North Carolina legislature approves limits on politics, race discussion in state workplaces

The promotion of certain beliefs that some North Carolina lawmakers have likened to “critical race theory” is on track to be banned in state government workplaces, under a bill that received final legislative approval on Tuesday.

The two-pronged proposal that passed the GOP-controlled Senate 30-15, with three Democrats and all present Republicans voting in favor, also would prohibit hiring managers for state agencies, community colleges and the University of North Carolina system from pressuring a job applicant to opine about their personal or political beliefs as a condition of employment.

The state House approved the bill last week by similarly veto-proof margins. It now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who hasn’t indicated whether he will sign it but has spoken in the past about his dedication to keeping North Carolina off the front lines of “culture wars that hurt people and cost us jobs.”

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Cooper may not have much of a say if he opposes it: Republicans have had veto-proof majorities in both chambers since a Democratic state lawmaker switched parties two months ago. The initial votes for passage indicate a veto would likely be overridden. Cooper’s other option would be to allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Starting Dec. 1, anyone entering a state government workplace, such as a private contractor or a diversity trainer, would be prohibited by the bill from compelling employees to believe they should feel guilty or responsible for past actions committed by people of the same race or sex.

Other restricted concepts include that the United States was created for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex and that the government is “inherently racist.”

Republicans earlier this year applauded the same list of restrictions, which also appears in an education bill passed by the state House, for “banning” critical race theory, a complex academic and legal framework centered on the idea that racism is embedded in the nation’s institutions, which perpetuate inequality. Neither bill explicitly mentions the framework.

Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican and one of the employment bill’s primary sponsors, argues it’s designed to prevent hiring discrimination and protect new employees from “indoctrination.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Talking About Race

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters after the vote that Republicans “think that it’s important to have the right, or at least have in statute, the protection of people’s rights to their own opinions ... especially in instances where those opinions have nothing to do with the job” that they’re asked to do. Applicants could still share their beliefs voluntarily.

While Democrats in committee overwhelmingly supported the provision protecting job candidates from what they considered invasive questions about private topics, several took issue with the list of banned beliefs.

The language of that list mirrors a model proposal from Citizens for Renewing America, a conservative social welfare group, founded by a former official from President Donald Trump’s administration, that aims to combat critical race theory. Trump and other prominent Republicans have successfully spun the phrase into a catchall to curb discussions about racial topics related to systemic inequality, inherent bias and white privilege.

Democratic Sen. Lisa Grafstein said she believes Cooper should veto the measure, which she called “kind of a culture war reaction not based in any actual concerns that have been expressed by state employees.”

The Wake County Democrat pointed to implicit bias trainings now offered to state employees that “actually help people become better workers, better managers, better hiring authorities.” She and other Democrats have raised concerns that the bill could threaten productive workplace discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We don’t want to send a signal, which I think this bill does, that certain topics are off-limits in state employment if they would be beneficial to state employees,” Grafstein said.

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