Raleigh, N.C. — School employees would be prohibited from campaigning for a political candidate during school hours or using school computers or telephones to campaign under a bill passed Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.
Sponsor Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, said Senate Bill 480 simply applies the same rules now in effect for state employees to all public school employees statewide.
"North Carolina now has one set of laws for state employees around political activities and 115 sets of policy rules for school board employees," Wells said. "This replaces that disparity with one uniform law for everyone. Everybody's treated the same."
Violations could result in disciplinary action by a school district, including termination for "deliberate or repeated" offenses.
Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, called one section of the law "quite murky," because it bars the use of a person's position to support or oppose a candidate without placing any limits on that prohibition. She asked if that would prevent a teacher from appearing in a campaign ad.
Legislative staff said teachers would be prevented from telling students to urge their parents to vote for or against someone, but a teacher's right to campaign on their own time wouldn't be affected.
Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, said teacher participation in school PTAs, which often take positions on candidates and policy issues, could be affected. Legislative staff plan to review that issue for a possible amendment before the bill is heard in the Senate Judiciary I Committee.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, asked whether school employees could still lobby for support of a school construction bond. Wells said school superintendents and principals are exempted from the political restrictions and could advocate on such issues.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said there should be no carve-out for superintendents and principals, saying the sway they hold in local school systems should make them the primary targets of campaign prohibitions.
Legislative staff said the exemption applies only to lobbying for or against policy issues, not partisan campaigns.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a former school administrator, added that most superintendents and principals could be considered to be on the job 24 hours a day, so restricting their ability to engage in political activity all the time would infringe on their First Amendment rights.