HB2 a year in: “We continue to steer toward the iceberg”

On the first anniversary of HB2’s signing into law, Governor Roy Cooper continued to implore the Republican majority in the state legislature to repeal the law, which he said has “harmed our reputation and cost our economy thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Calling the day “a dark anniversary,” Cooper said in a Thursday statement the law “does not reflect our values” and criticized GOP lawmakers for using their super-majority to pass partisan laws but not to repeal the controversial law.

On Thursday afternoon N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told reporters current repeal bills – even with various caveats – don’t have enough support to move forward. He said the assembly would continue to work on a new repeal bill next week.

Moore said he doesn’t believe local governments should be able to extend LGBT protections that go beyond what is offered by the federal government. That’s a position that would seem to rule out even referendums that would allow such protections to be offered in cities where they passed by a majority vote – a significant movement in the GOP leadership’s position that could scuttle any significant ongoing negotiations with Democrats on a repeal.

Whatever the final language of future repeal bills, Moore said he’ll continue to oppose any repeal bill that would allow transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity rather than the sex designated on their birth certificate.

“They’re not going to see that on my watch,” Moore said.

Earlier in the day, at N.C. Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation on the anniversary of HB2, a diverse panel discussed the law’s origins, impacts and possible future.

Rick Glazier, executive director of Policy Watch’s parent organization, The N.C. Justice Center, said the Republican strategy of blaming Cooper of “playing politics” with  the repeal of the bill is simply illogical. Cooper has been consistent in calling for a complete and unequivocal repeal of the law, Glazier said – and that’s entirely within the power of the GOP majority in the legislature.

“This legislature passed this bill with super-majorities in the House and the Senate,” said . “It can pass – it has shown – any bill with super-majorities in the House and the Senate. As of yesterday it had enough control over its super-majorities to override Gov. Cooper’s first veto. Really – we have an argument that the governor has no power to sustain his veto but he has the total control over making the deal here?”

“That is like reading a really bad version of Alice in Wonderland or some Kafka-esque novel,” Glazier said.

The harm to the state’s citizens, reputation and economic fortunes should have been enough for the legislature to alter its course on the law long ago, Glazier said.

“Instead we continue to steer toward the iceberg,” he said. “Not because we can’t change direction, but simply because we don’t have the political will to do so.”

Glazier was joined on the panel by Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina; Ames Simmons, director of Transgender Policy at Equality North Carolina and John White, vice president of Public Policy at the Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Brook walked the public conversation’s audience through the ACLU’s lawsuit over HB2, which has its next day in court May 10 at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. He also warned against various compromise deals being floated in the legislature, saying the very strong legal case stands a good chance of “eviscerating” the anti-gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender portions of the law if it is given time to work its way through the legal system.

“There are a lot of instances where compromise makes sense,” Brook said. “Compromise does not make sense when we’re dealing with human rights. It does not make sense when we’re dealing with civil rights. We do not put rights of minority groups to a vote in the United States of America.”

“There are bad deals that are being considered over at the legislature,” Brook said. “No one who supports these deals is a friend of the LGBT community. They should give us time to get these measures stricken by the court before they strike a bad deal over at the legislature.”

Brook also shared with the crowd the real life consequence of HB2 on one of the lawsuit’s litigants, a transgender man named Joaquín Carcaño who works at UNC-Chapel Hill. After HB2’s passage Carcaño had a hard time finding a single-occupancy restroom he could safely use on campus. The closest was a 30 minute walk from his office. His office eventually found a single use restroom he could use in his building – but he would have to take a service elevator into a disused basement in order to get to it. Rather than underline his status as a second-class citizen each day while his co-workers used the regular public restrooms without incident, he elected to keep walking 30 minutes.

Ames Simmons, also a transgender man, shared a very personal perspective on HB2 and laws like it. After HB2 passed, Simmons said, he took the complicated and expensive legal step of having his birth certificate corrected to reflect that he was male. He now keeps that birth certificate with him at all times, in case he is challenged on his gender. That’s a more common occurrence than many might think, Simmons said – but just the beginning when it comes to harassment of transgender people.

Simmons shared with the audience the results of the 2015 discrimination survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality. The data – which included a North Carolina specific report – showed a staggering amount of homelessness, denial of services and accommodation, harassment and violence reported by transgender people who took the survey. It also showed that 62 percent of respondents in North Carolina said they had avoided going to a public restroom in the last year to avoid a confrontation over their gender. More than half that number said they limited the amount they ate or drank during the day to try to avoid using a public restroom.

Those numbers were compiled even before HB2 was passed, Simmons said – the numbers now would likely be much higher.

Simmons also rejected the bills that propose a repeal with a moratorium on new local protections for LGBT people like those passed in Charlotte last year, ones that would put LGBT protections to a referendum or include “religious exemption” language Simmons called a license to continue discriminating.

“What we really need is just repeal – full, clean repeal of HB2,” Simmons said. “And that’s what we’re working for every day.”

Courts & the Law, News

N.C. House overrides Cooper’s veto of bill making judicial elections partisan again

The Republican-led House voted Wednesday 74 to 44 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would make Superior and District Court judicial elections partisan again.

The Senate must also vote to override House Bill 100. If the body overrides the bill and it becomes law, North Carolina joins only seven other states that have partisan judicial elections.

House Republicans and Democrats debated for about 10 minutes whether to override the bill before there was a vote. The body debated helmets for autocycles afterward for about an hour.

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake), a former Court of Appeals judge, was particularly outspoken about not making judicial elections partisan again.

“I do not look upon this as a partisan issue but a bipartisan one affecting all … judges alike,” he said.

Rep. Joe John

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake)

John, who also served as a District and Superior Court judge, asked his peers not to throw judges into the “muck and mire of partisan political elections,” and said he wished he could fully express the dangers of politicizing the courts.

“It’s not often in time we’re given a second chance,” he said.

He wore a pin on his jacket that he earned after serving on the Court of Appeals and said now more than ever North Carolina needs an independent judiciary.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) said voters deserve to know the political ideology of judges and that HB100 would restore voter’s rights.


Five questions with Chris Sgro of Equality N.C.

As Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, LGBTQ advocate Chris Sgro has been on the front-line of the battle against HB2 since before it was signed into law a year ago.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.

But when former N.C. House member Ralph Johnson died in office last year, Sgro was chosen to finish out his term – making him, at that time, the only out LGBT member of the General Assembly. 

Sgro had the unique experience of living through the effort to repeal HB2 as a gay man, an activist and a lawmaker. This week, as we approach the anniversary of the law’s signing, we reached out to Sgro for his insider’s view on the political wrangling and partisan battles that have, so far, failed to repeal the law.

1) What insight into the ongoing battle over HB2 do you think you gained as a lawmaker?

I’ve now seen both as a member of the LGBT community and as a member of the General Assembly what HB2 looks like. And I frankly think there’s a disconnect there.

As I go to rallies, as I’m in different towns and cities, everybody is talking about HB2 – your cab driver, someone serving you a drink in a bar. And they’re almost universally opposed to it. People want it gone – because they think it’s wrong, because they think it’s doing economic damage to our state and harming our reputation. And that has not necessarily trickled down to every member of the legislature.

I think that the legislature is in a bit of a bubble in Raleigh.

There are some members who are great and who are standing firm for a full repeal. But too many members, especially in the majority, are too caught up in their own politics and the process.

2) What do you make of the most recent HB2 repeal bill, put forward by Sen. Joel Ford (D- Charlotte)? It has the “cooling off period” initially suggested by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) back in December, that would put a 30-day moratorium on ordinances like the one Charlotte passed, extending LGBT protections.

I think it’s disappointing but not surprising to see Joel Ford ally himself with Senator Berger. Numerous times during the session people would see him check in with the Republican leadership but frankly he doesn’t check in with his progressive allies.

This isn’t the first time he’s made it clear he’s not a friend to the LGBT community. He voted for the magistrate bill, to allow them to opt out of marriages.

I think he thinks this is a play for him in his mayoral bid and it’s going to backfire on him. I’m deeply wary of any effort that has Joel Ford’s name on it, especially when it’s essentially Berger’s bill from before.

3) I’ve spoken to some LGBT people who are frustrated that the repeal of HB2 has been discussed mostly in terms of economic damage and others who say they understand that’s the best way to engage people who aren’t directly impacted by HB2. But even with the severe economic damage that has been done, we’re still at this stalemate over repeal. Did even the economic appeal fail?

Read more

Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court: Schools must provide more than minimal education to disabled students

In a unanimous opinion released today, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a disabled student and his family who did not believe a Colorado school district was doing enough to provide an adequate education.

School districts must provide students with disabilities more than a “merely more than de minimis” education, according to the opinion. That language was developed by lower courts over time as a legal standard and upheld in a separate case, Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley.

It was also used by a lower court that decided because the student in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District had received “some educational benefit,” the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) standard to provide free, appropriate education had been met.

The parents of Endrew F., a minor with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sought private school reimbursement under IDEA after pulling their son from public school over a proposed IEP for his fifth grade year.

In the high court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a child’s individualized education plan (IEP) must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”

“Rowley did not provide concrete guidance with respect to a child who is not fully integrated in the regular classroom and not able to achieve on grade level. A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” the opinion syllabus states.

You can read the full opinion here.

On a side note, Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick for a vacancy on the Supreme Court, has relied on the minimal education standard in the past. You can read more about that here.



N&O slams GOP teacher pay claims as “mostly false”

N.C. Senate President Phil Berger

A “PolitiFact NC” report late Monday from The News & Observer is finding some dubious assertions about teacher pay by influential N.C. Senate Republican Phil Berger.

Berger, who serves as Senate president, recently claimed his party raised average teacher pay in the state by more than 15 percent over the last three years.

According to the paper, that’s not exactly true.

From The N&O:

PolitiFact NC looked into that claim and ruled it Mostly False.

In reality, the average teacher has seen a raise of about 10.8 percent in the last three years. So Berger’s claim missed the mark – and he also failed to mention that the GOP has been in charge of the state budget for the last six years, not just the last three years.

In the first three years of budgets written and passed by Republican lawmakers, average teacher pay declined every year. So in the total span of GOP control, average teacher pay has risen about half as much as Berger’s claim.

Berger did point to a state document that initially seemed to back up his 15 percent claim, but it applied only to the state’s portion of teacher pay and also relied on accounting tricks to reach that number.

The debate comes with both the GOP-controlled N.C. General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper expected to back sweeping raises for teachers in this year’s budget.

This month, Cooper proposed a 10 percent raise for all teachers over two years, a rate the governor’s office claims would bring the state to tops in teacher pay in the southeast in three years. GOP lawmakers have also expressed a goal of raising average teacher pay, which falls just shy of $50,000 today, to about $55,000 in their spending plan.