Protecting the children of North Carolina

Published 6:43 pm Friday, March 25, 2016

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On Wednesday, legislators traveled to Raleigh for a special session. Their reason: to stop an ordinance passed by Charlotte City Council allowing transgender people their choice of bathrooms — men’s or women’s, depending on the sex with which they identify.

The General Assembly did stop that action. But they also did a lot more.

HB2 was only partially about sexual identity/biological sex in relation to public bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s a hot button issue and, like all hot button issues, plays to emotion — in this case, fear of sexual predators. That’s a very real fear and one that shouldn’t be disregarded.

What also shouldn’t be disregarded is the other measures made into law on Wednesday.

HB2 makes it illegal for any local government to pass any ordinance protecting the rights of LGBT people, essentially giving tacit permission for any private business owner to discriminate. This is not limited to refusals to make a cake for a gay wedding reception because it conflicts with a business owner’s religious beliefs. Potentially, any private business owner can refuse service to an LGBT person.

Will that happen? Will the landscape be peppered with “No Gays Allowed” signs? It likely won’t, simply because most business owners are well aware that everyone’s money is green. But it could, if that business owner feels there’s more money to be made by appealing to certain audiences.

HB2 also made it illegal for any local government to pass an ordinance that raises minimum wage. If some town’s business owners decide paying employees a minimum wage of $8.50 an hour would make for a happier, healthier business environment, that can’t happen. Those employees will work at $7.25 an hour as mandated by this new state law. Very few people realized this was even a part of the HB2 package, it was so overshadowed by the bathroom issue.

Perhaps most disturbing is that HB2 also, in effect, nullifies a protection against discriminatory firing of an employee. This isn’t limited to LGBT people; it applies also to race, gender, religious affiliation, disabilities, etc. One of the main checks against discriminatory firing is the threat of civil action. HB2 denies North Carolina employees the ability to file civil action against an employer in any state court. If a person is fired because they are a woman, gay, black, etc., they can’t file civil suit in this state. While the option of filing a suit in federal court remains, the window in which that civil action is filed is much smaller and costs a lot more — discouraging, by law, those who’ve been discriminated against from doing anything about it.

Not all North Carolinians are concerned about discrimination, but there are a few things about HB2 that are of concern.

The first is how it was done. In 12 short hours, the North Carolina House, Senate and Governor created a law that will have long-lasting ramifications. Laws, for the most part, take weeks, months, sometimes even years, to create. Here, the House gave HB2 30 minutes of discussion, with representatives allotted two minutes to make arguments for or against. Senators were handed the bill to read for the first time five minutes before the vote.

While lawmakers focused on the bathroom issue, they neglected to mention the other measures being made into law, ones resulting in an unprecedented power grab from local government, with no public input necessary — this, from a General Assembly stacked with decriers of big government.

If one is not bothered by that lack of transparency, then perhaps one might be bothered by the cost.

A special session costs $42,000 a day; the many lawsuits sure to come from this piece of legislation will cost taxpayers a lot more, for years to come. Already, big businesses with facilities in North Carolina are expressing everything from disappointment to outrage — American Airlines, Biogen, Facebook, Google, Wells Fargo, Lowe’s, Marriott, Bayer, Apple, Red Hat, and the list continues to grow.

Maybe one would say their disapproval is fine; that North Carolina doesn’t need those businesses. That one would be wrong. Those businesses employ North Carolinians; their salaries, in turn, pay for goods and services. Those companies pay taxes that, in turn, pay to keep the state operating. While non-basketball fans won’t be too upset if the NCAA refuses to hold 2017-2018 tournament games in North Carolina, all North Carolinians should be upset this self-proclaimed pro-business General Assembly has passed a law that is construed by many to be anti-business.

HB2 is much more encompassing than whether a transgender person sits in a stall or stands at a urinal. The ultimate irony of HB2 is that even as many legislators professed a desire to protect women and children with its passage, writing discrimination into state law in no way protects the children of North Carolina.