NC Senate approves Parents’ Bill of Rights along party lines, with GOP supermajority

North Carolina Republicans pushed Senate Bill 49, called the Parents’ Bill of Rights, through the Senate along party lines on Tuesday with a supermajority of votes, 29-18.

The bill, criticized as targeting LGBTQ people, bans curriculum on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grades and requires teachers to potentially out LGBTQ students if they change their pronouns.

The only out LGBTQ senator said during the debate that the bill “does harm.”

The measure also requires schools to make textbooks and other materials available for parental review at the schools and online.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is highly likely to veto this version if it is approved by the state House and reaches his desk, but Republicans are also likely to attempt to override his veto.

Republican Sen. Amy Galey of Alamance County said as the bill moved through committees that support or opposition to the bill show different “worldviews” of speakers.

“Parents are the primary decision-makers with respect to their minor children, not their school, or even the children themselves,” Galey said on the Senate floor during the debate.

LGBTQ senator

Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Raleigh Democrat, said that “consequences matter” more than the intent of the bill. She said that as far as she knows, she is the only LGBTQ state senator and that when she came out in the 1980s, she “genuinely believed that something was wrong with me.”

She said that she made it and is “OK” and she wants other teenagers to be OK, too. Grafstein said it was sad that there are still discussions like this one.

“This bill does harm. Full stop,” Grafstein said.

Lisa Grafstein
Lisa Grafstein

After Grafstein’s floor speech, Galey said that the bill “addresses the name that is in the official school record” and pronouns, and that making the entire school keep it from the parents “does harm.”

Galey also mentioned the bill makes an exception to the notification requirement “when a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in the child becoming an abused juvenile or neglected juvenile.”

Cooper veto and chance of override

Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters Tuesday morning that he opposes the bill, stopping short of saying he’ll veto it.

“I usually reserve what I’m going to do about [a] veto for when I see the final version. It has to go through the House, but I oppose this bill,” he said.

Cooper said a bill like this could “potentially” impact the state the way HB2 did. That was the “bathroom bill” that lost the state millions in revenue while it was on the books in 2016 and 2017.

Cooper said that businesses coming to North Carolina “like our environment of balance. They like the fact that we have not adopted the culture wars that a number of other states have done.”

“So not only are these kinds of bills wrong in and of themselves — because they hurt people — but they also have the great potential to hurt our economy, and to upset this balance that we created in the state that’s been so successful. Why would you want to run the train off the track?” Cooper said.

Democratic opposition

Cooper also said he thinks Democratic legislators “are more concerned with making sure we fill these teacher vacancies, making sure that we have bus drivers, making sure that we have investments in our public schools.”

“That’s what the legislature should be working on, and not bills that get us in the middle of culture wars, and put more responsibility on teachers,” he said.

“You know, parents should be encouraged to be part of their schools. And I think the Democratic legislators have introduced legislation to do that. But this is not the kind of legislation that North Carolina needs,” Cooper said.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, Senate and House Democrats announced an alternative bill, the Parents’ and Students’ Bill of Rights. That bill calls for a parent’s right to make health care decisions for their child and to have access to information regarding their child’s schooling. The bill also entitles students to “a learning environment in which discrimination in all forms is not tolerated.”

Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham Democrat and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, dispelled concerns that members of the Democratic caucus might break ranks to override a Cooper veto of SB 49.

“Hopefully it won’t come to a floor vote in the first place,” Alston said. “Hopefully, folks will recognize the potential economic impact this bill would have and that we won’t get to that point. But should it, I know that all Democrats in the Senate and the House are prepared to vote against this bill and can sustain a veto.”

SB 49 is very similar to a bill that was also approved by one chamber of the state legislature last year, but that would have banned curriculum only in grades K-3.

Jennie Bryan, a Brunswick County social studies teacher who joined Democrats at their news conference, said teachers’ professional integrity has been increasingly targeted by controversies created out of curriculum.

She said the legislation “would place an undue burden on us” and “potentially foster an adversarial relationship with parents instead of a collaborative relationship built on mutual trust and respect.”