by David Anderson
Two bills regarding contentious local issues received broad legislative support this week, as the Kinston Mayoral Veto bill passed the N.C. Senate and the Medians on U.S. Highway 70 bill passed the House.
The mayoral veto bill, House Bill 310, passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote on Thursday. It is sponsored by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, and if it goes through the final approval process, the option of giving veto power to Kinston’s mayor will be put to the city’s voters in November.
“I was expecting it to be unanimous,” LaRoque said of the Senate vote. “It’s a referendum; I don’t know anybody that opposes a referendum.”
Despite strident opposition from some Democratic members of the House Government Committee, the full House passed HB 310 on April 4, also by voice vote.
Since the version passed by the Senate has a typographical error in it, it must go back to the House for a final “concurrence vote” next week. LaRoque expects it to pass.
Some House Democrats said during the committee hearing they were concerned LaRoque’s bill had come before them without the backing of the Kinston City Council or other local groups.
The council voted 4-1 on April 4 to spend $15,000 on a lobbyist to fight the mayor’s veto bill, plus another local bill put forth by LaRoque to stop the city’s annexation — that bill, House Bill 5 was passed by the House and is awaiting a Senate vote. The legislature is also working on statewide annexation reform.
Although the council appropriated the funds, city leaders ultimately decided upon further review not to hire a lobbyist, unless circumstances change.
“I don’t think we thought it would help at this point,” City Manager Scott Stevens said. “The council authorized it but we never engaged anybody . . . That could change; we don’t plan to today, you never know what next week might bring.”
If the voters approve it, the veto power will first go to currently-serving Mayor B.J. Murphy, but Councilwoman Alice Tingle cautioned that the power will not stop with Murphy.
“So, when you cast a vote you’ve got to think into the future,” Tingle cautioned. “Are you going to trust anyone that was mayor with the veto power over the City Council? I think that’s what you’ve got to contemplate before you cast a vote on that.”
Murphy noted the president of the United States and the governor of North Carolina both have veto power — few North Carolina mayors have veto authority, though.
“We already have checks and balances at the federal level and at the state level,” Murphy said. “Just as the president of the United States and the governor of North Carolina try to be judicious in using that power, the chief elected official of Kinston would also exercise that same judgment.”
Median legislation passes
The members of the N.C. House voted overwhelmingly in favor of House Bill 561. That bill, sponsored by LaRoque and Rep. William L. Wainwright, D-Craven, bars the state from spending any money, “regardless of the fund sources,” to build a median through the middle of U.S. 70 East between the intersection with U.S. 258 South and N.C. 58 South.
The House Transportation Committee gave HB 561 a favorable recommendation on Tuesday, and the full House passed it 111-1 on Thursday. Two members abstained from voting, and six more had excused absences, according to the General Assembly’s website.
HB 561 must now go before a Senate committee and a full Senate vote.
“I hope and pray that we don’t look up three years from now, and have a fatality in that section of highway that we had money committed to and the safety measure could have been implemented and avoided that fatality,” Lenoir County Commissioner and interim Transportation Committee Chairman J. Mac Daughety said. “Because if we had the opportunity to prevent the fatality and we chose not to prevent the fatality, then a lot of us will be potentially morally and financially liable.”