Monday, July 15, 2024

State Republicans override 6 vetoed bills on transgender rights, charter schools, building code

The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCGA)
The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCGA)

Several contentious bills made it over the governor’s hurdle on Wednesday in the state capitol. 

READ MORE: NHCS seeks state help on calendar, low-performing schools

The legislation includes the Parents’ Bill of Rights, sponsored by Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), which provides a host of parental controls over their children’s educational atmosphere and curbs discussion of gender identity and sexuality in classrooms. 

Restrictions on transgender minors were included in two overridden bills, while lifting restrictions on charter schools was the subject of two others. Another bill makes changes to state building code processes. 

All six bills were vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper this legislative session; the North Carolina General Assembly returned Wednesday to take up the legislation after nearly a month of nonvoting. Republicans were able to use their supermajority to override the bills while they worked on a compromise to their month-late state budget, anticipated not to come together until September. 

This week’s votes were largely along party lines with Cape Fear representatives falling in line. Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) voted against all veto overrides, while Republicans Rep. Ted Davis (New Hanover), Sen. Lee (New Hanover), Sen. Bill Rabon (Brunswick), Rep. Charles Miller (New Hanover, Brunswick), Rep. Frank Iler (Brunswick), Rep. Carson Smith (Pender) and Sen. Brent Jackson (Pender, Duplin, Jones, Sampson Bladen) all voted in favor.   

Opponents to Senate Bill 49, Parents’ Bill of Rights, compare it to the gender curriculum provision to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits educators from “encouraging” classroom discussion on gender identity. 

Under the bill’s provisions, parents will be notified prior to school personnel changing the pronoun used for their children. Teachings on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality are also prohibited from kindergarten to fourth grade, though the topics are not in state standards. 

The bill restricts school districts from conducting surveys on protected topics — such as sexuality, political beliefs, religion, mental health or incriminating behavior and income — without prior written consent from parents. 

Under the student health care provisions, school staff would need to gain parental consent at the beginning of the year for any health service to be provided to a child. It requires health practitioners to receive permission to perform treatment on children, including X-rays, drug administration, blood transfusions, anesthetics, lab tests or any other diagnostic procedures. 

S.B. 49 takes effect immediately. 

Another local legislator-sponsored a bill, House Bill 219 from Rep. Iler, calls for various changes to North Carolina’s charter school regulations. A previous version of the bill would have required public school units to share a percentage all of its funding with charter schools, instead of some pots of money being off limits — something NHCS passed a resolution against — but the final bill no longer has those provisions. 

The legislation does allow counties directly transfer money for capital improvements, rather than passing them through the local school district. Charter schools could use the funds for the acquisition of real property, construction, renovations, furniture and equipment. The bill stipulates the county may levy a tax up to $1.50 per $100 of appraised property value for this purpose.

H.B. 219 also changes the rules regarding enrollment caps. Under current law, low-performing charters cannot increase their maximum enrollment authorization by more than 20% of the previous year’s enrollment. The bill would authorize the increase if approved by the North Carolina Board of Education. 

The new rules will go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year. 

Another bill, H.B. 618, would transfer authority over the approval and renewal of charter schools from the state board of education to a charter schools advisory board. Eight of the board’s 11 voting members will be chosen by the General Assembly, currently controlled by Republicans. The bill takes effect immediately.

Two bills — H.B. 574 and H.B. 808 — will restrict the freedoms of transgender minors, one in interscholastic athletics and the other in health care. Both take effect immediately. 

H.B. 574, otherwise referred to as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, bans students assigned the male sex at birth from playing on all athletic teams designated for “females, women or girls.” This applies to any middle or high school students participating in interscholastic sports or playing against a team that participates. It also applies to all public and private colleges and universities involved in intercollegiate athletic programs, such as the NCAA.

H.B. 808 prevents minors from receiving gender transition care. Medical professionals are barred from performing surgical gender transition procedures on a minor or prescribing puberty-blocking drugs or cross-sex hormones to a minor. Exceptions apply to minors with sex development disorders, female breast reductions to ease a physical ailment, or to treat any complications arising from another gender transition procedure. 

After the override, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic criticized the action.

“Before they passed a budget or expanded Medicaid, North Carolina lawmakers decided to attack kids who are transgender,” Jillian Riley, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a press release. “Once again, the leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly are using their power to bully some of our most vulnerable neighbors and interfere with medical best practices. No one should have to justify their health care to a politician, period.”

The NC Values Coalition also issued a statement in favor of the legislation.

“HB 808 is a compassionate bill which will protect gender confused youth from medical and trans activists, who urge children with mental health issues to permanently change their bodies by cutting off healthy body parts and consume cancer drugs not FDA-approved for gender transitioning,” executive director Tami Fitzgerald said in a press release.

The outlier in the General Assembly’s series of overrides is H.B. 488, which makes changes to the state Building Code Council, appointed by Gov. Cooper. It also creates a Residential Code Council. 

Under the bill, the former is barred from issuing requirements for new homes to include additional insulation or other energy efficiency measures, and instead transfers the power over homes’ energy, fuel, gas and mechanical codes to the latter council. Seven members will be governor appointees, but votes will need to pass by supermajority, meaning some General Assembly appointees will be needed to make code changes. All members will also need to be confirmed by the Senate.

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