Proposed legislation for Wednesday’s unusual special General Assembly session wasn’t released publicly Tuesday, but legislative leaders indicate the bill could go well beyond a Charlotte ordinance on transgender bathroom use.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest posted a formal proclamation calling for the special session Tuesday afternoon. It says the legislature will meet starting at 10 a.m. to consider proposals “to provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations.”
The proclamation was the first mention of employment regulations in reference to plans for the special session. Forest and House Speaker Tim Moore signed the proclamation.
Andy Munn, a spokesman for Moore, declined to provide a copy of the draft legislation and said it probably wouldn’t be made public until Wednesday – hours before it comes to a first vote. “There are still a few tweaks to be made to it,” he said.
Munn wouldn’t provide details of the proposal under consideration.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, called on Moore to release the bill so legislators can consider what they’ll be voting on Wednesday.
“We’re playing hide-and-seek democracy here,” Hall told The News & Observer Tuesday afternoon. “We don’t know what we’re discussing here, we don’t know what we’re voting on. What we’re doing is a perversion of the process.”
The Associated Press reported that it obtained a copy of one draft of the bill. That draft, according to The AP, “would appear to pre-empt completely what Charlotte added to its non-discrimination ordinance and prevent local governments from passing similar acts.”
Lobbyist Theresa Kostrzewa also obtained a draft version and posted sections of it on Twitter. One potential provision would ban cities and counties from regulating employment practices, including setting a higher minimum wage. Another would prevent counties from requiring government contractors to uphold specific employment practices.
Kostrzewa said she doesn’t know whether the draft she posted was still under consideration. Munn would not confirm the authenticity of any of the drafts being circulated.
The N.C. League of Municipalities and the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition said they could not comment on possible curbs to local government control until the bill is introduced.
The special session is in response to the Charlotte City Council’s recent vote to expand protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, including a provision that will allow transgender people to use the restroom and locker room facilities of the gender with which they identify. The ordinance goes into effect April 1.
Opponents said the ordinance effectively allows men to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms, and they said it will endanger public safety and possibly lead to sexual assaults.
LGBT advocacy groups say that those statements constitute “fearmongering” and that similar ordinances are in place in other cities without compromising safety. They say transgender people often face threats and assaults when using public restrooms.
Wednesday’s special session is the second time legislators have returned to Raleigh unexpectedly this year. Last month, the legislature met to approve new congressional districts after a federal court rejected the state’s maps. Until now, the General Assembly had not held two special sessions in the same year since 2003.
Hall said Democrats were initially told that this week’s special session would take place on Thursday. “We’ve got a lot caught off guard, and people are scrambling trying to come back,” he said.
Governors typically call special sessions, but Gov. Pat McCrory refused to call Wednesday’s session because he was concerned the legislature would go beyond addressing the Charlotte ordinance.
That meant legislative leaders opted for a rarely used law that allows special sessions when three-fifths of legislators in both chambers support the call. That provision in the state constitution hasn’t been used since 1981, according to Forest’s chief of staff, Hal Weatherman.
In the Senate, 31 Republicans backed the session. Only three GOP senators didn’t: Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, Sen. Tamara Barringer of Cary and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Concord.
All House Republicans except Rep. Charles Jeter of Mecklenburg County and Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville backed the call to session.
Special legislative sessions
Here’s what’s prompted lawmakers to schedule the most recent special sessions:
March 2016: Transgender bathroom use
February 2016: Congressional redistricting
2008: Expelling a House member accused of fraud
2004: Tax breaks and incentives for a Dell computer plant
2003: Economic development incentives
2000: Shielding tobacco companies from a class-action lawsuit
1999: Hurricane Floyd disaster relief funding
1998: Improvements to health insurance