Ask most anyone to name a law passed in North Carolina this year and you’ll hear about House Bill 2 (HB2). The high-profile battle between the North Carolina General Assembly, the governor and the Charlotte City Council over who should be allowed in which bathroom thrust the state into the national spotlight and saw faith-based organizations on the front lines supporting beleaguered lawmakers who dared to stand up for safety and religious liberty.
Though the issue was front and center in the short session, it wasn’t the only thing on the minds of lawmakers or on the Christian Action League’s (CAL) radar. As it has for more than half a century, the conservative evangelical public policy organization worked to promote good bills and lay bare bad provisions on a range of topics.
Nonetheless, the HB2 battle set the tone for the short session as it was already underway when lawmakers convened – thanks, in part, to a March 21 press conference that featured CAL, as well as other groups, calling for quick action to negate Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance before it could take effect April 1.
The state’s largest city had adopted regulations that would not only require businesses to allow anyone claiming to be transgender to use the restroom, shower or locker room of his or her preference, but would have also forced businesses to participate in events that conflicted with their religious beliefs.
After the General Assembly responded by passing HB2 in a March 23 special session, CAL spearheaded two rallies and worked with others to thank lawmakers for their stand and urge them to stay the course.
Despite unjust criticisms and relentless pressures from the media, gay rights groups and corporate entities, some of which threatened to pull their business out of the state, lawmakers remained resolute on the matter.
“These attacks were as hypocritical as they were harsh, with many of the companies that were making economic threats having significant investments in countries where homosexuals are beheaded or otherwise punished,” said Mark Creech, CAL executive director. “By drawing thousands of people to rallies and providing knowledgeable and passionate speakers on this issue, our coalition of groups let both the public and those inside the legislature know that the majority of North Carolinians appreciate their efforts to keep men out of the ladies restrooms, showers, and locker rooms. We appreciate this legislation that prevents the government from punishing people for their peacefully held beliefs.”
Controversy continued over the common-sense law even as lawmakers moved on to pass other legislation, including a $22.3 billion budget that cut personal income taxes and raised salaries for teachers and state employees.
The following is an update of the current status of HB2 as well as a number of other bills that garnered the attention of the Christian Action League this session:
Public safety, religious liberty
- House Bill 2 – Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act: This bill that requires people to use the restroom matching their biological gender and prevents the kind of government overreach that singles out and punishes businesses and churches on the basis of their peacefully expressed beliefs, remained largely intact when lawmakers left Raleigh.
Draft legislation circulated near the end of the short session that would have amended the legislation in 4 ways:
- It would have allowed people who have had sex-reassignment surgeries in jurisdictions that do not provide for birth certificate changes to receive a “certificate of sex reassignment,” from the state registrar.
- It would have increased punishment for certain crimes committed in bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.
- It would have restored workers’ rights to bring discrimination suits against their employers in state courts.
- It would have created an anti-discrimination task force.
The draft legislation was rumored to be the result of negotiations between the governor’s office, the legislature and the National Basketball Association (NBA). The NBA announced in July it is moving the 2017 All-Star Game that was scheduled in Charlotte, but is planning a 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte.
By session’s end, lawmakers decided to make one of the changes, which was to restore workers’ rights to bring discrimination suits against their employers in state courts.
Alcohol control/substance abuse
- House Bill 884 – Amend ABC Township Elections: When this bill initially passed the House, it had nothing to do with alcohol. But in the Senate, it was rewritten as a proposal to allow the Wittenburg Township in Alexander County to hold its own ABC referendum, despite the fact that Alexander County voters defeated county-wide alcohol sales in 2013.
The CAL opposed the bill primarily because of its unconstitutionality. Because North Carolina’s Constitution prohibits local legislation regulating trade, and alcohol is considered a trade in this state, any alcohol legislation must be applied statewide. It cannot have a local application only, which was the case with HB 884.
Furthermore, CAL has always held that a bill of this nature should be fully vetted by the House ABC Committee, which was not a possibility since it came to the House for a concurrence vote only. Also, numerous Alexander County citizens had urged CAL to oppose HB 884 on their behalf. The House voted not to concur with the Senate’s version of the bill by an overwhelming margin, but later revived the measure just to withdraw it from the calendar to be re-referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, where it was left to die.
- House Bill 169 – Regulatory Reduction Act: This bill contained two ill-conceived alcohol provisions.
First, it would have allowed distilleries in North Carolina to increase the number of liquor products that could be sold on site at the distillery.
Current law allows distilleries to sell only one commemorative bottle of liquor to each customer who takes a tour. But HB 169 would have allowed distilleries to expand that one bottle per year, per customer, to one of each brand the distillery manufactures.
This provision was removed from the bill before it was voted on by the full Senate.
The second provision, which remained in the bill, passed the Senate and carried over to the House, was one that would have allowed distilleries to ship their products out of state. Though its proponents argued that it was simply a good business move, it would have also opened up the state to the possibility of being forced to allow distilleries in other states to ship their products here.
The Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in, Granholm v. Heald, essentially declares that if a state can ship liquor to individuals outside of its jurisdiction, that state must also open up its borders for products from distilleries in other states.
“The House did not concur with the measure and it’s a good thing. This would have posed serious negative consequences, undercutting liquor sales from North Carolina ABC stores, weakening our ABC system, but also hurting our state’s control efforts,” said Creech.
He said CAL has always been concerned about Internet purchases, the easy access underage drinkers have to fake identification, and the delivery of alcohol products via the Internet and in the mail to their homes, college dormitories, fraternities or sorority houses.
Because the bill had a number of other provisions upon which House and Senate conferees could not agree, the bill was stripped of its language and converted into the vehicle for tweaking HB2. Thus, HB 169-Regulatory Reduction Act became HB 169-Restore State Claim for Wrongful Discharge, the measure that restored workers’ rights to bring discrimination suits against their employers in state courts.
- House Bill 747 – Youth Access to Kratom/Study Abuse OTC Subs.: This bill was concerned about the growing use of derivatives from a plant called mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom.
Lawmakers wrote this measure as a study bill to determine if there was medicinal value to the substance. The proposal would have limited the sale of the popular study aid and pain killer to those 18 and under. It would have also called for a study of whippets, the use of nitrous oxide as an inhalant.
Although the bill was approved by the Senate, upon its arrival in the House it was sent to the Rules Committee and was never taken up.
Although not a separate lottery bill, a provision in an early version of the state budget passed by the Senate would have doubled the amount of money spent on lottery advertising, increasing it from 1 percent to 2 percent, or $19 million per year to roughly $40.8 million.
Lottery officials argued the added revenue was necessary to expand digital and online advertising and to run more short ads informing residents about jackpot amounts in multistate Powerball and Mega Millions games. The proposal was abandoned during budget negotiations between the House and Senate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This post originally appeared at ChristianActionLeague.org.
Used with permission.)