A freshman state legislator from military-heavy Fayetteville said Thursday he will file a bill next week to extend discrimination protections to veterans and members of the armed forces.
Rep. William Richardson, a Democrat, said the protections are needed because there is a high rate of young veterans who can’t find work. Many are stigmatized as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder if they served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
He said the bill would open up the courts to veterans who have been discriminated against, and would override a provision in HB2 that does not include military service as a protected class like race, sex and religion. HB2 also prohibits cities and counties from enacting their own discrimination policies, and it repealed Charlotte’s ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to choose the restroom of the sex with which they identify.
He said Thursday that sexual orientation and gender identity should also be protected.
Richardson was appointed to fill a vacancy in September and is running in the general election to keep his seat. Earlier this month he announced that he had mistakenly voted in haste for HB2 in the rushed one-day special session. On Thursday, Richardson told reporters he had recently become aware of pervasive discrimination against young veterans in particular.
“It’s a hidden problem, and it’s one we need to expose and it’s one we need to address,” he said.
During the floor debate over HB2, Rep. Grier Martin, a Democrat from Raleigh, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include veterans. Asked what he thought the chances were of his bill passing, considering legislative leaders’ opposition to changing HB2, Richardson replied:
“I would think it would be shameful if this Republican leadership, that claims to embrace veterans and members of the armed services, I would challenge them right now: If they truly believe in veterans and the armed services that they back up those words with action.”
Bloomberg News reported in November that the nationwide unemployment rate for veterans 18 to 24 years old was 30 percent in 2011. The overall rate for veterans called Gulf War-era II vets was 15 percent, according to Bloomberg. The rate for all veterans is 3.9 percent, which is below the national rate of 5 percent.
Gov. Pat McCrory has emphasized veterans issues. Last week he urged businesses to hire vets, and previously he created the state’s first military and veterans affairs Cabinet-level department. His office says North Carolina is sixth in the country in the number of veterans. McCrory said the number of unemployed vets in the state has dropped 50 percent in the past three years, partly due to his initiatives.