RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina “Parents' Bill of Rights" legislation that in part would prohibit instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 public school curriculum was approved Wednesday by the state Senate.
The near party-line vote suggests a likely veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper if the bill reaches his desk could doom the Republican measure.
The bill's authors said the legislation is needed to give parents more ability to oversee their children's' education and health by laying out specific rights and avenues to access information, and to opt out of certain programs. Republicans said it addresses the frustrations of parents who complain that administrators aren’t listening to them.
“This bill is critical. It is common sense and it is a safeguard for all of our students,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican shepherding the measure, which she said will empower parents.
But LGBTQ activists and other critics have blasted the measure as an election-year attempt at censorship that would harm young people, labeling it a “Don't Say Gay" bill similar to one approved in Florida earlier this year amid controversy.
“This bill is about partisan gain, political mandates and flat out prejudice,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, adding that it would target “our most vulnerable students.”
Opponents also cite provisions directing schools to notify parents about changes to their child’s health and services that they are receiving or before they could change a child’s name or pronouns in records. They say such requirements could force children of any grade to reveal their sexual identity changes before they are ready, opening up to parental abuse or bullying by classmates.
All Republican senators present and Democratic Sen. Ben Clark of Hoke County — who is running for Congress in the fall — voted for the measure, which passed 28-18. The bill now heads to the House, where a veto ultimately couldn’t be blocked unless a handful of Democrats join with Republicans.
Cooper already has signaled his opposition to the measure, saying last week that Republicans should “keep the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ culture wars out of North Carolina classrooms.” He mentioned the 2016 “bathroom bill” involving transgender people and signed by GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. The law, also known as House Bill 2, cost the state billions of dollars in lost business, including canceled sporting events and job expansion.
“Everyone agrees that parents should be involved in their children’s education,” Sen. Michael Garrett, a Guilford County Democrat, said during the debate. But this measure, he added, is “nothing but HB2, classroom edition."
Republicans have said repeatedly that the measure is different from the Florida law, particularly that North Carolina teachers and students could still mention their same-sex family members or spouses, for example. But it's inappropriate to insert LGBTQ topics into curriculum in these early grades, said Sen. Michael Lee, a New Hanover County Republican.
Bills have been introduced or considered in at least 32 states this year that would prohibit educators teaching about LGBTQ issues or talking about them, according to to Movement Advancement Project, a think tank emphasizing LGBTQ research. Florida is one of six states that suppresses discussion of LGBTQ people or issues in schools, the group says.
The measure would broaden the rights parents already have in state and federal laws. Parents would be provided a “guide to student achievement” at the start of each school year and notice of how they can obtain information. School districts would be required to create complaint and appeal processes for parents, leading in some cases to litigation. Republicans say schools already are required to report apparent abuse and neglect to social service workers and they shouldn’t be keeping information about children from their parents.
“It is not my right to be involved in the care of my child,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican. “It is my responsibility for the care of my child.”
On broader health matters, the bill says physicians and nurses could be subject to disciplinary action by licensing boards and fines should they fail to obtain parental consent before completing non-urgent medical treatments for a child that aren't otherwise exempt.
After the final Senate vote, a couple of people in the gallery opposed to the legislation began chanting, causing General Assembly police to intervene and Senate leader Phil Berger to stop the floor session for about 10 minutes.