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RALEIGH (AP) — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed seven bills just before a Monday night deadline, deciding to block Republican proposals to alter early in-person voting and restrict nuisance litigation that neighbors of big livestock operations could file in North Carolina.
Faced with acting on nearly four dozen measures on his desk before a 10-day window in the constitution expired at midnight, Cooper signed 32 of the bills. The fate of six others was unclear, although anything not acted upon by the deadline would automatically become law.
Republicans are expected to try to override the vetoes before they wrap up this year's work session by the end of the week. The House scheduled votes for Wednesday on several of the bills.
While Republicans have veto-proof majorities if they remain united, several House GOP members voted "no" earlier this month on the wide-ranging agriculture bill that contains the language addressing future hog farm lawsuits.
The legislation was spurred on by the agribusiness industry following the results of the first of nearly two dozen lawsuits filed against pork producers by people who say they're tired of the odors and other activities. Smithfield Foods was hit with a nearly $51 million verdict - cut to about $3 million because of punitive damage limits.
In his veto message, Cooper said that "while agriculture is vital to North Carolina's economy," so are property rights to people's homes and other businesses. "Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair," he added.
Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican and chief sponsor of the farm bill, urged colleagues to complete the override, calling it a "sad day when the governor of North Carolina chooses to stand up for out-of-state trial lawyers over our family farmers." About 1,000 farmers and their supporters held a pro-agriculture rally in downtown Raleigh late Monday afternoon, with some speakers praising the bill.
The vetoed early-voting bill would have adjusted the 17-day period that currently ends on the Saturday before a primary or Election Day. While the period would still cover 17 days, the bill would end early voting on the Friday before the election and begin the period one day earlier during the work week. All early voting sites approved in a county also would have to be opened on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Democrats and their allies say that final Saturday has been a popular one for voting, especially among black voters. On Monday, Cooper indirectly referenced a 2013 law reducing the early-voting period to 10 days that was struck down by federal judges.
"True democracy should make it easier for people to vote, not harder," he wrote.
Other bills he vetoed include the legislature's annual "regulatory reform" bill, alterations to Department of Insurance regulations, changes to bail bond forfeiture laws and government retirement system adjustments. He also vetoed the legislature's second bill this year that reworked judicial election districts, this one affecting more than a dozen counties.
Cooper has now vetoed 23 bills since he took office in early 2017. Thirteen have been overridden to date.