McCrory Signs Bill That Removes LGBT Protections - And More

Mar 23, 2016

Update 7:30 a.m.

It took just 12 hours for a bill striking down Charlotte’s recent expansion of its non-discrimination ordinance to include LGBT individuals to become law. But the measure does much more than that. It also includes significant limitations in the power of local governments across the state.

Updated 11:15 p.m.

Governor McCrory has signed legislation that overturns an update to Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinance and restricts the authority of local governments throughout the state in other matters, such as the ability to approve a minimum wage higher than the federal standard.

In a prepared statement, McCrory focused on the provision in Charlotte's ordinance that would have let transgender people use the bathroom of the sex they identify with.

“The basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte. This radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access not only impacts the citizens of Charlotte but people who come to Charlotte to work, visit or play. This new government regulation defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman's bathroom, shower or locker room.

“While local municipalities have important priorities working to oversee police, fire, water and sewer, zoning, roads, and transit, the mayor and city council took action far out of its core responsibilities. As a result, I have signed legislation passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette which was to go into effect April 1. Although other items included in this bill should have waited until regular session, this bill does not change existing rights under state or federal law."

McCrory concluded by saying it's now time "to get back to working on the issues most important to our citizens.”

WFAE's Tom Bullock will have more on this story during Morning Edition. We'll also have a report from the Capitol by WUNC.

Updated 7:35 p.m.

The North Carolina Senate has passed a bill that overturns Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinance and establishes a more limited statewide policy, among other provisions. The vote was 32-0. Senate Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest before the vote was taken. The bill now goes to Governor Pat McCrory.

Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts held a press conference following the Senate vote. She said she's "appalled" at the legislature's action and described the bill as "the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country." Roberts called on Governor McCrory to veto the measure. She said the governor has not responded to a text message she sent him earlier Wednesday asking for a veto. 

Updated 5:30 p.m.

The North Carolina Senate will now consider a bill aimed at Charlotte’s expanded non-discrimination ordinance. The House passed the measure Wednesday afternoon in an 83 to 25 vote. The bill written by Republican lawmakers goes beyond striking down a provision in the Charlotte ordinance that allows transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. WFAE’s Duncan McFadyen joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey with more.

MR: Hi Duncan

DM: Glad to be here, Mark.

MR:  So, as expected, the bill establishes "single-sex" restrooms for all government facilities statewide.

DM: That’s right. And it doesn’t just remove protections for transgender people that Charlotte put in place, it specifically prohibits state government, local governments, the UNC system, the Community College system and school districts from allowing anyone who is not of the same "biological sex" to enter multiple-occupancy bathrooms. But that’s just the first part of the bill.

MR: Okay, so what else is included?

DM: Well, there are two other sections and what’s important here is what they left out: one of the sections establishes statewide non-discrimination policies. Included are race, religion, color, national origin, age, and biological sex. Republican lawmakers left out sexual orientation and gender identity. Charlotte’s ordinance includes protections for those people, as do several other cities’, including Raleigh, Asheville, Greensboro, Chapel Hill, as well as Mecklenburg, Buncombe and Orange Counties. The bill essentially nullifies those ordinances and also prohibits other municipalities from establishing broader protections.

MR: So why are lawmakers doing this?

DM: Well, Representative Paul Stam of Wake County kicked off debate by saying it’s about consistency in "intrastate commerce."

STAM: That is one of the main thrusts of this bill, that when people want to do business in this state on matters of employment rights, that there will be a common market throughout the state.

DM: Republicans say this bill is about establishing consistent, statewide regulations. And that’s why there’s also a section that addresses minimum wage. It says local governments can not require vendors to pay higher than the federal minimum wage standard of $7.25 an hour.    

MR: And Democrats are obviously not happy with all this?

DM: No, they’re not, Mark. Debate in the House lasted for close to three hours, and much of that time went to Democrats who were very critical of the bill.

Representative Tricia Cotham, from Mecklenburg County, says the bill flies in the face of inclusiveness. She says it strips the voters of Charlotte of their voice.

COTHAM: We should allow the elected members to make decisions on behalf of the people who elected them, not doing [sic] what we want to do because we can.

DM: Others say they’re concerned the omission of LGBT protections in schools would violate Title IX protections and jeopardize more than $4 billion the state receives from the U.S. Department of Education.

MR: Where do things stand right now?

DM: The Senate will start debating the bill at 5:45 p.m. Assuming it passes the Senate, it would then go to Governor McCrory.

MR: And the politics of this has no doubt played into the governor’s race.

DM: Governor McCrory has been conspicuously silent on this since the legislature called itself into special session. He hasn’t issued a statement and his office hasn’t responded to our request for a comment. McCrory said earlier that he supported legislative intervention on the bathroom provision of the ordinance, but that he preferred lawmakers to wait until their regular session on April 25.

Roy Cooper, the state attorney general and McCrory’s Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, did release a video that says the legislature’s action “puts discrimination in the law.” MCCrory’s campaign responded with a statement saying Cooper is putting political correctness ahead of the safety of women and young girls. 

Updated 4:25

The North Carolina House has passed legislation that takes aim at LGBT protections passed in Charlotte and other local governments. The legislation would prohibit local governments from enacting their own laws regarding discrimination motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill would also prohibit governments from requiring companies they contract with to pay a higher minimum wage than the federal standard of $7.25, among other things.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said there's a need for consistency in regard intrastate commerce.

"That is one of the main thrusts of this bill," Stam said, "that when people want to do business on matters of employment rights, there will be a common market throughout the state."

The legislation passed 83-25, and is now under Senate consideration.

Updated with audio 12:15 p.m.

The special session of the North Carolina General Assembly has convened.

The session was called in response to Charlotte's recently passed expansion of the city's non-discrimination ordinance. Now we know more about the bill being considered. WFAE's Tom Bullock joins Duncan McFadyen with details. 

Credit NC Legislature

DM: Opponents of the non-discrimination ordinance have called it the bathroom bill because it allows transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice. Is that addressed in this bill.

TB: Yes, it is, right at the top. Section one mandates that for multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers, changing rooms and the like everyone must use the facility which corresponds to the sex designated on their birth certificate. This is for grade schools, universities and all facilities controlled by a town, city county or the state. Here in Charlotte, the city has already had a policy allowing transgender people to use the city facilities they identify with. So that policy would be rendered null and void.   

DM: But that’s not all this bill would do.

TB: Not by a long shot Duncan. This bill also delves into employment and contracting practices.

Let's start with the minimum wage. The bill would bar cities or counties from imposing their own minimum wage. So any move to establish a local minimum wage higher than the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage would be a nonstarter. This has been done by other cities such as Seattle, which is phasing in a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Cities and counties often have employment rules for companies seeking contracts. This bill also bars counties or municipalities from requiring these companies to pay a higher minimum wage in order to qualify for contracts. Now there is still a federal minimum wage in effect. But this provision also bars requirements like companies provide paid sick leave. 

DM: Does the bill establish its own non-discrimination standards?

TB: Yes, it does. The protected classes listed there are race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap by employers which regularly employ 15 or more employees. It does not stipulate what the requirements are for companies with 14 or fewer employees.

And it gives the Human Relations Commission, a state-appointed board, the responsibility to preside over any claims of discrimination. Now, what’s interesting is since religion is a protected class, and the definition of religion is broad enough, this could be a kind of backdoor religious freedom restoration act – allowing businesses the right to refuse to serve customers based on the owner’s religious beliefs.

DM: Tom, this bill was not posted until after the session began, and it has been criticized by some as hastily drawn up. Are there any potential land mines in this for the state?

TB: There may be – and it goes back to, yes, bathrooms and changing rooms.

In April of 2014, the office for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines which – and these are their words – makes clear that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title 9. Title 9 is a federal civil rights law which prohibits discrimination at educational facilities that accept federal dollars. And denying transgender students from using the facility of their choice may indeed violate that.

Department of Education estimates North Carolina will receive $4.5 billion in Title 9 money this year. Opponents of this bill, including the North Carolina ACLU say that federal funding could be in question if this bill becomes law.

And similar concerns played out yesterday in Tennessee, where lawmakers killed a bill which would also require bathrooms be used based on biological sex – they cited fears of losing Title 9 money as one of the reasons the bill died.  

DM: There is also a case in Virginia which has been cited in this debate.

TB: Yes, and it’s currently being considered by the 4th circuit court of appeals. That case involves a transgender student claiming discrimination because he was not allowed to change in the boys locker room but was given access to separate facilities at the school. The bill before the North Carolina General Assembly right now would allow for similar accommodations to be made.

DM: Any idea when this special session will wrap up?

TB: They’re pushing to get this bill passed by both the house and senate today. Then it would go to the Governor’s desk – he has indicated he supports the so-called bathroom provisions of this bill – but the measure goes far beyond just that. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Updated 11:23 a.m.

North Carolina lawmakers are in special session today. They’re considering a broad bill that would create a statewide non-discrimination ordinance, superseding any local authority to do so. The bill’s language as filed limits protections to race, religion, color, national origin, and biological sex. It leaves out sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill would also prevent cities or counties from raising minimum wages beyond the state standard. It would also establish statewide rules for restrooms and locker rooms limited to individuals based on their biological sex.  

The bill and the session are a response to Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance, which City Council expanded in February. The changes, set to take effect April first, expand protections to include LGBT people, including allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

Lawmakers did not release the bill until after the session began, shortly after 10 a.m.