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HB2 repeal bill puts discrimination up for a vote

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By Chris Fitzsimon
Syndicated

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Promoters of the latest so-called compromise on HB2 filed in the General Assembly last week apparently believe that discrimination in their communities should be up for a vote.

That’s the only way to interpret a provision in the legislation that requires a referendum on ordinances protecting the basic rights of LGBTQ people adopted by local governments if 10 percent of the voters in the last election sign a petition.

And this has nothing to do with bathrooms or public facilities. The legislation forbids local governments from passing any ordinances that affect access to those facilities for transgender people. It says that only the state can set those policies.

But it does allow local governments to adopt nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people on the job and in public accommodations, though religious institutions and nonprofits would be exempt from the ordinance and therefore be free to discriminate.

And the threshold of 10 percent of voters in the last election means that a couple of mega-churches could force a vote on the ordinance with a petition drive after Sunday services.

The bill literally would allow people to vote on whether or not gay people could be fired or denied services simply because they are gay.

Imagine if that was the policy in the South during the civil rights movement, if there were votes in cities on whether or not African-Americans should be allowed into restaurants or movie theaters or if it should be legal to refuse to hire someone because of their race.

There are many problems with the latest proposal to change HB2, but the referendum provision on basic rights for LGBTQ people ought to be a nonstarter.

We simply cannot put basic civil rights up for vote.

The fact that it is allowed in this “compromise” bill is the latest evidence that HB2 was never really about bathrooms in the first place.

It was always a last gasp effort by anti-LGBTQ forces to maintain discrimination in North Carolina by using absurd and unfounded clams about bathroom access as a scare tactic to slow down the inevitable march toward equal rights.

There’s a better way of course. Legislative could simply hold a vote on a clean repeal of HB2 or consider the actual compromise proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper that requires local governments to give 30-days notice before adopting nondiscrimination ordinances.

Not too long ago Republicans in North Carolina were big fans of local control, allowing cities and counties to make more decisions about their own communities.

Not any more. The GOP General Assembly in recent years has interfered on a wide range of local issues including airports, local redistricting, water issues, municipal broadband, and of course nondiscrimination and living wage ordinances that were wiped out by HB2.

A study released this week by the National League of Cities, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption,” found that North Carolina was the worst offender in interference in local affairs in the country.

The folks in charge of the General Assembly have shifted from advocating for local control to legislating control of locals.

And speaking of things that state lawmakers ought to review, a New York Times column this week summarizing the recent research on vouchers ought to be on the reading list.

Kevin Carey, with the education policy program at New America, pointed out that three consecutive reports looking at vouchers and academic performance released since late 2015 all found that students using vouchers at private schools performed worse than their peers in public schools.

Carey points out that the results haven’t had any impact on the Trump Administration that is proposing a $20 billion voucher program under the leadership of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a strong supporter of vouchers.

North Carolina lawmakers last year approved a budget provision calling for an increase in funding for the state’s own voucher program every year for ten years until the program is spending $145 million of taxpayer money on the almost entirely unaccountable scheme.

Now we have even more evidence that is a terrible idea.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch

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