News

Hall faces subpoena in Senate confirmation fight

Former N.C. Rep. Larry Hall will face a subpoena to appear before the N.C. Senate Commerce committee for a confirmation hearing.

The committee voted to issue the subpoena Thursday after Hall, who has been acting as Secretary of Military and Veteran’s affairs, did not appear at a scheduled hearing. It was the third time the committee has convened a hearing without him. The subpoena calls for Hall to appear  March 2.

Gov. Roy Cooper is locked in an ongoing legal battle with the North Carolina General Assembly over its authority to confirm his cabinet appointments. The assembly’s Republican majority passed a law granting themselves that power when Cooper, a Democrat, defeated Republican Pat McCrory in last year’s gubernatorial election.

A state three judge panel initially prevented the hearings from moving forward but then ruled they could proceed ahead of the case’s next court date on March 7. However, Cooper technically must submit the names of his nominees to the Senate before they can be confirmed – and Cooper has yet to submit any names.

Republican Senators called that “a game” Thursday and denounced the governor and Hall for defying the committee. They said Thursday that Hall’s appointment happened while the Senate was in recess and so the Senate can move forward on his confirmation immediately. Hall has been serving as secretary in an interim capacity, GOP Senators argued, and can’t do so until May.

Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland), co-chairman of the committee, said he was “disappointed” that Hall again failed to appear Thursday.

“At this point Secretary Hall and his boss [the governor] are openly defying not just the legislative legal authority to call witnesses to the committee but the very, very plain language found in the North Carolina constitution,” Meredith said.

Democratic Senators questioned the appropriateness of the subpoena and held that the court order makes it clear how the confirmation hearings must proceed.

“I think it’s very much a game, an unnecessary game,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) of the subpoena and the committee’s insistence on moving forward with confirmation hearings. “We should be working together. Regardless of who that governor is, regardless of what that party is, we need to be working together as a team for the benefit of all the citizens of this state.”

Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) said he had respect for Hall in working with him over his years as an N.C. House member but is appalled that Hall has shown such disrespect for the committee and the process of confirmation.

“I thought he was a strong leader in the House,” Hise said. “It is my hope he’s being forced to do this, that this is not directly his choice. And we have issues with anyone who would force the secretary to disobey the law.”

Hall could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

A spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper denounced the committee’s action Thursday.

“Larry Hall is a Marine Corps veteran and longtime legislator who brings a wealth of experience to his work as Secretary for military and veterans affairs,” the spokesman said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that this committee, which has ignored the findings of a court order by meeting prematurely, would engage in this political charade when there’s so much to focus on – repealing HB2 and raising teacher pay. We look forward to the March 7 hearing on the constitutionality of this unprecedented process.”

 

News

North Carolina Democrats introduce bills to bolster citizen review boards, expand hate crime protections

Rep. Rodney Moore

Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg)

North Carolina lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give cities the authority to allow citizen review boards investigatory and subpoena powers.

House Bill 165 is sponsored by Representatives Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg) and Amos Quick III (D-Guilford) and would also give cities the power to establish citizen review boards without having to first get permission from the General Assembly.

“In our democracy, ultimately power is held by the people,” Quick said. “The most important document in the establishment of our nation begins ‘we the people.’ … This bill will give some of that power back to the citizens.”

Moore held a press conference Wednesday to discuss HB165 and two other anti-discrimination bills he is sponsoring.

Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) applauded Moore and Quick for sponsoring HB165 and said it has long been a request from the Charlotte Police Chief to give the city’s citizen review board subpoena power.

“Two years ago, the Charlotte City Council took every power it had granted by the General Assembly to expand the authority of the citizens review board as far as it could go within the state statute,” Autry said. “I think [this bill] puts North Carolina in the right light and it certainly puts us in the correct direction.”

The other two bills are House Bill 99, which would prohibit law enforcement officers from racial profiling and require them to undergo yearly training about discriminatory profiling; and House Bill 152, which would expand the population protected by the state’s hate crime statute and increase crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony.

“I think we had kind of a lackluster penalty in the past and so we really want to put these reforms in place so that we can assure our citizens of our commitment as elected officials to their quality of life,” Moore said.

Hate crimes in North Carolina would be expanded to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It currently only covers race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin.

Moore pointed to statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center that show an uptick in hate crimes and hate groups.

The number of hate groups operating in the country in 2016 remained at near-historic highs, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year, according to the organization. There are 31 reported hate groups in the state of North Carolina.

In the first 34 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, SPLC reports there was 1,094 hate crimes and lesser incidents across the nation. Overall, anti-immigrant incidents (315) remain the most reported, followed by anti-black (221), anti-Muslim (112), and anti-LGBT (109).

Violence against trans people also hit a new high last year, with at least 26 apparent murder victims, surpassing the 23 killed in 2015. The SPLC found trans women of color are the minority most victimized by violent hate crime.

“We want to make sure that all of our citizens are protected,” Moore said. “We are aggressively hoping to push this legislation through.”

Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange) is a sponsor of the bill. He said if the Republicans at the General Assembly want to demonstrate that they are not in favor of discrimination — which they have said in regards to their stance on the discriminatory House Bill 2 — they will support this legislation.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “We are hearing politicians at every level deny that their actions are discriminatory in intent or effect.”

Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Pitt, Wilson) also spoke in favor of the hate crime bill. She said her counties have experienced hate crimes and constituents have asked for protection.

The ACLU of North Carolina and Safe Coalition NC also expressed support for the bill.

“We have to be diligent and we have to move forward. We have to set the tone for policy,” Moore said. “We can’t wait for another body to give us an idea; we are the North Carolina General Assembly and so it is incumbent upon us to look for ideas and try to put in place laws that will protect our citizens and enhance their life.”

Commentary

Second chance advocate: Why Christians should oppose mass incarceration

One of the few areas in which progressives and conservatives have managed to find some areas of common ground in the world of public policy in recent years revolves around the issue of reducing massing incarceration and promoting second chances for the formerly incarcerated. The growing momentum in North Carolina for raising the age at which young criminal defendants are automatically tried as adults, “banning the box” on job applications, and providing meaningful opportunities to expunge old criminal records are but three encouraging examples of this hopeful trend.

As part of this effort, the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch) helps lead an effort called the NC Second Chance Alliance. The following brief essay was written by an advocate who works with an affiliate of the Alliance known as the Christian Community Development Association.

Mobilizing Christians to resist mass incarceration

By Shawn Casselberry

Mass incarceration is a troubling trend that is inconsistent with Christian belief and practice, yet many Christians do not see ending this phenomenon as an urgent discipleship issue. Even among churches that are active around the prison system, a bifurcation exists between prison ministry and prison advocacy that makes mobilizing churches to resist mass incarceration much more difficult.

Part of the problem is, our ideological and political leanings shape the way Christians view prisoners and approach prison reform, creating unique blind spots for conservative and liberal Christians. According to a survey by Lifeway Research, only 46% of pastors see “the rapid growth of the inmate population in recent decades as unjust.” In Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith argue that white evangelicals struggle to see racial structures of inequality or systems of injustice. This systemic blind spot leads many Christians with a heart for justice to focus on personal forms of prison ministry, sometimes to the exclusion of prison advocacy.

While liberals tend to emphasize systemic change, they have blind spots of their own.

Read more

Commentary

Making discrimination permanent: Why the latest HB2 proposal is no compromise

As Melissa Boughton reported last night in the post immediately below, a group of House lawmakers proposed legislation yesterday that purports to “repeal” HB2. Here’s why the proposal is ridiculous and deserves the widespread derision it has thus far received:

#1 – It doesn’t actually repeal the old law’s most infamous prohibition – Instead of repealing HB2’s prohibition of local ordinances that would guarantee fair and equal treatment to transgender North Carolinians when it comes to the use of public facilities, it makes the prohibition permanent. That’s right: the supposed “repeal” is even weaker sauce than the “moratorium” compromise floated by conservatives during last December’s special session that would have prevented local ordinances for several months. The new proposal, HB 186 specifically states that:

“The regulation of access to multiple occupancy bathrooms, to showers, and to changing facilities is a matter of general, statewide concern and the entire field of regulation of such access is preempted from regulation except as provided by an act of the General Assembly.”

As a reminder, hundreds of cities across America have guaranteed access to public restrooms based on gender identity for years without any problems. By permanently preventing such a solution in any North Carolina cities, the main thing HB 186 would do is to keep our state mired in the same absurd and embarrassing position it’s been for the past 11 months.

#2 – It offers no protection from discrimination to LGBTQ North Carolinians – The new proposal does absolutely nothing to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ North Carolinians under state law. The only smidgen of a grudging concession contained in the proposal is a section that would allow cities to adopt general nondiscrimination ordinances (that must, of course, have nothing to do with bathrooms). But then the sponsors add a whole new and unprecedented procedure on top of that to allow opponents of such plans to demand local referenda anytime cities try to do the right thing. Great, just what our state needs: dozens of local political campaigns to test whether LGBTQ people should have basic human rights. Can you imagine if we were required to hold public votes on proposals to ban discrimination based on race? It’s a wonder the sponsors didn’t include an appropriation to the haters in Franklin Graham’s operation or the misnamed North Carolina Values Coalition to organize those local challenges.

The bottom line: The new proposal does absolutely nothing meaningful to move North Carolina into the 21st Century on this issue. The sponsors may have been working on it for a long time and sincerely believe that it is a genuine “compromise,” but there’s a much simpler and better solution that has yet to be tried: let the members of the General Assembly have a simple “up or down” vote on a straight repeal of HB2.

Let’s see how lawmakers vote when they are given such an opportunity and then we can determine whether there’s a need for some kind of “compromise.” That Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore will not allow such a vote speaks volumes about what they fear will happen if HB2 is really put to a public test.

HB2, News

2 Republicans, 2 Democrats file HB2 repeal forbidding cities from regulating bathroom access; Cooper expresses concern

Two Republicans and two Democrats have introduced a bill that would repeal House Bill 2 but forbid cities and municipalities from regulating access to multiple occupancy bathrooms, to showers and to changing facilities.

Representatives Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), Ted Davis Jr. (R-New Hanover), Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland) and Ken Goodman (D-Hoke, Montgomery, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland) are sponsoring the bill.

Right under the section repealing HB2, House Bill 186 reads:

The regulation of access to multiple occupancy bathrooms, to showers, and to changing facilities is a matter of general, statewide concern and the entire field of regulation of such access is preempted from regulation except as provided by an act of the General Assembly.

McGrady said at an impromptu press conference (that he initially denied was going to be held) that he had been working on the bill for 10 months.

He said he did not have the votes for a straight-up full repeal of HB2, despite Democrats and Gov. Roy Cooper saying for months that there are enough votes if Republicans would just put a bill on the floor.

“[This is] certainly the best starting point we’ve had up until now,” he said.

Cooper presented a compromise last week to HB2 that Republicans scoffed at. McGrady said Wednesday that he would need Cooper to secure enough Democratic votes to pass HB186.

McGrady also said he did not run the bill by Cooper before filing it, adding “I don’t report to the governor.”

Cooper responded late Wednesday with concerns about HB186 and said he remains committed to repealing HB2.

“But I am concerned that this legislation as written fails the basic test of restoring our reputation, removing discrimination, and bringing jobs and sports back to North Carolina,” he said. “I will keep working with the legislature.”

When asked if HB 186 would appease the NCAA, ACC and other organizations that have refused to hold events in North Carolina, McGrady said he couldn’t speak for them but he didn’t see why it wouldn’t.

“I think we’ve hit the sweet spot,” he said.

HB186 would put in place a statewide non-discrimination law that does not include any language about sexual orientation or gender identity. In some places, it replaces the word “gender” with “sex.”

The bill would give cities the authority to adopt nondiscrimination measures to protect the LGBTQ community but it comes with caveats and a public referendum clause. Cities would have to wait 90 days to implement such a measure and if opponents gathered enough signatures against it, it would be put up to the referendum.

If a nondiscrimination measure was adopted, it would not apply to extraterritorial jurisdiction, bathrooms, showers or changing facilities, state or county entities or charitable organizations and religious institutions.

The bill also strengthens penalties for certain offenses in a public changing facility or a changing facility in a place of public accommodations.

Despite claims that the bill is “bipartisan” and constitutes a “full repeal” of HB2, many Democrats and human rights advocates are not pleased.

“H186 is in no way, shape, or form a repeal of the discrimination of #HB2. Don’t believe anyone who tries to say it is. #ncpol,” tweeted Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake).

Equality NC Executive Director called HB186 a “train wreck” on Twitter and said the Democrats sponsoring the bill are doubling down on discrimination.

“.@ChuckMcGrady thinks your civil rights should be up for a vote, #lgbtq NC’ans. Do you agree? #ncpol,” Sgro tweeted.

The ACLU of North Carolina tweeted that the bill would make it harder for cities to pass LGBT protections.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) also tweeted his disapproval of the bill.

“James Madison: Government should ‘protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.’ We cannot put NDO’s to a vote of the majority,” the tweet states.