RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took action last week on the remaining bills passed by the General Assembly by signing seven bills into law while vetoing two bills and refusing to sign three others.
Three of the bills signed contain provisions protecting children from pornography, sexually graphic adult entertainment, and sexual assault by school employees.
House Bill 8, which mainly deals with requiring students to take Computer Science courses in order to graduate, contains a section creating civil penalties for any website distributor or publisher of materials considered harmful to minors if those entities fail to perform age verification checks to access said materials.
Senate Bill 579 increases the felony level from Class I to Class H for “intentionally disseminating obscenity when it is knowingly done in the presence of a person under 18 years of age.” Adult live entertainment, such as drag queen or strip shows, that includes exposure of certain sexual anatomy or displays genital arousal, masturbation, and erotic touching in the presence of a person under 18 would be a Class A1 misdemeanor for a first offense, and a Class I felony for a second or subsequent offense. Additionally, the law institutes a Class A1 misdemeanor for intentional sexual contact with a minor.
House Bill 142 ups the felony level from Class I to a Class H felony for teachers or education employees who engage in sexual activity with students or who take indecent liberties with students. The law also requires forfeiture of pension benefits by any employee convicted of such crimes. Additionally, the law requires school officials to report such conduct, including terminations and resignations tied to such crimes, to the state board of education within five days or face a misdemeanor charge. A final provision of that law includes a video on grooming, neglect, and abuse to be created by the Center for Safer Schools. The video will be shown to K-12 students in grade six and up at the onset of each school year.
The governor vetoed two bills; House Bill 600, Regulatory Reform Act of 2023, and Senate Bill 678, Clean Energy/Other Changes. The two vetoes bring the governor’s overall total to 94 over his two terms in office.
Both of the vetoes, along with the previous vetoes of three other bills, appear likely to be overridden as soon as this week by the supermajorities held by Republicans in both chambers of the legislature.
The three other bills previously vetoed which the General Assembly has yet to take up include Senate Bill 512, Greater Accountability for Boards/Commissions; Senate Bill 747, Elections Law Changes; and Senate Bill 749, No Partisan Advantage in Elections.
In part of his veto message of House Bill 600, Cooper called it “a hodgepodge of bad provisions that will result in dirtier water, discriminatory permitting and threats to North Carolina’s environment.”
“Considering the thoughtful effort that resulted in House Bill 600, I am disappointed that Gov. Cooper has vetoed this common sense bill today,” said Rep. Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance) in a statement. “HB 600 has had strong bipartisan support from members of both parties, government agencies and businesses across North Carolina.”
Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Forsyth) also responded to Cooper’s veto, stating, “House Bill 600 is a good-faith effort to help reduce the regulatory burden on North Carolinians and their businesses. I am disappointed that Gov. Cooper has sided with radical, environmentalist, job crushing bureaucrats over the people of North Carolina.”
In his veto of Senate Bill 678, the governor claimed the measure “attempts to diverge” from a path to remove carbon from the state’s electric power sector in favor of constructing traditional power plants he said would give “higher profits for utility companies” over “over lower-cost solutions like energy efficiency.”
Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) fired back over the veto as a “slap in the face” to the energy industry.
“Gov. Cooper’s hardline opposition to nuclear power is a slap in the face to North Carolina’s energy industry,” said Newton in a statement. “He would rather glorify the Green New Deal than strengthen energy production in our state. I look forward to overriding his veto and ensuring that North Carolina can have a reliable electrical grid.”
The three bills the governor refused to sign include the 2023 Appropriations Act, going back on the deal to sign the budget that he previously made with legislative leaders in exchange for passing Medicaid Expansion.
The governor did not say why he refused to sign House Bill 361 but did remark on Senate Bill 452.
Cooper approved of the protections for motorists with regard to insurance but rejected the “late-night changes to high school sports governance” which he said, “are a solution in search of a problem.”
The section of the bill objected to by the governor overhauls the oversight of high school sports, arguably upending the long-held monopoly over student sports by the N.C. High School Athletics Association. The law redefines “administering” organizations and gives the state superintendent authority to grant organizations to administer high school sports.
In a statement, the Department of Public Instruction noted law doesn’t take effect until next year, and that the department “will address any needs with the General Assembly as needed in the coming months.”
At an Oct. 3 press conference, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said the law “handcuffs” the group.
“It handcuffs the means through which the association can raise funds,” Tucker said at a press conference on Oct. 3. “It prevents the NCHSAA from giving grants and scholarships back to students and schools, unless they are donor directed.”
In terms of raising funds, Tucker’s claim conflicts with the nonprofit sitting on over $41 million in assets as disclosed during an investigation into the group launched in 2021 by the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations.
Following the investigations that year, Cooper approved a bill that took a similar step to change the governance of the NCHSAA through the signing of a four-year memorandum of understanding with the state board of education. The measure became law after lawmakers investigating the NCHSAA said the group had too much power over member schools, as well as areas like eligibility decisions and issuance of monetary penalties.