N.C. Governor’s Public Notice Veto Still Stands

This story was updated on Sept. 5.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bad public notice bill is safe for now.

The state’s legislature adjourned for the year on Aug. 31 without ever having voted whether to overturn the governor’s veto of HB 205, Sen. Trudy Wade’s (R-Guilford) apparent effort to punish the newspapers in her district.

Wade’s bill would have moved court-ordered legal notices in Guilford County to the county government’s website and authorized local government units in Guilford to move their notices from newspapers to their own websites. It would also have allowed newspapers in the state without periodical permits to qualify for public notice advertising; limited the price newspapers can charge for some government notices; required newspapers to publish notices on their own websites; and eliminated the legal presumption that newspaper carriers are independent contractors.

The bill was passed minutes before the legislature adjourned on June 29 after Wade attached her stalled public notice and newspaper-carrier bills to another piece of legislation that would change how workers’ compensation laws relate to prison labor. Although there has been no official confirmation, it is widely believed that Wade held up a separate bill with bipartisan support in the Senate to force the House to vote on HB 205. It was approved by a 60-53 vote in the lower chamber. It had passed the Senate by a vote of 32-14 earlier in the session.

Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill on July 17. “(T)ime and again, this legislature has used the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time,” he said in his veto statement. “Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media. Legislation that enacts retribution in the media threatens a free and open press, which is fundamental to our democracy.”

Wade said Cooper’s “veto of bipartisan legislation eliminating special carve-outs for the newspaper industry makes it clear his number one priority is brown-nosing those who cover him.”

As several media outlets in the state have noted, the changes to the public notice eligibility laws in HB 205 would have allowed government notices to run in the North State Journal, a new statewide publication launched by former officials in Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. However, a line added to the bill before it passed, requiring eligible newspapers to maintain a “physical location in the county” in which notices are published, would have limited the paper’s ability to benefit from the change.

When it originally reconvened on Aug. 3, the legislature was expected to consider the four vetoes penned by Gov. Cooper, a Democrat, that hadn’t already been overridden by the Republican-dominated body. But the vetoed bills, including HB 205, were assigned to the House Rules Committee instead. They remained in the committee even when legislators reconvened again at the end of the month.

Sources with knowledge of the situation say the GOP never had the votes to override HB 205, according to the North Carolina Press Association. If that ever changes, Republican House leaders can bring the bill out of the committee and schedule an override vote any time before the end of next year’s short session, which begins in May.

Newspapers also dodged a bullet in Texas, where the legislature adjourned a special session on Aug. 15 without passing a property-tax reform measure. The original version of the bill would have moved newspaper notice for property tax hearings and rates from newspapers to government websites, but the Texas Press Association (TPA) convinced the bill’s sponsor to remove the notice provision during the regular session. Nevertheless, TPA had been concerned that the provision would be added back to the bill during the special session.