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House Ed members pass bill allowing student organizations to exclude certain groups

After considerable debate, members of the House Education Committee passed HB 735, “Student Organizations/Rights & Recognition,” (previously titled “Protect Religious Student Groups”) on a roll call vote, 30-20. The bill is a companion to Sen. Dan Soucek’s SB 719, passed by the Senate last week.

The bill would provide that religious or political student organizations on UNC and community college campuses have the right to determine the organization’s core functions (such as selecting leaders and members and defining doctrines) and resolve disputes within the organization, in accordance with their own core beliefs and values.

A campus would be prohibited from discriminating against any student organization or group that it has granted recognition to if the organization or group exercises its rights of determining its core functions and dispute resolution.

Rep. Henry Michaux raised the possibility of discriminatory outcomes as a result of the legislation, asking the bill’s sponsor what would happen if a student organization discriminates against a group of people even though the university has an anti-discrimination policy. Would this bill force the university to fund the student group anyway?

Upon repeated questioning along this line by other House members, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bert Jones, was forced to acknowledge that yes, universities would have to respect student organizations’ core functions—including the selection of members according to the organization’s core beliefs— and provide them with access to funding and facilities, even if that means certain types of people are excluded.

Rep. Paul Stam put forth an amendment that removes the provision of the bill requiring student groups to organize according to their belief systems “to the extent allowed by State and federal law.” That amendment sparked considerable debate from those hoping that anti-discrimination laws would still be applicable to student organizations, but the amendment narrowly passed on a recount, 26-25.

Some of the other bills on the House Education Committee’s agenda this morning:

  • HB 273, Charter School/LEA Accounting of Funds, requires LEAs to transfer required share of local funding to charters schools within 15 days of receipt of funds. Delinquent transfers of funds would be penalized at an interest rate of 8%. Charter schools would also be able to borrow state funds for operational expenses and language requiring that supplemental taxes that go to charters stay within the local tax district was repealed. The bill passed through committee.
  • HB 491, School Resource Officers/Lee County, moves School Resource Officers away from the purview of the LEAs to the Lee County Sheriff’s office. Public school money would move with the SROs to the sheriff’s office. House members appeared to be baffled as to how the bill had landed in front of the state legislature upon learning that there has been no discussion of this move between the local school board members, who do not support the bill, and the bill’s sponsor (Rep. Stone) and the County Commissioner’s office, who initiated the legislation. In spite of concerns that the legislation would make schools less safe as sheriffs could move SROs out of schools to other assignments with ease, the bill passed through committee.

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