RALEIGH — With the U.S. Justice Department suing the state and threatening that North Carolina House Bill 2 could jeopardize more than $3 billion in federal education funding each year, and Gov. Pat McCrory suing the federal government to keep the bill intact, some in Scotland County’s legislative delegation say it’s time to make changes to the bill.
The Justice Department on Monday filed legal action against the state charging that House Bill 2 violates the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in education based on sex. The Department of Justice warned the University of North Carolina system in a letter last week that the system could lose federal funding if the law is enforced.
The 17-university system receives about $1.4 billion in Title IX funding a year. Another $1.4 billion in federal funding goes to the state’s public schools, including for child nutrition programs, programs for low income students and students with disabilities and teacher pay. Federal money that could be caught in the crossfire in the debate over HB2 also goes to federally-back students loans and to the Department of Transportation.
The Justice Department gave the state a Monday deadline to respond that it would either repeal the law or pledge not to enforce. The response, from Gov. Pat McCrory, came on time and in the form of a lawsuit against the federal government.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina, asks for the Justice Department’s actions to be blocked.
House Bill 2 stipulates that North Carolinians must use restrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates. It also establishes a statewide non-discrimination policy that does not protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Two of the county’s three legislators, Reps. Garland Pierce and Ken Goodman, both Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, now say that action must be taken to ensure that no federal Title IX funding is lost.
The Senate never voted on the legislation, with Democrats walking out, but Sen. Tom McInnis, a Republican and Scotland County’s representative in the state senate, has spoken strongly in favor of the bill. McInnis could not be reached for comment for this story.
“We’re putting a lot of funding in jeopardy. If that is the case then we’ve got to do something. I don’t think we need to get on this slippery slope,” Pierce, said. “… I think this has gone on for too long. This is just Politics 101 now.”
Goodman said that he doesn’t know what the solution is, but wants to see some kind of resolution.
“No one saw this coming, I think that North Carolina is just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Goodman. “There are other states that have similar laws. I think groups advocating for LGBT and the Justice Department see this as an opportunity to send a message to other states.
“If the people would get as angry about education as they have about this bill, North Carolina would have the best schools in the country,” he said.
Many legislators, including Pierce, said they felt they had no choice but to vote in favor of House Bill 2 after being presented with the full bill just hours before a vote was taken and after hearing from constituents who felt allowing people to choose what bathroom they use was a threat to safety.
“You never thought it would come to this. Many thought it was just a safety issue, although sections two and three of the bill … were one of those things you were trapped with,” Pierce said, referring to parts of the law that lay out the statewide non-discrimination policy and bar local governments from imposing stricter policies. “Any way you would have voted you would have been accused of something.”
The Scotland County Democratic Women were supposed to meet today to discuss HB 2, but the meeting has been postponed.
Allan Freyer, director of Workers Rights at the NC Justice Center had planned to lead the discussion after providing information on the legislation and how it affects rights. The group said Freyer could not attend because he had work on helping revise HB2.
The Justice Department has said that House Bill 2 violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bars workplace discrimination based on sex. The law was pushed through the General Assembly in an attempt to override a Charlotte ordinance that said transgender people could use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
“HB2 … is facially discriminatory against transgender employees on the basis of sex because it treats transgender employees, whose gender identity does net match their “biological sex,” as defined by HB2, differently from similarly situated non-transgender employees,” the Justice Department said in a letter to McCrory.
Sarah Willetts and Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-739-4322