Jere Royall, Counsel and Director of Community Impact at NC Family, in part 2 of the conversation about some common misconceptions and recent developments concerning House Bill 2.
INTRODUCTION: Welcome to Family Policy Matters. This week we will continue with part 2 of our conversation with Jere Royall about House Bill 2.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well anything else Jere, that HB2 does? We’ve heard so much about it.
JERE ROYALL: Yes, there was one other provision that was in the original law that actually has been removed, and that related to lawsuits that were brought for wrongful discharge from employment. And what had initially been part of the law was a provision that said that those causes of action could only be brought under federal law. They could be brought in state or federal court under federal law, but it would have eliminated the state law cause of action. The Legislature later in 2016 reversed or repealed that section of the law. Part of the rationale when they put that provision in there—as they discussed it in the original debate—was that there are actually more remedies under federal law. But people pointed out that they still thought it was important that the state cause of action—state law cause of action—still be part of the remedies that were available. And so the Legislature chose to put that provision back into the law. But the rest of HB2 has stayed in place.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, according to much of what we’ve heard and especially seen and read in the media, North Carolina must have gone very far afield when they passed HB2. Talk about that just a minute. Was the adoption of HB2 some far-out action taken by the General Assembly, or was it actually in line with what we see in other states?
JERE ROYALL: Very much in line with what we see across the country. In fact, North Carolina is one of 28 states that basically have the same laws as it relates to non-discrimination laws. Again as we mentioned earlier, areas like race, color, religion, national origin and sex—with the understanding that that is biological sex—all those 28 states, as well as the federal government in their statutes, do not include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. So, North Carolina is very much in line with more than a majority of the states, as well as with our federal statutes.
JOHN RUSTIN: One other claim that has been made by opponents of HB2 is the portrayal of the notion that this bill has had disastrous effects on North Carolina’s economy. Are these claims justified?
JERE ROYALL: Not at all. Months after HB2 passed, really more than six months afterwards, you see national ratings putting North Carolina right up at the top as far as it relates to doing business, a place to do business and a place to live in our country. Forbes magazine and Sight Selection magazine both rated North Carolina as number two in the nation for places to do business or the best business climate. As far as best places to live, at the end of the year, there were national ratings that put a number of our cities, five of our cities in the top 100, three in the top 15 in the United States. And our economy continues to be one of the fastest growing in the country. The number of people employed has increased dramatically; unemployment has decreased. All these indicators show that North Carolina, economically, and just as far as a place for people to live is right up at the very top.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great information to hear! And we’ve seen that repeatedly in recent years that North Carolina just has a booming economy and, as some politicians like to say, “We are definitely open for business!” And we are. But all of these reports show that North Carolina is doing great, that these national organizations and media outlets and others who look at these ratings and the criteria that go into these ratings on an on-going basis, continue to site North Carolina as one of the top states in the nation for business, so that really debunks a lot of these false claims that are being made about the impact, or so-called impact, that HB2 has had on our state. Jere, we are just about out of time for this week. But before we depart, I want to give you an opportunity to let our listeners know what you see as the future of HB2 in the current session of the General Assembly. It still remains a hot topic. What do you anticipate is going to happen with HB2 this session?
JERE ROYALL: It’s hard to know what is going to happen this year. There was an effort at the end of last year with some of the leadership in the Legislature trying to see if there is a way to actually repeal HB2. But there were a number of factors that kept that effort from moving ahead. And one of those was the fact that part of the agreement was going to be that Charlotte would totally repeal the provisions that they had passed in February (2016) and then that the Legislature would come back and repeal HB2. What Charlotte did on a Monday in December (2016) was to only repeal part of their ordinance that had been passed in February. And they actually added a provision saying that once the legislature repealed HB2, they would have the authority to come back and pass similar provisions. So, that naturally created a lot of unrest among the legislators. The Charlotte City Council did come back a few days later and repeal what they had written on that Monday—This was a Wednesday that they come back and said, ‘We’re going to repeal what we passed on Monday,’ and they did it with one sentence, which was very clear to repeal what they had passed in February. But at that point people were already very aware of what might happen because Charlotte actually put in writing that they saw themselves as really having the authority to come back and do what really had caused all this controversy a year ago. So, there is just a lot of uncertainty about where things might go in this upcoming session.
JOHN RUSTIN: That was one of the things we had explained to legislators in this process. There was some discussion and some folks used the term “reset” to go back to a reset where the Charlotte City Council would repeal their ordinances and then the legislature would come back in and repeal HB2 and it would put us back to square one. But we communicated to lawmakers, you could not go back to square one because of all that had happened with HB2. And also the reality that you said, the City of Charlotte even kind of showed their hand as to what their intentions were, that if and when the General Assembly repealed HB2 in full that they would simply come back behind that and reenact the ordinances that they had put in place last February. Then we also saw Durham say they were poised to enact a very similar ordinance change as to what Charlotte did. And we certainly suspect that there were other cities and/or counties around the state that would look at doing the same thing. And so it was very clear that if the General Assembly repealed HB2, there was nothing to keep cities and counties from adopting the Charlotte-like ordinances and doing exactly what the City of Charlotte had done. So, what was the General Assembly going to do after that? Would they come back and pass another HB2? Probably not because of all the controversy that surrounded it. So really, there was no way to go back to a so-called reset before all of this activity transpired in the winter of last year. And so, we just continue to encourage our lawmakers to stand firm on HB2. When the Governor called the special session near the end of December—the week before Christmas—to look at this repeal, both the House and Senate Republican caucuses clearly did not have the votes within their caucus to favor a repeal of HB2. And so they adjourned that special session, taking no action on HB2, which we were grateful for. But I think it still shows the commitment that a lot of legislators in the General Assembly have toward standing firm on HB2.
Jere, what can citizens who are interested in HB2, who feel that it’s an important measure to keep in place—the things that you’ve talked about: the bathroom privacy and safety measures, the other measures that are consistent with the Dillon’s Rule doctrine (that cities and counties only derive the authority they have from the General Assembly and from the Constitution); that it’s really our state lawmakers that have the proper role of making decisions about these anti-discrimination laws in North Carolina; and that it’s proper for them to rein in city and county governments if they go too far. What can citizens do if they are interested, and continue to be concerned, about the Legislature considering bills that would repeal HB2?
JERE ROYALL: On our website at ncfamily.org, you can see a lot of the history of HB2. In the search box there on our website, if you just put in HB2, it will pull up all the publications that we have produced relating to HB2. As far as actually getting involved and responding, we, also on our website, if you click on “Get Involved” and then it has “Take Action,” you can click on there and it will take you to a section where there’s information about HB2, and specifically how you can contact your members of the North Carolina House and Senate through email. And also, as we’ve mentioned previously, in addition to emails, it’s great to be in touch with them on an even more personal level through phone calls or even a personal visit.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, I’d also like to mention that we do have a special edition of our flagship publication Family North Carolina magazine that is dedicated to straightening out a lot of these misconceptions about HB2. It’s a great resource! It kind of approaches the HB2 issue from a variety of different perspectives. And the feedback that we continue to get on that publication in particular is very, very strong. People find it to be very, very helpful to understand all of the dynamics that are at play on this very important issue. So I do want to encourage our listeners, if they don’t have a copy of that edition of Family North Carolina magazine, go to our website and go to the magazine page and you can download a copy of the entire magazine edition there or you can read those individual articles online. And that can be found at ncfamily.org. I would just encourage our listeners, if this is an issue that is of interest and concern to you that you do take action, even if you’ve contacted your legislators before. Now is the time to do it again as they come back into session and as they are revisiting this issue and hearing about it discussed within the halls of the General Assembly. And especially the new members of the Legislature who have not had the privilege of dealing with this issue over the last year. I think it’s important for them to understand where citizens in their districts are coming from as it relates to this issue and others. So, as we always do, we want to encourage citizens to be active and engaged, to reach out to your lawmakers, and know that it really does make a difference when you do that. It’s important for them, these state lawmakers, to hear from folks back home, and they really do consider what folks back home have to say.
JERE ROYALL: It is. It’s always important. But as we’ve seen, because this issue has gone for so long, this is a very important part of the life of our state. I think that we all need to communicate with each other about what we think is best for our citizens.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, in that light too, I think it’s important to recognize the role that North Carolina has nationally in this. We have been the focal point of a lot of the discussion and debate around privacy and safety legislation like HB2, as well as the other provisions that are contained in the bill. And a lot of states continue to look to North Carolina as a leader and an example in this area. And it is so important for our legislators to stand firm, to continue to defend this law, because it does set a standard for other states across the nation. And fortunately with the new year upon us and the Legislatures going into session across the country, we have seen a lot of state Legislatures in a number of other states take up legislation like this. So, they understand how critically important it is to protect the privacy and safety of women and children in public facilities like bathrooms, showers, locker rooms and changing facilities and have sought to pursue legislation similar to HB2.
And with that Jere Royall, I want to thank you so much for your continued great work on behalf of families and family values in the North Carolina General Assembly and otherwise through your work here at the North Carolina Family Policy Council. I want to encourage our listeners to reach out and contact your lawmakers about this and other important matters as the General Assembly gets cranked up for the 2017 Legislative session.
JERE ROYALL: You are welcome, John, and again it’s a blessing to work together with you and other citizens across the state.
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