We Still Haven’t Heard the Punchline

North Carolina’s lawmakers, governor and a not insignificant portion of its citizens remain steadfast and determined to protect the state’s infamous Session Law 2016-3, more commonly known as HB2, popularly known as the “Bathroom Bill”. The national criticism and international condemnation has only now begun to move Republican members of the General Assembly to distance themselves from their leaders and openly question the usefulness of this legislation and the logic of continuing its existence. Only in the wake of tremendous losses in job creation and economic activity has a trickle of GOP politicians emerged from their caves and hinted that perhaps it wasn’t such a great idea after all. Perhaps not.

Aside from the ignorance and hyperbole spouted in regards to the “bathroom” part of the “Bathroom Bill”, Session Law 2016-3 fails dramatically in its less publicized goal: to “promote the general welfare of the people of the State without jeopardizing the competitive position of North Carolina business and industry”. The “Wage and Hour Act” part of the bill effectively invalidates any past or future efforts made by cities or counties to address wage and work conditions within their own jurisdiction. Under the guise of streamlining regulations and making contracting rules uniform across the state, this part of the law works to conceal the act’s real objective: to prevent local governments from enacting ordinances that conflict with and challenge Raleigh’s authority and position on social and fiscal issues. By itself, perhaps, the Wage and Hour Act would have created opportunity for employers by limiting local variability and requiring statewide adherence to what I can only imagine would be highly pro-business rules. However, chaining this dubious act to the even more outrageous “bathroom” element only heightened public disdain and protest. The law intended to bring money into the state has instead driven it out. The desire to standardize and enforce ill-advised policies across the state, instead of benefitting and attracting business and organizations to the state, have left arenas empty, stadiums vacant and construction sites quiet.

North Carolina has lost money, events, prestige and respect and yet the majority of the elected officials in Raleigh continue to cling to the myth of HB2 as a public safety act, not as a bold-faced consolidation of power that is the anthesis of what the Republican Party allegedly represents and holds dear. If this were a law pertaining to education, I promise that these same lawmakers would be vocally opposing state interference and would gladly allow the individual counties and districts to come up with their own plans. Small government is the best government unless it means having to face the reality that the state is not homogeneous and that the realities of medicine, psychology, biology and sociology cannot be ignored by enshrining in law the idea of “[t]he physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate”. The same narrow-mindedness and fear prompted these same representatives to promote and pass Amendment 1 as a protection against the unholy notion of same-sex marriage. Fortunately, that absurdity has since been rendered void by the Supreme Court of the United States. What remains to be seen at this moment is whether it will take another decision like that to undue the damage brought about by HB2 or, if in a truly miraculous turn of events, the General Assembly acknowledges their mistake and works as quickly to repeal this law as quickly as they ratified it. Untill then, we continue to suffer from the joke and eagerly await the punchline so that our state can work to reclaim its lost dignity and turn towards progress rather than subvert it.

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