N.C. Senate sets Monday override vote

Members of the North Carolina Legislature Sergeant-at-Arms gather at the entrance of the Senate chamber prior to the opening session of the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH – Following Gov. Roy Cooper’s Friday evening veto, the N.C. Senate will vote on a veto override of SB 37 at 7 p.m. Monday.

SB 37, a bill that would require an in-person instruction option available to all K-12 public school students, passed the General Assembly on Feb. 17 with bipartisan majorities in both chambers.

Using almost all of a 10-day period to sign, veto, or let the bill become law, Gov. Cooper issued his first veto of the 2021-22 legislative session.

“As written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic,” Cooper said in the veto message.

Following the veto, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) announced an override vote would be brought to the Senate floor.

Early on Monday, Berger said, “Three Democratic senators – Sens. Kirk DeViere, Paul Lowe, and Ben Clark – prioritized children’s interests when the bill passed the first time. If they stick to their convictions and side again with the overwhelming majority of parents, this bill will almost certainly become law.”

A few hours later, Lowe, a Forsyth County Democrat, wrote on Twitter that, “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 statement, Gov. Cooper attempted to further clarify his decision on the veto.

In an emailed statement from his press office, Cooper said, “The question on SB 37 that I vetoed is not whether our children should be in the classroom in person. They absolutely should. The question is whether we do it safely. The bill allows middle and high school students to be in school without following NCDHHS and CDC guidelines on social distancing.”

Cooper’s statement continued, saying, “SB 37 also removes authority from state and local officials to put students in remote learning in an emergency like a new COVID variant hitting our schools. I have asked legislative leaders to compromise with me on these two issues but so far they have not.”

The bill sponsor of SB 37, Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), said Monday, “With teacher vaccinations in full swing, there is no legitimate excuse for Gov. Cooper and the far-left NCAE to oppose the broad reopening flexibility this bill grants to school districts.”

Cooper and legislators differed over the health guidelines the bill would include. Legislators contend that the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit is followed and is referenced prominently.

After defection, the two Democrats who supported the bill, Cumberland County Sens. Ben Clark, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, and Kirk deViere, told WRAL they supported a “compromise” and appear poised to sustain the veto.

“I believe that it would be prudent for the General Assembly to make the adjustments to SB37 as requested by the Governor,” Clark said in an email to the TV station.

In a statement, deViere said, “Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with hundreds of parents, children, educators, administrators, community leaders, and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I remain hopeful that we can bring all voices to the table and work to find a compromise that gets our children back in the classroom safely.”