N.C. legislative building general assembly

North Carolina legislative building in Raleigh. photo by Lynn Hey

The North Carolina General Assembly will convene a special session Wednesday to address a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender anti-discrimination ordinance passed in Charlotte.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the session Monday evening in a note to lawmakers. Moore said he had received written requests for the session by three-fifths of House and Senate members.

The Charlotte ordinance, passed last month, provides broad anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents. Its most controversial provision allows transgender people to use a public restroom based on the gender with which they identify.

Shortly after its passage, Gov. Pat McCrory warned that the bathroom portion of the ordinance was too much and predicted the legislature would take immediate action over it.

The assembly is scheduled to hold a regular session beginning April 25, which led to some disagreement about whether a special meeting is warranted.

It costs about $42,000 a day to operate the state legislature during special sessions. A two-day special session was already held last month to approve new U.S. congressional maps after existing districts were struck down by a federal panel.

“Holding a special session to deal with the Charlotte restroom ordinance is the right thing to do,” Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) said. “This is an issue that relates to public safety.

“I believe in local control, but there are some laws that need to be uniform across the state, especially when it comes to protecting our citizens.”

On Monday, McCrory legislative aide Fred Steen sent a note to lawmakers saying the governor would not call a special session if they planned to go beyond addressing the bathroom ordinance.

According to a number of legislators, draft legislation has been floated that looked to revise other city ordinances across the state, including minimum wage ordinances.

Lawmakers, however, can call a special session without the governor if enough of them agree to do so.

Still, it’s unclear just how much the General Assembly will address in its Wednesday session and whether any planned legislation on minimum wages would affect a Greensboro ordinance passed last year.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan called the special session a waste of time and money.

“The Charlotte City Council was elected by the people,” Vaughan said. “They should be allowed to decide what is right or wrong in their city.”

Vaughan added that the General Assembly’s habit of striking at local governments and their ordinances has come to feel like “babysitting.”

Conservative groups, including the North Carolina Values Coalition, rallied in Raleigh on Monday and called on the General Assembly to overturn the Charlotte ordinance.

Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes lent his voice to the rally, sending a statement to be read on his behalf concerning the bathroom portion of the ordinance.

“The desires of a handful of people who are struggling with their sexual identity should not cause the majority of people to compromise their safety and privacy in public bathrooms, showers and locker rooms,” Barnes wrote. “And it should not place law enforcement personnel in the uncertain position of enforcing a law based on feelings, not facts.”

Reached by phone late Monday, Barnes said he doesn’t want his deputies to be in the middle of a contentious social issue.

“I’m not against these folks by any means,” Barnes said. “If they’re not comfortable with their gender ... and they want to make a change, by all means. It’s between them and God the way I look at it. It’s not for me to judge. But when my officers are asked to make determinations on this, I don’t want them to be in that position.”

Proponents of anti-discrimination ordinances point out that they exist in more than 200 cities nationwide and haven’t caused public safety problems.

The city of Greensboro added LGBT residents to its own anti-discrimination ordinances more than a year ago and began including gender-neutral bathrooms in city buildings.

But the city stopped short of requiring private businesses to allow transgender people to choose whichever bathroom conforms to the gender with which they identify.

“We hope that since we’ve taken the steps we have,” Vaughan explained, “private businesses will follow our lead.”

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Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoekillianNR on Twitter.

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