By Theresa Opeka
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper signed three bills into law Thursday, Dec. 9, but also vetoed three bills. Getting the veto stamp were House Bill 220, Choice of Energy, and Senate Bill 725, Prohibit Private Money in Elections Administration, which would have banned private groups from funding local elections offices in North Carolina. The issue came up when a group founded by Mark Zuckerberg provided money for elections in 2020 in communities that leaned Democrat.
With these vetoes, Cooper set a new single-year high for himself and tied former Gov. Beverly Perdue’s record for the most vetoes in a year with 16. Cooper extends his record of most vetoes by a governor ever in North Carolina with 69. All previous N.C. governors combined had 35.
The N.C. Senate approved a measure banning the use of private money in the administration of elections. It stemmed from the use of so-called “Zuck Bucks” in the 2020 elections in which a foundation funded by Mark Zuckerberg distributed money to local elections offices to hire staff and cover other expenses. But the foundation distributed more to areas that had an increased likelihood of voting Democrat. S.B. 725 passed the House on Nov. 17.
“Elections are fundamental to our democracy and in 2020, grants from nonpartisan nonprofits were needed for necessities such as masks, single-use pens, and other protective equipment so voters stayed safe during the pandemic,” said Cooper. “The legislature should start properly funding elections boards to ensure accessible, safe, and secure elections every time, which would end the need for grants.”
He also vetoed H.B. 220, Choice of Energy/Add’l Provisions. That measure would have prevented cities and municipalities from banning some types of energy sources, like natural gas. While no cities in North Carolina currently prohibit particular energy sources, the trend is beginning in the western part of the country as local governments start forcing what they consider green policy on consumers. H.B. 220 was passed by lawmakers arguing that energy policy should be set at the state level.
“This legislation undermines North Carolina’s transition to a clean energy economy that is already bringing in thousands of good-paying jobs,” Cooper said. “It also wrongly strips local authority and hampers public access to information about critical infrastructure that impacts the health and well-being of North Carolinians.”
Cooper’s final veto was on House Bill 294, Sale of Salvage Vehicles. He said it removes a layer of protection for consumers when buying a vehicle.
Bills that he signed into law included Hous Bill 110, Landlord Submission of HOPE Application. The bill came as state and local leaders struggle to quickly distribute federal rental assistance aid they’re tasked with administering. The changes will let landlords apply for assistance on behalf of tenants, along with other changes designed to facilitate a more effective administration of the program.
In 2020, while the world succumbed to COVID-19 pandemic policies that shut down businesses, and thus froze many incomes, a federal agency — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — issued a moratorium on evictions. The move was massively disruptive for landlords and left them in limbo for months.
North Carolina established the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program, or HOPE, to provide rent and utility assistance to low-income renters who were experiencing financial hardship due to pandemic policies, protecting them against utility disconnections and evictions.
Senate Bill 473, Enhance Local Government Transparency, was signed into law. It bans public officials from gaining financially from their position. The measure came after an audit released in May found that several Rocky Mount officials prevented the city’s utility payment office from trying to collect $47,704 that Mayor Pro Tem Andre Knight owed in past due utility bills. N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood’s office opened the investigation after getting more than 200 complaints at its hotline alleging misconduct by elected officials and employees of the city of Rocky Mount.
S.B. 473 would make it a crime for elected officials to use their position and access to government resources for personal gain. It also would give some independence to local government offices responsible for auditing their government colleagues.
He also signed Senate Bill 329, which deals with building permit rules and timeshares.