Tag Archives: north carolina legislature

Perception IS Reality

In the ongoing North Carolina saga that is the aftermath of the state legislature’s passage of HB2, it has become clear people are still people. Essentially, people who support the bill focus on the parts they agree with – namely the “bathroom bill” portion – and seem perfectly willing to ignore or minimize the parts that they may or may not agree with if they bothered to look past the headlines related to the bathroom-related stuff. On the other hand opponents of the bill focus on the discriminatory aspects of the bill and the egregious rollback of employees’ rights to sue for wrongful termination -rightly so in my opinion – yet they also minimize the feelings of people confronted with the confusing spectrum of human sexuality and gender and belittle as “ignorant” those who don’t know the difference. In other words, our state legislature has drawn a big red line on either side of which the citizens of the state are lining up.

One real rub here is that there are many people who hate the bill, but don’t want to admit that sharing a restroom with a transgender person gives them pause. Given enough time to think about it they probably realize that they already have and just didn’t know it, but the fear of the unknown and different is something that must be addressed and it does no good to belittle those who have those fears.

Another issue is that a certain percentage of the backlash against the bill is coming from people and institutions from outside the state, so people who support it are able to fall back on the old “we’re not going to let those California liberals (or Yankee, or whatever other pejorative) tell us how to live our lives, so they can take their business elsewhere” argument or, even better, the “those people are hypocrites because they still do business in <fill in the blank place with some hot-button issue>” tack. When these people hear that yet another performer is cancelling a North Carolina gig, or another conference is cancelling and moving to another state, or another company is halting expansion plans for the state, they shrug it off as inconsequential or hypocritical. Yet, you can be dead certain that if Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance that was supposedly the justification for HB2 was in place and a Christian rock band cancelled a show there, then they would instantly invoke the right of the band not to violate its principles and decry the lost economic impact due to the ordinance. Hypocrisy, meet thyself.

So here’s the deal – both sides have their perceptions of the issue and so each has its own version of reality. What the supporters of the bill will have to reconcile themselves with is the reality that their perception, and thus their version of reality, is out of step with much of the rest of the country. You know what? That’s their right, but when some of them wake up one day and are unemployed because the state has lost so much business because it is out of step with the rest of the country then they will have a whole new reality to face and that might change their perception of what IS important to worry about and what’s maybe a red herring of an issue that’s been used to screw them over.

Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

North Carolina’s legislature has made the national news again, and once again it seems to have been motivated by the misguided belief that theocratic governing is a good idea. You can read all about what the legislature did simply by Googling “North Carolina LGBT law“, so instead of talking about what they did I’d like to talk about how they did it.

The Atlantic Monthly has a piece about why North Carolina’s legislature was able to pass the bill while other states’ legislatures were not and in that piece we find a good description of how they pulled it off:

 

…the decision was only made public on Monday, two days before the session. (As a result, some members of the assembly were unable to travel to Raleigh in time.) The legislative language of the bill wasn’t released until minutes before the session actually began Wednesday morning. There was minimal time for public comment built into the session. And by 9 p.m., less than 12 hours after the session began, McCrory signed the bill into law…

In North Carolina, by contrast, there was little warning for opposition forces to rally against the preemption law, no time for them to try to meet with the governor, and little time for the business community to speak out. Dow Chemical, the medical company Biogen, and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat all publicly announced they opposed the law. But major corporations like Charlotte-based Bank of America—which has in the past outspokenly criticizedanti-gay-marriage laws and touted its record on LGBT rights—did not make a public statement. (I asked B of A for comment about the law but haven’t heard back yet.) There’s a strong grassroots-activist base in North Carolina too, centered around the “Moral Mondays” movement, but there was little time for that bloc to organize either…

The law’s framers may also have made a strategically wise decision in bundling several issues together. Laws barring discrimination against gay people are politically contentious. But there’s still much more public stigma against transgender people. For example, campaigners against an LGBT non-discrimination referendum in Houston last year focused heavily on the transgender-bathroom question to the exclusion of broader non-discrimination, and won a resounding victory…

Of course, the general assembly could have passed a narrowly scoped bill that only overturned the transgender accommodation, but legislators instead chose a broader approach. (The minimum-wage provision, meanwhile, was resurrected from a failed preemption effort in September.)

This perfectly describes the m.o. for the Republican-led legislature over the past half-dozen years: for any piece of legislation that might have even a hint of opposition, or might be considered controversial in any way, work on the language behind closed doors, bum-rush it through committee with limited time for serious study by members, get it to the floor for rushed/limited debate and then send it to the governor. Even if he disagrees with it he ends up not acting because he knows his veto is essentially worthless and so it becomes law without his signature.

Bundling multiple items into a contentious bill is nothing new, but hitching the minimum wage piece to a bill that’s got everyone all heated up due to potty rights is a good example of how the Republicans in this legislature have perfected the art.

Before you think I’m picking on the Republicans let me state right here that they are continuing in the tradition of the Democrats who ran the legislature immediately before them. Some of those clowns went to jail, so it’s safe to say that we citizens of North Carolina have been victims of bipartisan malgovernance (that’s not a word, but it feels like a good description).

So what’s wrong with this form of legislating? It short-circuits the inherent strength of an elected body by not allowing a full vetting of the bill in committee and by not allowing time for in-depth study of the bills particulars. By not providing a venue for an extended and honest debate, or for substantive feedback from the public, the majority is pushing through flawed and poorly constructed legislation. If the true goal is good governance then the House and Senate leadership would push for more transparency and debate, not less, and by using these legislative tricks what they are telling us is that the aim is not good governance but to score points with their political base.

Does that shock you? Probably not. Should it piss you off? Most definitely.

By the way, I totally understand if you support the results of the bill – if it fits your belief system then so be it. But please remember how this went down because at some point in the future you’re NOT going to like the resulting law and you’re going to feel truly screwed over when you learn that the powers-that-be snuck one by you. That, my friend, is called karma and it’s a bitch.

I’m Just a (North Carolina) Bill

Many of us of a certain age learned most of what we know about government and grammar from Schoolhouse Rock. Unfortunately there isn't a Schoolhouse Rock piece about the process the North Carolina legislature goes through to draft a new law, but thanks to a guest piece in the Greensboro News & Record's Sunday opinion section we do have a fairly understandable overview provided by Louis Panzer, the executive director of North Carolina 811:

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, here is the flow in a nutshell: A bill is drafted by a team of research analysts and then introduced in either the House or the Senate. This requires sponsors who carry the language through the chambers, explaining the nuances and seeking votes to approve and move to the next level.

Each bill requires three readings in the chamber it originated in. During this process, a bill may be sent to a committee. Once the bill leaves the original chamber, it “crosses over” to the other for another round of three readings and more potential committee attention. Each time this happens, there is an opportunity for amendments. In some cases, the amendments adopted by one chamber are rejected by the original chamber. Then more modifications might have to be made. When a bill finally receives the governor’s signature, it becomes law.

Sounds simple right? Well, let's just say that the process truly resembles the proverbial sausage making and is rarely as simple as it sounds.
As for law making at the federal level, I'll leave the explanation to our friends at Schoolhouse Rocks:
*Note: This is a crosspost of an item I wrote for work*

This is How You Do It

First a disclaimer: the following is my personal opinion and in no way reflects an official stance of my employer.

Last week I was in Raleigh meeting with legislators about issues related to my day job. The North Carolina legislature is a pretty intense place right now and the legislators, who are always busy during the session, were busier than normal for a variety of reasons. As a result we were only able to meet in person with about half of the legislators from the Triad and luckily for me one of those people was Rep. Ed Hanes,  a freshman Democrat from Forsyth County. We talked about our issues and just before we said our goodbyes the subject of education came up. That's when it really got interesting.

One of the folks in my group has a child getting ready to enter the public school system. After listening to Rep. Hanes speak about public education she asked his advice about how to approach it. Rep. Hanes took a couple of minutes to talk to her about it, and then he started talking about co-sponsoring an education-related bill with a Republican. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. A Democrat and Republican co-sponsoring a piece of substantive legislation in this day and age? Whoa!

Not surprisingly Rep. Hanes said he was catching some heat over the bill, and given that it's about allowing vouchers to be used with private schools you can bet he's getting heat for multiple reasons: crossing party lines and "sabotaging public education" being the two most obvious. Sure enough the bill was hot enough that it became the subject of a front page article in the 5/30/13 Winston-Salem Journal:

House Bill 944, known as the private school voucher bill, passed the House education committee Tuesday by a narrow, 27-21 margin. It moves next to the House appropriations committee — likely next week, said co-sponsor Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth.

Hanes went against party lines in endorsing the bill, which has received sharp criticism from Democrats and opponents who fear the bill could damage public education. Hanes said that while the plan is not perfect, the latest version of the bill that passed the education committee Tuesday is a marked improvement from the bill’s original iteration.

“When you’re 27 seats down, you have to use the tools you have,” Hanes said. “Vouchers are not the answer. Charter schools are not the answer. Even public schools as we have them currently constituted are not the answer to educating economic disadvantaged students.

You don't have to like the bill in order to like what Rep. Hanes is doing. It's old-school legislating in that he's showing the gumption to take a potentially unpopular stance to do what he thinks is best for his constituents. The man is showing some real backbone because in a very partisan world he's willing to cross party lines and at the same time he's taking on one of the most infuential bodies in NC politics-the public education industrial complex. 

Wouldn't it be refreshing to see more action like this in Raleigh and Washington?