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May 15, 2021

Kirk Kovach: Keep legislative antics out of abortion bill vote

By Kirk Kovach

Most people would tell you that they are tired of the political games, especially in Washington, D.C.

While the coverage of Congress and the White House fill cable news and Twitter feeds, the policies enacted at the state level have far more of an impact on the day-to-day lives of North Carolinians. That makes their legislation more consequential, and the games played in Raleigh more deserving of scrutiny.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina House and Senate both approved a contentious measure titled the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which focuses on protections for babies that are born after a failed abortion attempt. Republicans argue that it’s a commonsense bill to protect newborns, while Democrats claim it makes no significant change to laws on the books already and that it’s a move to scare medical providers away for fear of prosecution. But the substance of the bill itself is not the subject of this column.

First, some background on the legislative process thus far. The bill passed both chambers and Governor Cooper vetoed it. That sends it back to the General Assembly to be overridden. While it only needed a majority of votes to pass, a veto override requires two-thirds of each house. Republicans had supermajorities – more than two-thirds of members — in both houses prior to the 2018 elections. While they maintain majorities, they cannot override vetoes without Democratic crossover.

In the Senate, one Democrat crossed party lines and sided with Republicans, reaching the two-thirds threshold. That put the onus on Speaker Tim Moore in the House to find enough votes. Republicans have fewer votes to spare in the House, and will need to peel away a number of Democrats to reach two-thirds.

Given that there is a ceiling on the number of members, with 120 in the House, Moore cannot conjure new Republicans to pad his majority. But he can win by attrition — the threshold for a supermajority lowers when members are absent. It’s not uncommon for members to miss votes, since a large number of bills pass pretty easily and, despite what shows up on headlines, most of it is bipartisan.

But on contentious issues every vote matters, particularly on a veto override.

One of the powers that the speaker wields is agenda setting. Moore can decide on a whim when certain legislation will come to a vote.

The agenda power is valuable because the majority gets to dictate what is heard and when; it allows them to prioritize legislation that they prefer and ignore what they dislike. The speaker is using that power to keep Democrats on notice and has rescheduled the vote half a dozen times, canceling votes once enough Democrats arrive to sink an override.

Legislative antics are always present in some capacity, but this round is downright cruel.

Remember, the legislators in Raleigh work part-time. They have jobs separate from legislating, don’t make much money from it and have to commute from all over the state. They also have personal lives and families.

One such legislator is Sydney Batch, who represents District 37 in Wake County. During her campaign last year, she was diagnosed with cancer. Despite that, she stayed in the race and defeated an incumbent in a district difficult for Democrats to win.

Batch is recovering from surgery for her cancer, but still made it to vote. Then Moore rescheduled it.

Another representative left her husband, who is currently in the hospital, to appear for the same vote. Moore rescheduled it.

How long can this go on? To bring legislators dealing with real, personal issues back and forth on a vote that may never occur is cruel and serves no purpose for North Carolinians.

This is a divisive issue. The people of this state elect representatives to act as their voice in the legislature.

Scheduling votes on consequential bills and intending to catch people when they’re with a spouse at the hospital or recovering from surgery is not morally sound.

Let the vote be held when members can reasonably expect to be present.

North Carolinians may be divided on the substance of the bill, but I think we agree that the vote should take place when everyone is represented.

Taking advantage of illness for political gain should be a bridge too far.

Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.

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