March 23, 2016 at 3:32 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
N.C. legislature approves measure to undo LGBT ordinances

North Carolina, State Capitol, Raleigh, Gay News, Washington Blade

North Carolina State Capitol held a special session to undo a Charlotte LGBT ordinance. (photo by Jim Bowen via Wikimedia Commons. )

The North Carolina legislature has approved legislation aimed an undoing an recently passed ordinance in Charlotte against anti-LGBT discrimination, although the bill goes further and seeks to enable discrimination across the entire state. The legislation now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory, who’s expected to sign the legislature.

Lawmakers, who had convened a special session on Wednesday to consider the bill, sent the measure to McCrory after the Senate approved it by a 32-0. In protest over the legislation, Senate Democrats walked out of the session and refused to cast their votes during the roll call. Hours earlier, the House passed the legislation by an 83-25 vote.

Joshua Ellis, a McCrory spokesperson, initially said after the Senate passed the bill the governor would sign the legislation on Thursday, but issued a correction saying the signing would happen Wednesday evening.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Buck Newton (R-Wilson), a proponent of the bill, said the measure was necessary because the Charlotte City Council “lost their mind” by approving last month a pro-LGBT ordinance, accusing the city of deciding to “bow to the altar of radical political correctness.” The most contentious part of the measure is the requirement to allow transgender people to use public restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

“This standard would allow, as we’ve heard in the media, would allow men into the locker rooms and the bathrooms of females, of our daughters, of our wives,” Newton said. “This policy must be allowed to go forward, and that is way we’re hear today because the city of Charlotte and its city council have decided that, quite frankly, that they don’t care about common sense and they’re really not that concerned about public safety of folks that go in the bathroom in the city of Charlotte. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reality.”

Under questioning from Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), Newton admitted that under state law, even with the Charlotte ordinance in place, it’s still illegal for a male to go into a women’s restroom.

Blue said the chamber was in session to debate the measure “because of the fact that we’ve played on fears of the citizenry unjustly and unfairly.”

“There are 800-plus thousand people in Charlotte, over a million in Mecklenburg County, and I respect their ability to govern themselves as they should be able to, and the voters in Charlotte, whether they’re afraid of this of anything else have the ability to put them out of office, which is what they should if they jeopardize the safety of the citizens of Charlotte,” Blue said.

Representing Senate Democrats who had bolted from the floor in protest over the bill, Blue said his caucus was “not participating” in legislative debate unfair in the constitutional process to enact legislation.

As reported by Think Progress, the legislation would not only undo the Charlotte ordinance, but any LGBT non-discrimination city ordinance in the state.

The legislation, among other things, prohibits use of school restrooms and locker rooms by transgender people consistent with their gender identity. The bill also supersedes all local ordinances governing non-discrimination and employment practices, which in a state with no law against anti-LGBT bias would enable such discrimination across North Carolina.

The bill is along the lines of similar measures in Arkansas and Tennessee prohibiting localities from enacting ordinances that go beyond non-discrimination protections in state law. But House Bill 2 is unprecedented in its scope and incorporation of language from anti-trans “papers to pee” bathroom bills in state legislatures across the country.

The North Carolina House approved the legislation after three hours of passionate debate from lawmakers on both sides. Proponents said it would help ensure privacy and opponents said it allow discrimination in the state jeopardize its economic interests.

State Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) said the measure would ensure uniformity throughout the state, noting state law already covers groups of individuals deemed suspect classes by the U.S. Supreme Court and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers robust protections under federal law.

“We are regulating the field comprehensively, we are pre-empting the field,” Bishop said. “That means that localities are not free to adopt a patchwork of inconsistent law governing these business practices across the state.”

Under questioning from a fellow lawmakers, Bishop admitted it’s “conceivable” someone who experienced discrimination on the basis of race in the state would have fewer recourses of action under the law, but also those recourses would be superfluous with federal law in place.

State Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) spoke out on legislation on the basis that it “flied in face of inclusiveness” and meddles n the affairs of localities in North Carolina.

“Voters of Charlotte elected the men and women on the city council to represent them,” Cotham said. “They won. That’s their choices. We should allow the elected members to make decision on behalf of the people who elected them, not doing what we want to do because we can. We should respect all elected leaders.”

Deputy Majority Whip Dean Arp (R-Union County) said the legislation is easy to support as urged fellow lawmakers to imagine young girls in the locker room for a public pool as a biological man undressed in front of them.

“This bill is necessary to stop that from happening,” Arp said. “It’s common sense. Biological men should not be in women’s bathrooms, showers or locker rooms. All of North Carolina citizens expect bodily privacy in showers, locker rooms and bathrooms. Make no mistake: This bill ensures all North Carolina the privacy protections they, in fact, have.”

Lawmakers initiated the special session, which is estimated to cost the state $42,000 a day, by invoking a rarely used maneuver under the state constitution. McCrory had declined to take call a special session once he discovered the breadth of the bill the legislature intended to pass.

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, condemned HB 2 in a statement, calling it “based on bias against the transgender community and a distorted and cynical misinformation campaign.”

“Transgender youth and adults live in every town across North Carolina and we are committed to ensuring they are treated with equality, dignity and respect,” Beach-Ferrara said. “We especially want to speak to transgender youth today, who are hearing terrible messages from our elected officials in Raleigh. What is true is this: You’re beautiful, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, you are not alone, and if you need support, there are people here to help.”

Matt Comer, board member for LGBT group Charlotte Pride, said in a statement the people of Charlotte and North Carolina “are less safe today because of the legislature’s actions” and called on McCrory to veto the HB 2.

“This bill will hurt our people, our economy and our city’s and state’s reputation,” Comer said. “We call on Gov. Pat McCrory to reject this transparent attempt at outright discrimination against LGBTQ people and veto this harmful bill. Charlotteans and North Carolinians deserve local communities which are welcoming and safe for all who call our great city and state home.”

Among those speaking out against House Bill 2 is Dow Chemical, which owns chemical plants in North Carolina and expressed opposition to the legislation on Twitter.

Also speaking out against the legislation was North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat running for governor in the 2016 election who said in a video Wednesday the measure amounts to discrimination.

“Discrimination is wrong. Period,” Cooper said. “That North Carolina is putting discrimination into the law is shameful. Not only does this hurt North Carolina families, but it hurts our economy as well.”

Cooper also took aim at McCrory, saying he “lit a match, and stood aside” by threatening retaliation if Charlotte passed a pro-LGBT ordinance even though he ended up declining to call a special session of the legislature to reverse it.

“McCroy is now on the sidelines while the loudest, most extreme voices are running the show,” Cooper said. “North Carolina deserves better. We need a governor who would put our state first, not wait and see which way the political winds are blowing.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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