RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An environmental group said Tuesday it was rescinding an award presented to a North Carolina House member who voted to override Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto of legislation to permit the form of shale gas exploration and production called “fracking.”
The House narrowly voted late Monday to override the veto when first-term Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, and five other House Democrats sided with Republicans to cancel Perdue’s veto.
The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters says it will take the unusual step of asking Hamilton to return a “Rising Star” award she received two weeks ago that praised the first-term legislator’s pro-environmental record.
A second of the six, Rep. Becky Carney of Mecklenburg County, said she made a mistake when she pressed the green button at her desk to vote to override rather than the red “no” button. She tried to get her vote changed — which would have prevented the override — but the chamber’s operating rules don’t allow vote changes that would affect the outcome.
Carney said she was denied the chance to seek an exception. House Republican leaders quickly used a parliamentary procedure to secure permanently the 72-47 margin — which is above the 60 percent majority required. The bill, which authorizes fracking in North Carolina and lays out the regulatory path for the state to begin issuing drill permits in two years or so, is now law.
“I take full responsibility for my vote, as we all should,” an emotional Carney said early Tuesday. “It was a huge mistake, but it was a vote and it is what it is.”
But the conservation league focused its fire on Hamilton.
The group accused Hamilton of trading her vote for separate legislation extending a tax credit by another year for the film production companies shooting movies in the state. Hamilton denied such horse-trading had taken place and maintained there was no connection between the two items. Hamilton’s hometown of Wilmington is the hub for North Carolina’s movie industry.
“This was too big of a vote to sell out the environment on an issue that will change the landscape of our state for years to come,” league lobbyist Dan Crawford said in a prepared release.
Hamilton’s name was attached to a June 29 letter sent by nearly 20 House Democrats to Perdue asking that she veto the fracking bill and another piece of environmental legislation. Hamilton said Tuesday that she believed there were going to be two letters and that she only wanted on the non-fracking bill.
Hamilton said the award’s rescission is unfortunate. She told reporters she believed the league was torn on whether Perdue should veto the bill.
She cited a conversation she had at the group’s June 20 dinner when she received the award. A league staffer said she was worried a veto would lead lawmakers to pass something that would be even worse in the future, according to Hamilton. The law still requires the Legislature to vote again when the regulations are in place before permits can be issued.
“This is probably the best compromise we’re going to get for right now,” Hamilton said, adding that “if we had not made this compromise this year than in 2013 we would have seen a ‘drill baby, drill’ bill again.”
Crawford said Hamilton knew the league wanted her to sustain Perdue’s veto, citing an email it sent to wavering legislators such as Hamilton.
Hamilton “appears to have a guilty conscience about her decision and is reaching out in order to justify her actions,” Crawford wrote Tuesday. “She voted wrong on the bill and she simply needs to state that there was a better offer on the table and she took it.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, played down any connection between Hamilton’s override vote and the film production tax credit, saying Rep. Danny McComas, R-New Hanover, was the key advocate for getting the provision heard.
“The legislative process all around here involves negotiations,” Tillis said. “Every member — to feel comfortable with supporting a measure — is here advocating for their position … there’s no trading.”
As for Carney’s error, Tillis said it’s the job of lawmakers to vote accurately. Lawmakers on the House and Senate floor ask that their votes be changed nearly every day for that day’s legislation, but Tillis said it’s important to keep the rule intact to prevent changes when the outcome would be altered.
Will Morgan, a lobbyist for the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, said Carney voted against the fracking bill before it went to Perdue and had been advocating to sustain the governor’s veto.
“It’s disappointing that fracking will become legal based on an accidental vote,” Morgan said.
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