GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina General Assembly continued its contradictory lawmaking about parents’ rights with their children by overriding vetoes on a bill that would allow parents more rights and two others that took away authority from parents.

You know the dichotomy: Both chambers overrode the veto by Gov. Roy Cooper of Senate Bill 49, the so-called Parents Bill of Rights but then they also overrode vetoes of a bill that removes parents’ rights for gender-affirming care of minors and the rights of transgender athletes to play sports.

“My head is spinning,” Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) said during debate in the House. “We want the parents to have rights unless they want gender-affirming care for children.”

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) had a busy day on Wednesday. (WGHP)

There were a lot of heads spinning during two long, aggressive and conflicting schedules as lawmakers returned from about six weeks of inactivity and tried to do everything they hadn’t been doing – except pass a budget, which is what Cooper wanted to point out and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) again said would be coming next month.

The run by the House and Senate in rapid-fire order included House Bill 618, the “Charter School Review Board” bill, HB 488, “Code Council Reorg. and Var. Code Amend,” HB 219, the “Charter School Omnibus” bill and two bills that Cooper vetoed in late June – the controversial “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” and “Gender Transition/Minors” bill and Senate Bill 49, the much-discussed “Parents Bill of Rights.”

“The legislature finally comes back to pass legislation that discriminates, makes housing less safe, blocks FEMA disaster recovery funding, hurts the freedom to vote and damages our economy,” Cooper said in a statement released by is staff. “Yet they still won’t pass a budget when teachers, school bus drivers and Medicaid Expansion for thousands of working people getting kicked off their health plans every week are desperately needed.

“These are the wrong priorities, especially when they should be working nights and weekends if necessary to get a budget passed by the end of the month.”

The six override votes ties what was perceived to be a one-day record set earlier in this session. The House in June voted to override six vetoes in a day. Bryan Anderson, a longtime reporter covering the state house, wrote on his Twitter feed that day that he had “dug through history books, and it appears a record for vetoes fully overridden in a single day.” He cited three each on July 25, 2011, and June 27, 2018, as the previous record.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (AP FILE PHOTO)
State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Guilford) (NCGA)

“The Senate was finally called back to work after six weeks of vacation,” Deputy Senate Minority Leader Michael Garrett (D-Guilford) said in a release by his party. “Instead of passing a badly needed budget that will expand Medicaid and give raises to teachers, bus drivers, and state employees, Senate leadership chose to focus on these bills focusing on a host of culture war issues. Senate Democrats are laser-focused on passing meaningful bills to better the lives of everyday North Carolinians, but tonight’s display of misplaced priorities is a slap in the face to the people we work for.”

The Senate’s session was so active that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the de facto Senate president, emerged for the first time in months to lead the session. He asked members to give him some license because he was “a little rusty.” He last was seen making the Republican rebuttal to Cooper’s State of the State address. Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) was relegated to making the traditional journal approval motion.

Miss North Carolina Taylor Loyd of Iredell County visited both chambers and spoke about the arts. (WGHP)

Also on hand was Miss North Carolina Taylor Loyd of Iredell County and UNC-Chapel Hill, who was introduced in each chamber, and the House let her speak. There also was a celebration of India’s independence day in the House.

3 big bills

But the emotions came out on those three headline bills among the seven that were debated, and there was plenty of fiery rhetoric on a variety of topics. But nothing gained traction, and votes pretty much along party lines (with some wavering) dictated the laws that go into place.

Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) introduced the override in the Senate for the Parents Bill of Rights. And her comments showed some of the conflict of the various bills and what they were telling parents to do.

Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) (NCGA)

“Parents have the right to direct the upbringing and moral and religious training of their children,” she said during a long speech that outlined the terms of the bill. “Parents should be seen as children’s most important advisers.

“The same people who don’t want school choice want to control how schools communicate with parents. This bill will strengthen schools.”

Her counterpart in the House, Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Randolph) said that “Senate Bill 49 codifies the rights of parents and guardians in … making both health decisons and accessing health records…provides parents with information.”

But much of the complaint about the bill is that simply states rights that parents already have while creating more restrictions on teachers and jeopardizing being able to fill jobs.

“I don’t think there’s a single person on this floor that thinks parents should not have rights to participate in schools and a child’s education,” Rep. Amber Baker (D-Forsyth), a former educator and school administrator.

“As a 29-year veteran of schools, we beg and plead with parents to be involved. We send out report cards, send out progress reports … achievement reports. We are required by the state to have parent-teacher conferences and that parents be involved.

“Parents have rights already. When we introduce bills like this, we are misleading.”

In debating HB 574, the ban on boys at birth can’t play girls sports, Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) said the bill was “mean spirited” and that  the decisions belong to sports oversight groups that have been executing them already, such as the NC High School Athletic Association.

“I swam in the 1970 Olympics and was beaten by women using performance-enhancing drugs,” she said. “But the government didn’t step in. The Olympic Committee did. That’s the way it should be.”

Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) said passing this bill was “a great day. It has been a long time coming.”

Former UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was among those in the gallery, along with several other female athletes, and there was an outbreak of applause when the House overrode the vote, prompting a hush from House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).

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State Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake)

During the Senate’s discussion, Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) rose to stymie comments to halt comments about transgender rights, saying . That was interrupted by loud heckler from the gallery who was escorted from the chamber, Robinson said.

“I’m offering the opposite of a personal attack,” Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake), who is said to be the only openly gay member of the Senate. “They are highly germane to this bill … the national fad of these LGBTQ attacks. … What we are doing here will hurt people.”

Galey said she was waiting for someone to ask about the parents’ of bill of rights and the gender=care bill. She said parents can’t consent to some aspects what happens to minors. She likened the bill to the forced sterilization of the mentally disabled.