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

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

When the legislature reconvened on Aug. 3, it was expected to consider the four vetoes penned by the Democratic governor (pictured on left) that hadn’t already been overridden by the Republican-dominated body. But the vetoed bills — including HB 205, Sen. Trudy Wade’s (R-Guilford) apparent effort to punish the newspapers in her district – were assigned to the House Rules Committee instead. Sources with knowledge of the Republican leadership’s thinking say they didn’t have the votes to override the vetoes, according to the North Carolina Press Association (NCPA).

Wade’s bill would move court-ordered legal notices in Guilford County to the county government’s website and authorize local government units in Guilford to move their notices from newspapers to their own websites. It would also allow newspapers in the state without periodical permits to qualify for public notice advertising; limit the price newspapers can charge for some government notices; require newspapers to publish notices on their own websites; and eliminate 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 allow 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 limit the paper’s ability to benefit from the change.

NCPA says the vetoed bills are likely to remain in the Rules Committee for the duration of the current legislative session. However, it reminded its members that the Republican House leadership has the discretion to bring HB 205 out of committee and to schedule a vote to override the Governor’s veto anytime before the end of next year’s short session.

Newspapers are also closely monitoring legislation in Texas, where the legislature is meeting in a special session scheduled to last another week. The original version of a property tax-reform bill that passed the Senate early in the special session included provisions that “would have gutted newspaper notice requirements and would have allowed online-only (property tax) notices on government websites,” according to the Texas Press Association. The bills’ sponsor responded to TPA’s concerns and amended the legislation before it passed. The House version of the bill that was approved later in the same week doesn’t affect newspaper notice.