RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina House wrapped up a long series of votes on Wednesday evening by passing two bills that conflicted with their missions: dictating what parents of students could and could not do.
Senate Bill 49, “The Parents Bill of Rights,” which guaranteed parents the right to be involved in their children’s education and dictated some school policies, passed in controversy.
But lawmakers also adopted House Bill 808, “Gender Transition for Minors,” which prohibits parents from helping transgender children younger than 18 find the care that they might desire.
That dichotomy was not lost on the members as they talked through the two laws, which were among 23 bills passed out of the House as the General Assembly scurries toward ending its session.
The Senate simultaneously took up 21 bills (and several amendments of their own), but their topics were not quite so controversial as the measures debated in the House.
Although final votes on two bills were delayed, Senators had finished their day before the House took a 30-minute break as it prepared to take up the Parents Bill of Rights, which had been languishing in the House since the Senate passed it in February.
During that break, Democrats were told that their seven amendments to SB 49 would not be heard under House rules. Only a technical amendment by Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) to delay start date until Aug. 15 was considered and passed.
Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) then called the question – meaning no further discussion – a step that was passed along party lines.
House members also in a 66-47 vote passed the bill in its entirety – with one Republican, Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) voting with Democrats, and two Democrats and five Republicans absent – sending it back to the Senate for concurrence. Gov. Roy Cooper will get a chance to veto, too.
“I’m not lost on the irony of what we just did,” Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake) said. “Our children are suffering. … We talk about the mental health crisis in our state and our country.
“At a time when children are the most vulnerable, we consider passing this bill that would harm broad swath of students, teachers and mental health professionals.”
Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) spoke before the vote about the process, saying that Democrats “are being censored, silenced….
If the shoe were on the other foot, you should be ashamed for us.”
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said that not hearing amendments was well within the rules and “nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s not in bad faith. It’s just a tool the majority is choosing to use. … The majority wants to move forward. There are a number on this side who want to make amendments. We agreed about this bill with the Senate, that there would be no amendments.”
Public education priority
He then turned the floor over to House Minority Leader Robert Reives II (D-Randolph), who talked at length about the history and value of public education and how it was the first priority of the country’s settlers.
He said the bill would have a “chilling effect” on the “safe space” between teachers and students. “I hate to see attacks on that relationship,” he said.
He also criticized the bill because he said it does nothing to make schools safer, help with early childhood education or address shortages for teachers and psychologists.
“No matter how much money we give to private or charter schools, 90% of our kids are going to be in public schools,” Reives said. “This state became great because of public schools, because people who didn’t know any of us invested in all of us.
“I completely disagree with this bill in substance, not because I want to interfere with parents, but because parents have these rights.”
Bill ‘creates division’
Von Haefen, who was given the last word by Reives, said she has three children in public schools and has been both a substitute teacher and a volunteer.
“I know how absolutely essential parental involvement is in our schools,” she said. “I know how our parents always have been welcomed and informed. … This bill creates more division between parents and teachers and creates more division between communities and schools.
“What the parents need is a fully funded classroom. That’s what schools need.”
On third reading the “nos” sounded much louder than the “ayes,” but Moore declared the ayes to have it.
An altered bill
HB 808 reached concurrence on a vote of 67-46, but not before a long and emotional debate. Most who spoke were saying the bill ostracizes children who have gender identity issues and the rights of parents to determine what is best for those children.
Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), who moved for concurrence, said he thought the bill that returned from the Senate was improved, because it added puberty blockers and hormones, created a cause-of-action violation, banned certain state funds being used for treatment, included a “conscience provision” for medical personnel who don’t want to participate in gender-changing activities and set up license revocation for medical personnel who violate the law.
It also, though, allows that minors “who are seeking drugs and procedures at the time of the law’s adoption can continue to do so.”
This bill emerged on the same day that courts in two other states put a hold on similar bills. A U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Kentucky ruled the plaintiffs showed a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their challenge that a new state law violated transgender children’s constitutional rights to necessary medical care. And in Tennessee, another U.S. District Court issued an injunction to block the state’s prohibition of puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors while permitting a ban on gender-reassignment surgeries.
‘Invasion of privacy’
To that point, Morey called the bill “an invasion of privacy. … We have the parents’ bill of rights coming out, but in this one we are saying: ‘Parents, do you agree that your child needs to this type of care and they are not 18 yet? We are saying you don’t have that right.
“If you have a child who is having a problem, you have a duty.
In here it talks about unprofessional conduct by any medical professional. I submit this is unprofessional conduct by this legislature.”
Rep. Allison A. Dahle (D-Wake), in tears, said the bill is telling children that “we don’t value you. You don’t meet our values.
We say, go ahead and kill yourself. End it.”
Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg), whose granddaughter, Savannah, is 21 and transgender, has spoken frequently with great passion about these issues. He did twice in this debate.
“This General Assembly should not get between patients and medical providers,” he said. “We should not be getting in between children and their parents. … You have to go a long way to find a more colossal overreach in government.
“Denying children treatment is dangerous. This bill is cruel, dehumanizing and will prolong children’s suffering.
“Using children as a political football simply to enrage your voters is despicable and beneath the NC General Assembly.”
‘We took an oath’
Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), the House speaker pro tempore, had taken over the session from Moore, and she then interrupted the comments on the bill to introduce guests from the Future Farmers of America. It’s unclear why protocol was changed.
But she then called on Rep. Ken Fontenot (R-Wilson), who spoke in support of the bill, with illustrations that later were rebutted by Rep. Maria Cervania (D-Wake).
Autry then said that if care for his granddaughter Savannah “had not been available when she needed it, my fear is that she may not be here.”
Said Rep. Sarah Crawford (D-Wake): “We took an oath to uphold the constitution of Nort Carolina and the constitution of the United States, which includes access to life and liberty. That means to all people.”