NC General Assembly challenged on discrimination law

            A sell-out crowd at the NC Policy Watch’s regular “Crucial Conversations” Tuesday heard a panel discussion on the law passed by the General Assembly last week (HB2) that rescinded the anti-discrimination ordinance recently amended by the Charlotte City Council.  The new law applies to all public entities in the state (not just Charlotte) and is effective immediately.

      Former legislator and Executive Director of the NC Justice Center Rick Glazier led off the discussion with a list of 18 legal issues with the law that was passed and signed in only 12 hours.  Aside from the bizarre breach in legislative procedures, the law has resulted in many unintended consequences.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts of Charlotte was thankful for all of the support in spite of numerous hateful emails.  She said, “Justice is not just for some people; it is for everyone.” The same ordinance has been on the books since 1968.   They just recently added LGBTQ wording regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.  Numerous public hearings were held, and the public supports the ordinance, which only mentions public accommodations, employment and housing.  There also was no mention of setting a minimum wage; that issue was added and prohibited by the General Assembly. More than 200 cities have similar ordinances. She has lived in countries without the rule of law, where influence and corruption rule. She will be meeting with the city's lawyers to determine the impact of the new law.  The response to HB 2 has been swift, as hundreds of hotel rooms have been canceled as film crews left and three conventions went elsewhere.  They will continue to work against discrimination, but they have to live within state law.

Director of ACLU NC Chris Brook compared NC with the South Dakota governor and how he handled similar legislation.  When you pass a law in 12 hours, you don't know what it contains and what the consequences may be. Public officials are questioning what the impact will be and how to deal with it. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado state law that over ruled a similar ordinance in Boulder.  He also explained the lawsuit that was filed Monday.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit Joaquin Carcaño told his story that his insurance doesn't cover any transgender procedures or treatments. He works in HIV case management and travels extensively in rural areas, and now is fearful for his safety because of all the negative publicity about transgender people. He said, “We're not asking for special treatment; we only want to be treated like anyone else.”  The law will encourage public threats of violence and has no practical means of enforcement nor does it cite any penalties for violating the law.

Robert Chandler with the Small Business Owners Organization noted that they employ half of the private work force.  He commented, “We are a pragmatic and practical group, and two-thirds of our owners say the state should not deny LGBTQ people access to the same rights as others and would support federal legislation to enforce that.

Repeal of the legislation is unlikely since 72 state legislators are running unopposed in gerrymandered districts, and the majority who voted for HB2 did so because they could and don't face any political consequences.   Enforcement of the law has now been handed over to the state Human Relations Commission, which was defunded last year.  So it is unclear how it may be enforced or how quickly the lawsuit may be heard.