Was passing the new “Bathroom Bill” the biggest mistake the current North Carolina General Assembly has made so far?
Or was it just one in a series of similar overreaching legislative efforts that offend groups of citizens, discourage businesses and organizations from dealing with our state, and subject us to ridicule?
Or, instead, was it another carefully thought-out political ploy to affect election results this fall, this time by mobilizing a group of angry voters to protect the positions of those in power?
The Bathroom Law, or House Bill 2, or “An Act to Provide for Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations,” its official title, overturned a nondiscrimination ordinance adopted by the Charlotte City Council on Feb. 22. Charlotte added sexual orientation and gender identity to categories protected by existing nondiscrimination ordinances. It also allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identified with.
On March 21 House Speaker Tim Moore and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest called a special session for March 23 to deal with the issue. In a rushed session, with limited time for review and discussion, House Bill 2 passed; Gov. Pat McCrory signed; and it became law on the same day.
The new law provides that all public bathrooms of government agencies “be designated for and only used by persons based on their biological sex.”
It did more. It prohibited local government from expanding state non-discrimination protections or establishing minimum wages higher than the state standards.
State non-discrimination laws do not protect gay and transgender people. The state’s minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.
The response from across the nation came quickly.
According to an Associated Press report, the High Point Furniture Market said, “dozens of buyers have said their employees won’t attend to shop the new offerings of manufacturers and wholesalers. Opponents of the law also are on social media calling for a boycott of the market, which has an annual statewide economic impact of $5 billion.”
The NCAA and the NFL signaled that the state’s backtracking on non-discrimination could affect their plans for events in North Carolina.
Some observers said the new law threatens billions of dollars in federal education funding.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said that federal transportation dollars might be imperiled.
More than 100 corporate leaders, including those of Bank of America, IBM, Apple, Intel, Google, and American Airlines, signed a letter calling for the repeal of the new law. According to the letter, the new law “will make it far more challenging for businesses across the state to recruit and retain the nation’s best and brightest workers and attract the most talented students from across the nation. It will also diminish the state’s draw as a destination for tourism, new businesses, and economic activity.”
Did House Speaker Tim Moore have any idea that there would be so much negative and financially detrimental reaction to the new law?
If he did, the lesson for him should be that the orderly, slow, careful examination of proposed new laws that usually accompanies proposed legislation in regular sessions ought to be followed in every possible case.
But Speaker Moore already knows this lesson. I think he would have preferred a more deliberative process if his hand were not being forced by an ultra-conservative faction of the House Republican caucus that thinks he is too moderate.
On the other hand, a wise and experienced former legislator told me the other day, “Don’t be fooled, D.G. They knew exactly what they were doing. This new law will mobilize their base and add 2 percent to their voter turnout in the fall— maybe just enough to win the governor’s race for them.”
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.