2 vetoes overridden; bill backs money to address chemical

Published 5:18 pm Thursday, August 31, 2017

RALEIGH — The Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature Wednesday overrode two more vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and tentatively agreed to fund more regional efforts — rather than state regulators — to treat and research a little-studied chemical in a river.

The Senate completed overrides on bills addressing short-term installment loans, a state employee’s pay for a second job and the panel regulating physicians. The House voted last week to override both bills, which now become law over Cooper’s objections.

Separately, House and Senate Republicans negotiated compromise environmental legislation that contained $435,000 for Wilmington-area public utilities and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington for addressing the chemical GenX. The Senate quickly voted for the measure, but the full House put off debate until Thursday, when a legislative work session primarily to address General Assembly redistricting maps is expected to end.

Otherwise, the Senate cast identical 30-9 votes in favor of overriding two vetoed measures, bringing to seven the number of Cooper’s vetoes that have now been blocked. But four other vetoed measures still haven’t been addressed by the legislature, raising the possibility that they will stick.

One of Wednesday’s new laws allows consumer finance companies to sell credit property insurance that would apply to more products when initiating installment loans of up to $15,000.

The lending industry and bill supporters said the provisions, tacked on in June to an unrelated measure involving Medicaid dental services, were minor changes to modernize a decades-old law. But consumer advocates said it simply expanded “junk insurance” with premiums that get rolled into loan payments and make it harder for people to get out of debt.

“It preys on our working class and middle class families,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat urging that the veto be upheld. But Mecklenburg County GOP Sen. Dan Bishop said the insurance is optional and might make sense for some borrowers: “The consumer ought to be able to make those decisions.”

The other new law gives two of Cooper’s appointments to the North Carolina Medical Board to legislative leaders and allows a state employee to get paid for work on the state Property Tax Commission. It blocks a ruling by the state attorney general’s office that prevented an Industrial Commission worker — a Republican lawyer — from getting a second paycheck for his occasional duties on the tax panel.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said late Wednesday that the overrides are bad for working families who “expect their leaders to represent all North Carolinians, not just the well-connected.”

Until recently, GenX had been discharged for years from a Bladen County plant operated by the Chemours Co. into the Cape Fear River, the main source of the water utility serving about 200,000 people in and around Wilmington. The chemical is unregulated, leading residents to worry about its potential health effects.

The money will help test chemicals in the Cape Fear River and help utilities learn how to remove GenX from river water treated for drinking. Two of Cooper’s Cabinet secretaries had asked for $2.6 million to cover the cost of ongoing testing for GenX and other compounds and hire more scientists with water quality expertise, but GOP legislators were skeptical about how that would address the current problem.

The bill “gives local authorities who’ve been on the ground dealing with this issue since day one the immediate tools to begin addressing GenX contamination,” Republican Sens. Michael Lee of New Hanover County and Bill Rabon of Brunswick County said in a release.

The measure also gets rid of a 2009 law that created a plastic bag ban for barrier islands in Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties.

Environmentalists criticized the bag ban removal and said the GenX funding provisions were too little and failed to protect drinking water in other parts of the state.

“They are mere show, not substance,” North Carolina Conservation Network Policy Director Grady McCallie said in a release.