North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoes first bill of 2024 legislative session

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In his first veto of the 2024 legislative session, Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday blocked passage of a transportation bill that contains billboard rule changes that he said would hinder the state’s natural beauty.

The bill includes several changes to transportation laws, many of which were recommended by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It adds higher processing fees for people who haven’t paid road toll bills, increases the number of pilot transportation projects the department can award contracts for and renames several bridges across the state.

But most criticism of the bill, including from Cooper, centers around a provision that expands the area where billboard owners are permitted to cut down vegetation along roadways. It would allow for redbud trees, a previously protected species that blooms with pink flowers during spring, to be removed during the clearing process.

“Redbuds and other trees that were threatened by this ill-conceived bill support carbon sequestration, pollinator propagation, and wildlife habitat,” North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club director Erin Carey said in a statement supporting Cooper’s veto.

The bill was the result of a year’s worth of negotiations that included input from a wide variety of stakeholders, Columbus County Republican Rep. Brenden Jones said on the House floor Wednesday.

The legislation passed along party lines in the Senate on May 15, but six House Democrats voted with Republicans on Wednesday to approve the bill and send it to the governor’s desk.

Now the bill returns to the General Assembly, where GOP lawmakers have narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Senate Republicans already indicated in a statement after Cooper’s veto that they plan to override it, although the process will first begin in the House.

The General Assembly overrode all 19 of Cooper’s vetoes from 2023.

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