans.

After the floor session, Lowe told the Raleigh News & Observer his reasoning for the veto.

“He asked. I am a Democrat. He’s the governor, and a Democratic governor,” Lowe said.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), the bill’s main sponsor, said following the vote, “Hundreds of thousands of struggling students and desperate parents are paying the price for Gov. Cooper’s political victory. The far-left NCAE controls education policy at the Governor’s mansion and in the Democratic caucus, and some students will never recover from the destruction they’ve caused.”

“It’s time to fund students instead of systems. I’d like to thank Gov. Cooper for doing more than we could have imagined to advance the cause of school choice,” Ballard continued. “We expect to file legislation to increase funding available to low- and middle-income families to allow them to choose the school that best fits their needs. For too many families, the public education bureaucracy is failing them.”

On Tuesday evening, Senate Republicans announced a motion to reconsider the vote would be taken up during Wednesday’s floor session.

The motion, if successful, would place the veto override back on the Senate calendar for consideration at a later date. The motion requires a simple majority to pass.

According to Senate rules, the motion would allow “any senator who voted in the majority [to] move to reconsider the vote thereof.” 29 senators voted in favor of the override including all 28 Republicans and Democratic Sen. Kirk deViere.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said, “Sen. Ben Clark cosponsored Senate Bill 37 and voted for its passage the first time around. He was absent from yesterday’s veto override attempt, and if he voted ‘yes’ then the override would have been successful. We intend to provide Sen. Clark the opportunity to advance the bill that bears his name.”