The day after House Bill 2 was introduced, approved and signed into law, the Triangle’s municipal governments spent Thursday scrambling to figure out how it might affect the way they conduct business.
Passed in a special session called Wednesday by the General Assembly’s Republican leadership, the bill prohibits public agencies, including towns and schools, from allowing people to use restrooms and changing rooms other than those that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth.
It also bans local and county governments from imposing upon employers non-discrimination requirements that include sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other criteria not listed in the bill. Local governments beginning to interpret that provision are now trying to determine whether that ban applies to their own hiring practices.
No local governments in the state currently include sexual orientation or gender identity as criteria in their regulation of private employment. But several – including Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Raleigh – include sexual orientation and gender identity in policies dealing with the hiring of municipal employees. Orange County’s hiring policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity.
Scott Mooneyham of the N.C. League of Municipalities said the immediate effects of the bill’s employment provisions could vary depending on how it is ultimately interpreted. Those effects would be minimal if the bill is found not to apply to municipal governments’ hiring practices, he said.
I think it’s awfully early for a bill that’s only been out there for 24 hours for people to be coming to these conclusions about what this means.
Scott Mooneyham of the North Carolina League of Municipalities
“I think it’s awfully early for a bill that’s only been out there for 24 hours for people to be coming to these conclusions about what this means,” he said, referring to LGBT advocates’ claims that the bill undoes local governments’ hiring policies.
A statement from advocacy group Equality NC on Wednesday claimed 17 North Carolina municipalities, as well as the UNC system, could have their non-discrimination policies nullified.
“The reality of the situation is that there were literally five minutes given in the House committee to read the bill,” said Chris Sgro, Equality NC’s executive director. “The (League of Municipalities) is evaluating that right now, and the League is who I trust to make that call.”
Carrboro Town Alderman Damon Seils, who is openly gay, said Carrboro has often included language in town contracts prohibiting discrimination on those bases, something the new law seems to disallow in Section 2.3. Raleigh’s non-discrimination policy also applies to contractors, though it includes a deference to state and federal law in those cases.
Representatives of Apex, Cary, Rolesville, Knightdale, Garner and Morrisville said they had not analyzed the bill in enough detail to comment, but that they were not aware of local ordinances inconsistent with the new law.
The General Assembly called Wednesday’s special session in response to a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice. But the bill, in limiting non-discrimination ordinances to the criteria it listed, might have had consequences unrelated to that motive. Article IV of Orange County’s 1994 civil rights ordinance, which prohibits employment discrimination based on, among other things, veteran or family status, might now be in conflict with HB 2, which does not include those criteria as protected categories.
Despite ongoing efforts to interpret the bill’s effects, some local governments are already taking action against it.
Carrboro’s Board of Alderman announced Thursday that it would hold a special session at 1 p.m. Saturday to pass a resolution opposing HB 2. Mayor Lydia Lavelle, the state’s only openly gay mayor, said it was disheartening to see the bill pass. She would support Carrboro passing a resolution in support of Charlotte’s ordinance or even joining a legal challenge, she said.
“We need to discuss the message that this sends to LGBT North Carolinians, who see their state leaders coming into special session specifically to discriminate against them,” Seils, the Carrboro alderman, said. “It’s legislative bullying, and we can’t stand for it.”
I felt sick to my stomach this morning. I think that this goes against what we in Chapel Hill stand for and what our shared values are.
Jessica Anderson, Chapel Hill Town Council
A resolution supporting Charlotte may be under way in Chapel Hill, Town Council member Jessica Anderson said.
“I felt sick to my stomach this morning,” Anderson said. “I think that this goes against what we in Chapel Hill stand for and what our shared values are.”
Concerns of overreach
Even in some cities and towns where HB 2 is unlikely to force any sort of immediate change, officials said they were concerned with what Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman called a “theme” of legislative involvement in local government.
“Our biggest concern is with the preemption of local authority,” said Lana Hygh, Cary’s intergovernmental relations director. “Our town council believes that local decisions should be made locally.”
Durham Councilman Charlie Reece, in an email, called the law “an unprecedented usurpation of local control on the part of Republican extremists in the General Assembly.”
Mooneyham, whose organization represents the interests of local governments across the state, questioned the legislature’s decision to prohibit local minimum wage ordinances in the law, especially since he said he wasn’t aware of any local governments in the state that had tried to implement one.
“(The League of Municipalities) certainly always has and always will be for local control,” Mooneyham said. “We feel like local citizens and local elections should have consequences.”
Staff writers Tammy Grubb, Johnny Whitfield, Jonathan Alexander and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan