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2012 July 9 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Veto Override Lets NC Colleges Opt Out of Fed Loan Program

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The General Assembly completed its override of Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto from more than a year ago of a bill that gives all North Carolina community colleges the ability to refuse to participate in a low-interest federal student loan program.

The Senate voted 31-16 after no debate to cancel Perdue’s veto of the measure, which changes a previous law requiring all 58 campuses to participate in the Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. The margin meets the three-fifths majority necessary for an override. The House voted to override earlier.

The bill now becomes law. The Republican-led General Assembly has now overridden eight vetoes by Perdue, a Democrat. There have only been nine overrides overall since North Carolina voters gave veto power to its chief executive in 1997.

Perdue vetoed the bill in April 2011 because she said it would prevent access for students to inexpensive loans to help retool their careers. The Democratic-led Legislature previously voted in 2010 to require all 58 campuses to participate in the Ford program because most campuses weren’t.

Community college presidents said they feared high default rates could jeopardize access to all federal financial aid. When Republicans came to power last year, they decided to give campuses statewide the ability to opt out of the program.

“This bill simply gives community college presidents the ability to decide if participating in the Ford federal loan program is in the best interest of their college.” House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement, adding the House override occurred “because it is sound public policy that reaches across both sides of the aisle.”

The Legislature didn’t immediately address Perdue’s veto in 2011, but partially got around it by passing local bills that have let more than 25 community colleges opt out. Governors can’t block local bills. Two more local bills on the issue were debated Wednesday in the House.

Perdue called action the one that secured the GOP-led General Assembly’s place “as the most anti-public education legislature in North Carolina history” in light of other reductions in public education funding since last year.

“Now the Republican Legislature has closed a path to career training or college for potentially thousands of students,” Perdue said in a statement. “Public education is about opening doors for our young people — not slamming them.”

Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, voiced concerns that the bill unfairly targets lower-income students by giving campuses the right to refuse to offer them student loans.

“It seems to me we’re making some really negative and skeptical judgments about these other people,” Bryant said. “Somehow they’re wanting to use the money for something else, or they’re not to be trusted or can’t pay it back, and that concerns me.”

House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said after the vote that the House’s action may be unconstitutional because it had been more than a year since the veto occurred. Republican legislators disagree.

A lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s override of a Perdue veto in January questions the GOP practice of holding vetoed bills for months, apparently to wait for a favorable makeup of the chamber to complete an override. The case is pending.

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