Politics & Government

NC House speaker weighs special session on Charlotte LGBT ordinance

The city council voted 7-4 Monday to pass the nondiscrimination ordinance that expands protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents.
The city council voted 7-4 Monday to pass the nondiscrimination ordinance that expands protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday he’s exploring a possible special legislative session to deal with a controversial provision of Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance.

Moore and others object to the so-called bathroom provision that would allow transgender people to use the restroom of their choice, depending on the gender with which they identify.

In an email to GOP lawmakers, he said, “the recent radical actions of the Charlotte City Council … pose a real danger to public safety concerning the sexual identity and bathroom matters … If we do not act, the Charlotte ordinance will go into effect on April 1.”

The General Assembly’s short session is scheduled to convene April 25.

Whether in a special session or regular session, Moore predicted lawmakers will deal with the provision in a statewide bill. That would prevent other cities from adopting similar ordinances.

This week the Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality NC called on the Asheville City Council to pass similar LGBT measures.

A special session would cost about $42,000 a day. A two-day special session on redistricting this month cost about $84,000. Moore said he’s gauging the interest of fellow GOP lawmakers. But he said he could be worth it.

“While special sessions are costly,” he wrote, “we cannot put a price tag on the safety of women and children.”

Scott Bishop of MeckPAC, a lobbying group for the local LGBT community, said he is surprised legislators would call a special session.

“If they are going to come in, then come in and solve some real problems,” he said.

The speaker’s remarks are the latest legislative blow-back to the ordinance, which the city council passed 7-4 on Monday night.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who would have to call a special session, said Thursday he hasn’t talked to lawmakers about it. But the governor took the unusual step of warning council members of repercussions before they voted.

“I gave a clear warning to City Council that they were stirring up a hornet’s nest in Raleigh,” McCrory said Thursday.

Earlier this week, the speaker said the ordinance goes “against all common sense” and promised to look at “legislative intervention to correct this radical course.” And House Majority leader Mike Hager of Rutherford County said lawmakers would try to remove the bathroom provision.

“Restrooms and locker rooms,” he said this week, “should remain distinctly private.”

Senate leaders declined to comment on “internal caucus communications.”

One Charlotte Democrat ridiculed Republicans’ haste to overturn the city’s ordinance.

“This is the heavy hand of big government from the folks who are always talking about small government,” Sen. Jeff Jackson said. “A special session would show that the folks in Raleigh can’t bear the thought of waiting a few more weeks to poke Charlotte with a stick. Apparently harassing Charlotte is an emergency on par with responding to a hurricane.”

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, said lawmakers are talking about it. But not everyone’s convinced a special session is needed.

“There are people who say ‘absolutely,’” he said. “And then we’ve had other voices say, ‘Wait a minute, let’s be a little more contemplative.’ Let’s find out what the legal ramifications are.”

Moore said there’s “overwhelming” sentiment against the provision.

“The only real debate is whether members want to come in for as special session or deal with it in the short session. I’m good either way.”

Staff writer Steve Harrison and Colin Campbell of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill