2008 Legislative Session Preview
Some Issues to Watch
Family North Carolina MagazineJan/Feb 2008
by John L. Rustin
The members of the North Carolina General Assembly will return to Raleigh on May 13 to convene the 2008 “Short” Legislative Session. The primary focus of this session, which is technically a continuation of the 2007 “Regular” Session, will be balancing the state budget, but legislators will propose, debate and vote on many other issues besides those in the budget bill. A number of these measures will likely be of great interest to pro-family advocates. Several “high priority” family-related bills from the 2007 Session remain eligible, and others certainly will be considered. This article presents a snapshot of what pro-family advocates can expect in the upcoming 2008 Session.
North Carolina remains the only state in the Southeastern U.S. that has neither passed a State Marriage Amendment, nor taken any decisive action to do so. In fact, North Carolina and Florida are the only ones among the 15 states south from Virginia and east from Texas that have not defined marriage in their state constitutions. The 13 states in this region that have passed marriage amendments have done so with an average approval vote exceeding 75 percent,1 and the marriage question will be on the fall 2008 General Election ballot in Florida.2
Bills authorizing the voters of the Tar Heel State to amend our Constitution to define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman at one time” have been introduced in both the North Carolina House and Senate for four years in a row.3 Legislative leaders, however, have not allowed these bills to come to the House or Senate floor for a vote, and these bills have all languished in committees. Marriage amendment proponents were able to get a marriage amendment bill, House Bill 493, out of the House Rules Committee and to the House floor in the 2007 Session, only to have House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange) re-refer the bill back to another House committee, where it died.4
Fortunately, the opportunity exists to again pursue a State Marriage Amendment in the 2008 Session, but this almost was not the case. Every other year, when the General Assembly ends the “Regular” legislative session (the odd-numbered years), it adopts an “adjournment resolution” outlining the types of bills that can be introduced and considered during the second year of the legislative biennium (the even-numbered years). In 2007, a provision that has typically been included in this resolution, which allows constitutional amendment bills to be introduced during the “Short” session, was omitted. Observant members in both the House and Senate noticed the deficiency and were successful in adding a provision into the adjournment resolution that will allow constitutional amendment bills to be filed in 2008.5 As a result, bills authorizing the voters of North Carolina to vote on a State Marriage Amendment are expected to be introduced in both the State House and Senate within the first few days of the 2008 Session. The bills would allow the people of North Carolina to vote on adding the following language to our State Constitution:
Marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time. This is the only marriage that shall be recognized as valid in this State. The uniting of two persons of the same sex or the uniting of more than two persons of any sex in a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar relationship within or outside of this State shall not be valid or recognized in this State. This Constitution shall not be construed to require that marital status or the rights, privileges, benefits, or other legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried individuals or groups.6
If either of these bills is allowed to come to the House or Senate floor for a vote, it is almost certain to pass, and considering the statewide support for a Marriage Amendment, North Carolina voters will overwhelmingly approve the ballot measure, as all of our neighboring states have done.
On a somewhat related note, a “high priority” bill that remains eligible from last year’s session is House Bill 1366School Violence Prevention Act. This measure, commonly referred to as the “Bullying Bill,” would require all the local school boards across the state to amend their existing anti-bullying and harassment policies to include special protections for students and staff on the basis of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.” In fact, the bill defines bullying or harassing behavior as: “acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived characteristics, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory disability.”7
Supporters have attempted to present HB 1366 as an effort to curb bullying in public schoolsa goal with which few would disagree. The real intent behind this bill, however, is to promote the acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality, cross-dressing and other alternative sexual behaviors in our public schools and to prohibit any activity or speech to the contrary. There are three factors that clearly expose this underlying purpose.
First, except for requiring the enumeration of categories including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression,” the bill is unnecessary. In July 2004, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted a statewide policy requiring that, “Each local board of education shall develop and maintain policies and procedures to prevent, intervene, investigate, document, and report all acts of harassment, bullying, or discrimination no later than January 2005.”8 Prior to adopting this policy, the State Board of Education discussed including an enumerated list of classifications for special protections and expressly rejected the idea. The meeting minutes read as follows:
Board members expressed concern about the policy being too specific with the list of categories, being consistent with the language, and being clear that the policy covers students in grades K-12 and that there should not be any bullying, harassment, and discrimination of any kind to any child in any school environment.9
There is no demonstrable reason that this legislation is needed, other than forcing all the local school systems in the state to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to their existing anti-bullying policies. If the existing policieswhich apply to all studentsare not being enforced, then that is an entirely separate matter that should be addressed.
Second, a version of the “Bullying Bill” that did not include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” easily could have been enacted into law, but it was not. In late May 2007, the House passed HB 1366 after an amendment to remove the enumeration section of the bill was defeated on the House floor by a one-vote margin.10 Two months later, the State Senate took up the bill and passed a substitute version that did not include the enumeration section. Because the Senate amended HB 1366, it was required to return to the House for a vote to “concur” or “not concur” with the Senate changes. If the House concurred with the Senate version, the bill would be sent to the Governor for his signature and would then be enacted into law. If the House did not concur, the bill would be assigned to a conference committee made up of House and Senate members, who would attempt to iron out the differences in the bill. By removing the enumeration language, the Senate already had expressed its displeasure with the inclusion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression,” and it appeared unlikely that the chamber would agree to restore the list of categories in a conference committee. When the amended HB 1366 returned to the House, the primary bill sponsor Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) avoided a vote altogether and instead made a motion to send the bill to the House Judiciary 1 Committeea move that would keep the bill alive for 2008 and give bill proponents an opportunity to garner more support for adding the enumeration section back into the bill.
Third, and probably most telling, was that in late 2007, Rep. Glazier was honored by a statewide pro-homosexual lobbying organization for his efforts on HB 1366. According to the Equality North Carolina website, Glazier received the “2007 Award for Legislative Leadership” from Equality North Carolina, a self-described “statewide advocacy organization that works to secure equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.”11 A story on the Equality North Carolina website highlighting the group’s 2007 “Equality Conference” reads, “We had a number of elected officials and candidates on hand as speakers, including House Speaker Joe Hackney who presented our very first award for legislative leadership to Rep. Rick Glazier for his groundbreaking work on our anti-bullying bill.”12 (Emphasis added.)
To date, the North Carolina General Assembly has rejected every effort to add “sexual orientation,” “gender identity or expression,” and other similar terms into North Carolina law. By virtue of its passage by the State House in 2007 with the enumeration section intact, HB 1366 has progressed further through the legislative process than any other pro-homosexual legislation that has preceded it. A great deal of attention will be focused on this bill during the 2008 Session.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
During the 2007 Legislative Session, the House also passed a bill that would authorize the use of state taxpayer dollars to fund destructive embryonic stem cell research in North Carolina. Although it would not directly provide millions of dollars for embryonic stem cell research as the original bill proposed, the House-passed version of House Bill 1837Stem Cell Research and Wellness Act would provide guidelines for the issuance of grants from the State Health and Wellness Trust Fund to non-profit organizations that could then use the funds to conduct research involving human embryos.13 Much like legislation that passed the U.S. Congress in 2005 and 2007 and was subsequently vetoed by President Bush,14 HB 1837 would allow state taxpayer dollars to be used to fund research on embryonic stem cells if:
- The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
- Prior to consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.
- The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
HB 1837 passed the State House by a 60 to 55 vote in 2007. An amendment that would have removed all language pertaining to embryonic stem cell research and substituted language authorizing state funding only for research on non-embryonic stem cells failed on a 45 to 62 vote.15 The State Senate did not take up the bill for consideration, but it remains eligible in 2008.
The fact that 2008 is a major election year will undoubtedly have some influence over what legislation is considered. Tar Heel voters will cast ballots in 2008 for President, U.S. Senate, U.S. House (13 seats), Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Council of State, N.C. Senate (50 seats), N.C. House (120 seats), N.C. Supreme Court (1 seat), N.C. Court of Appeals (5 seats), as well as other judicial and local races. While Democrats currently hold the margin of power in both chambers of the State Legislature (3119 in the Senate and 6852 in the House) enough races will be competitive to potentially shift the balance of power. Adding to this, a significant number of open seats exist where no incumbent is running due to the member retiring or seeking another elected office. With so much at stake, legislative leaders may seek to avoid votes on issues they perceive to be controversial or that could negatively impact the fall election.
More important, however, is the impact that individuals can have in the legislative process. Engagement by well-informed and active citizens on issues of interest to them can have a profound impact on the laws and policies that are ultimately adopted by our General Assembly.
John L. Rustin is Vice President and Director of Government Relations for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. For a footnoted version of this article, visit ncfamily.org.
To learn more about the issues discussed here, as well as many others, please visit ncfamily.org and stay tuned during the 2008 Legislative Session in order to keep up-to-date on what your elected lawmakers are doing.
John L. Rustin is Vice President and Director of Government Relations for the
North Carolina Family Policy Council.
1 http://www.citizenlink.org/CLFeatures/A000003814.cfm, “America Votes to Protect Marriage,” CitizenLink, February 5, 2007. Shows the vote in favor of constitutional amendments to define marriage in the following states: Virginia (57%); Kentucky (75%); Missouri (71%); Kansas (70%); Tennessee (81%); Arkansas (75%); Oklahoma (76%); Texas (76%); Louisiana (78%); Mississippi (86%); Alabama (81%); Georgia (76%); South Carolina (74%).
3 North Carolina General Assembly, SB 13Defense of Marriage (2007 Session); HB 493Defense of Marriage (2007 Session); SB 1228Defense of Marriage (2006 Session); HB 2438Defense of Marriage (2006 Session); SB 8Defense of Marriage (2005 Session); HB 55Defense of Marriage (2005 Session); SB 1057Defense of Marriage (2004 Session); HB 1606Defense of Marriage (2004 Session);
4 North Carolina General Assembly, legislative history of House Bill 493Defense of Marriage, (2007 Session), http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2007&BillID=H493&submitButton=Go.
5 North Carolina General Assembly, Senate Joint Resolution 1573Adjournment Resolution, http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2007&BillID=S1573
6 North Carolina General Assembly, see text of House Bill 493Defense of Marriage, (2007 Session).
7 North Carolina General Assembly, House Bill 1366. School Violence Prevention Act (2007-08 Session).
8 North Carolina State Board of Education, Policy Manual, Healthy Students in Safe, Orderly & Caring Schools, Safe Schools Program Guidelines, SS-A-007, Policy for anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination, July 1, 2004.
9 North Carolina State Board of Education, Meeting Minutes, June 30, 2004, p 13.
10 North Carolina General Assembly, Vote #609 on Amendment 1 offered by Rep. Paul Stam to House Bill 1366School Violence Prevention Act, May 23, 2007.
13 North Carolina General Assembly, House Bill 1837Stem Cell Research and Wellness Act (2007-08 Session).
14 See: United States House of Representatives, House Resolution 810-Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, (2005); and United States Senate, Senate 5-Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, (2007).
15 North Carolina General Assembly, Vote #1133 on Amendment 2 offered by Rep. Mark Hilton to House Bill 1837Stem Cell Research and Wellness Act, July 27, 2007.
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.