N.C. Senate fails to override SB 37 veto

A Marine color guard marches into the Senate chamber during the opening session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH – During a Monday evening floor session, the N.C. Senate failed to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of SB 37, the bill to return all students to in-person instruction. The final tally was 29-20, one vote short of the three-fifths requirement.

The override was scheduled following Gov. Cooper’s Friday evening veto of the measure, which would have given all school districts the option to return K-12 students to classrooms full-time.

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

“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,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement earlier Monday. “The bill allows middle and high school students to be in school without following NCDHHS and CDC guidelines on social distancing.”

Three N.C. Senate Democrats supported the bill when it passed with bipartisan majorities and was sent to the governor on Feb. 17. One of those Democrats, Sen. Ben Clark who represents Cumberland County, was a co-sponsor of the bill. Clark requested an excused absence from the veto override session and did not vote.

Another one of the three Sen. Lowe (D-Forsyth) announced earlier in the day his intention to uphold the governor’s veto. Lowe justified his veto to the News & Observer, saying that “He asked. I am a Democrat. He’s the governor, and a Democratic governor.”

The bill’s sponsor, 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.”

Just prior to the override vote, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) took the floor, asking his colleagues if  “this about the adults or the children, that would let this veto stand?

“All the science and all that we’ve learned in the past year tells us that schools are not the place super spread events occur,” said Berger. He went on to add that “the science is pretty clear” and that teachers have been moved to the front of the line for vaccinations.

Berger urged senators to override the veto, saying the “current situation is damaging children.”

“We are disappointed that students will continue to suffer from elected leaders’ refusal to put their needs first, even as teachers were advanced in the vaccine priority list ahead of cancer patients under 65 to support safe classroom reopenings,” Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) said in a statement.