The ruling GOP majority in Raleigh has belched forth its share of smelly ideas during the past couple of years.
But if your top criteria for ranking them include “terrible political optics” and “horrendous timing,” it’s pretty hard to top what the Senate wants to do to North Carolina’s housing bias laws.
North Carolina Policy Watch reports that tucked away on page 390 of the 500-plus page Senate budget bill is a call to kill the N.C. Fair Housing Act. It outlaws housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and disabilities, among other things. The Senate also requests elimination of the state’s Human Relations Commission, a panel charged with enforcing and promoting equal opportunity in housing, employment, public accommodations, and other areas.
What would Senate leader Phil Berger and his colleagues suggest North Carolinians do with their complaints about housing bias? Take them to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
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It’s a wrongheaded proposal. And it is surfacing at a moment when the nation is moving in the other direction, striving to improve rather than tear down anti-discrimination protections.
The Supreme Court on Thursday reaffirmed that the 1968 Fair Housing Act allows minorities to seek redress not only for intentional discrimination, but also for the racially disparate impact of otherwise benign policies. The state law Berger and Co. seek to kill mirrors the federal statute.
The fair housing ruling isn’t the only proof that the mood of the Senate is not the mood of the nation. There’s the high court’s groundbreaking decision Friday in favor of gay marriage. There’s the national soul-searching on questions of race, and the reconsideration of the Confederate flag, occasioned by the Emanuel AME Church shootings.
Against that backdrop, the Senate’s move to dismantle anti-discrimination laws looks odd indeed.
Yes, federal law would still offer protection. But according to Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project, HUD considers our state’s housing bias law “substantially equivalent” to the federal Fair Housing Act. HUD refers most complaints from North Carolina to the state’s human relations commission for investigation
Kill the commission, and those facing housing discrimination will face longer delays, waiting for federal officials. As Ken Schorr, head of Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, told the editorial board, “it is a peculiar view of the state’s responsibilities to pass control back to the federal government.”
Especially considering Republican leaders’ resistance to national leadership on other matters, such as health care reform.
“I’m stunned,” Schorr said.
So are we.
Let’s hope members of the House and the Senate, as they debate their budget differences, reach the understanding that our anti-discrimination laws are too important to be cast aside on a partisan political whim.