McCrory to respond to feds on HB2 after lawmakers refuse to act

Posted May 5, 2016
Updated May 6, 2016

— North Carolina officials are still trying to determine the stakes in a possible showdown with the federal government over a state law that the U.S. Department of Justice says violates the civil rights of transgender state workers and students.

The Justice Department said in letters sent Wednesday to Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials that House Bill 2, which requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their birth gender, violates provisions of the federal Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The government gave state officials until next Monday to "remedy" the violations – essentially not enforce House Bill 2 – or face consequences. State lawmakers said Thursday they have no intention of trying to meet that deadline.

The Governor's Office said McCrory will respond to the Justice Department by Monday, but it remains unclear whether he will tell federal officials that he won't enforce the law, giving lawmakers time to reconsider it, or that the state disagrees with the finding of discrimination, which would propel the case to court. House Bill 2 Complete coverage: House Bill 2

"My hope is we stand up for what is right and stand up and say, 'You don't have the authority or the right to pick on North Carolina, again, when there's 28 other states with similar laws,'" Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said.

Sarah Preston, acting state director for American Civil Liberties Union, says Forest is wrong.

"This is not something that has been done anywhere else," Preston said.

North Carolina is the only state that has passed legislation regarding gender and restroom use, Preston explained. Additionally, it's the only state to define "sex" as "biological" in state law.

"What, essentially, the federal government has done is interpret the word 'sex' to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Preston explained. "By inserting the word 'biological' in front of 'sex' in our laws in North Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly made very clear that they do not want to protect LGBT individuals. They made it basically impossible to do that the way that the federal government has done it."

North Carolina receives an estimated $4.5 billion in federal support each year for schools, roads, the environment and other programs, and such funding could be at risk if the government believes the state is flouting federal law.

"It would totally devastate the schools in this state, devastate our roads program," Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said. "It's just incredible that we're at this point having to debate this."

Public schools alone account for about $1.4 billion in federal funding to the state, and Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, said losing that money would hurt the students who need the most support.

For example, more than 750,000 North Carolina students last year benefited from the program that subsidizes school lunches so that students from low-income families can eat lunch for free or at a reduced price, which received $505 million from the government.

"If you literally take the food off the plates of poverty-stricken children in this state that depend on that meal," Cobey said, "I'm not sure they've really thought this thing through."

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind, provides $534 million in federal funds to the state to help low-income schools, as well as support English as a second language programs and education for homeless children. The government also provides $306 million for special education programs through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and $32 million for career and technical education.

Wake County Public School System officials said next year's budget includes $115 million in federal funding. District officials said they haven't received any direct communication from the federal government related to House Bill 2 or its potential effect on local funding.

The University of North Carolina system also stands to lose $1.4 billion, much of it in the form of research grants and federal financial aid such as Pell grants, in the dispute. UNC President Margaret Spellings said Wednesday that university system administrators were reviewing the Justice Department's notice and would confer with McCrory and other state officials.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in March as a response to a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice in public accommodations. Although the bill overturned that local measure, it went further, setting limits on what kind of nondiscrimination measures local governments can enforce and wiping away the ability for workers to sue for employment discrimination in North Carolina courts.

Since its passage, North Carolina has been criticized by corporate executives, entertainers and many local communities and business groups. Some business expansions have been called off, conventions have been moved out of state and concerts have been canceled as people boycott North Carolina over the law.

Blue, D-Wake, said all of that pales when compared with the potential loss of federal funds.

"The price is too astronomical, and it makes no sense," he said. "It's time for adults to reach an adult decision in this thing. Get away from House Bill 2. Repeal it, and let's move on."

Preston said the Justice Department put the state on notice but likely is trying to settle the dispute without taking North Carolina to court.

"The department is saying, 'Let’s work this out. We don’t want you to lose funding,'" she said. "It’s not like the federal government is trying to punish or disable North Carolina."

Forest said he hopes the state doesn't bow to federal pressure, noting that he doesn't think the government will withhold any money from North Carolina.

"When did the people of the United States ever say we’re sending our money to the federal government and they’re going to send it back with whatever strings they want to attach to orchestrate legislation in a state? Our states are sovereign," he said. "We'll certainly never base our policy, I hope, in North Carolina based on what the federal government says they are or aren't going to do for our state."

Cobey, who said he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the State Board of Education, questioned whether the government would follow through with the threat of pulling federal funding, adding that he expects a legal fight.

"There's always a potential – you need to underscore the word potential. The federal government is always threatening these sorts of things," he said. "This matter has to play out in the courts."


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  • Pat Trisha May 8, 2016
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    I agree with you Paul. Fortunately, no one has to guess about about my genitalia.
    "I'm Pat!"

    PS. And Muslims are much more tolerant than chrishtuns.

  • Paul Maxwell May 7, 2016
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    Seems to me, from reading all these hysterical (in both senses of the word) comments, that the folks who are really obsessed with genitalia and sex are the conservatives, not the liberals or even the 'satanists'. Read the entire text of HB2. The bathroom bit is the least of it, and far from the worst. Left unchecked, bigotry and discrimination have no boundaries. Blacks and Jews yesterday. LGBTs and Muslims today, Could be your kids tomorrow.
    "Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind."

  • Betsy Sparks May 6, 2016
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    HB2 provides zero information on how to enforce the bathroom portion of the law and provides no guidance for how to address violations of the law. For those of you who approve of the restrictions, HB2 provides nothing since there is no guidance for enforcement and punishment. Since people are innocent until proven guilty and people don't carry around their birth certificates, there is no way to prove that the law has been violated. Even if it could be proven, what would happen - misdemeanor? felony? fine? jail time? probation? There are no answers to those questions.

    Since HB2 doesn't accomplish anything to change bathroom policy, those of you who think it's a safety/privacy issue should want the law to be replaced by something that could actually address the issue. HB2 was rushed through and not thought out sufficiently. In its current form, all it does is stir up anger and put federal funds at risk.

  • Mark Cahall May 6, 2016
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    You can make light of it if you want, but
    I have over 50 years of experience dealing with evil spiritual entities. It's not a game or joke to me.

    And it shouldn't be a joke to you either because
    there has been immeasurable amounts of pain and suffering endured by those who are the victims of Satan's agenda. There's nothing funny about it.

  • Ken Ackerman May 6, 2016
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    Well said!

  • Ken Ackerman May 6, 2016
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    I was insinuating, perhaps not eloquently, that I believe this bill is about much more than bathrooms. Unfortunately the Reps. have complete control of the NC government at this time and I think their agenda is much more sinister than dictating who uses which bathroom. They can appear to give in by removing certain provisions of the law yet still win big because they get to keep the sections they wanted all along.

    My guess is the Reps are afraid some city might try to increase the minimum wage. Possibly one of their business sponsors put in a call... Their strategy for preventing that is to distract everyone with issues they know will wind people up.

  • Ken Ackerman May 6, 2016
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    I did not read the bill. I know those are part of the bill. I was pointing out that the bill is about so much more than which bathroom people use, that being what people seem to be focusing on.

  • Fanny Chmelar May 6, 2016
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    Sure, and let's use Robert Lewis Dear to characterize Christianity while we're at it!

    Perhaps a visit to the Church of Satan's Web site to find out what they're actually up to is in order.

    Or we can just watch you list plots to old cult horror films.

  • Mark Cahall May 6, 2016
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    This makes the case to keep it.

    This is a dressing room in a store.. imagine what would happen in locker rooms and showers if men were given legal access to them.

    Good job Target for expanding opportunities
    for sexual predators

    May 4th, 2016
    2 days ago - Police are searching for a man who used his cell phone to record video of an underage girl changing clothes inside a Target dressing room. Investigators say the suspect put his cell phone over the wall of a female changing room and filmed video of the girl.

  • Fanny Chmelar May 6, 2016
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    Regarding Satanists, you are wrong on all counts. You are describing the effects of the "Satanic Panic" from the 80s, though.