North Carolina House Republicans advance a new kind of bathroom bill

Published January 19, 2023

By Rob Schofield

It’s been almost seven years since North Carolina Republican lawmakers and then-Gov. Pat McCrory hastily concocted and enacted House Bill 2 – the infamous “bathroom bill.” It targeted transgender people for ignorant, mean-spirited and altogether absurd discrimination, while simultaneously making the state the target of numerous boycotts and countless late-night TV one-liners.

The bill was later repealed but its legacy – as an embarrassment to be forgotten as quickly as possible for most people, and as a proud rallying point for the state’s religious right fringe (and reactionary culture warriors everywhere), lingers on. Across the country, efforts to make life harder for transgender people, and even to criminalize efforts to provide them medically necessary healthcare, continue apace. North Carolina state Treasurer Dale Folwell has been an especially avid and energetic devotee of this brand of discrimination.

Now, however, one of the chief architects of the HB 2 disaster, state House Speaker Tim Moore, is back with a new and very different – but equally absurd – kind of bathroom bill, or to be more precise, bathroom rule. And this one too appears to have been fueled by the never-sated demands of right-wing social crusaders.

As NC Policy Watch journalist Lynn Bonner reported last week, the new House rule makes clear that when it comes to votes in the state House on overriding gubernatorial vetoes – which could well be a frequent occurrence over the next two years – advance notice (of even a single day) to members will no longer be required.

The means, for instance, that should lawmakers pass – oh, just to spitball it – a bill banning abortions, or perhaps a version of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “don’t say gay” law, a vote to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper could take place basically anytime the House is in session.

In a body in which Republicans and Democrats were relatively evenly divided and in which the state constitution requires a three-fifths vote to override a veto, such a rule might be unfair, but not terribly consequential. But in the current state House, in which the GOP is a single seat short of a supermajority, such a change has the potential to be a very big deal.

As Bonner reported:

House Democratic leader Robert Reives said the rule change is unfair to members who miss votes to attend to family obligations or work, and is unfair to the public, which won’t know when votes are imminent.

‘This ends up circumventing a lot of the processes we have in place for public notice,’ he said.”

As Reives also accurately observed, Republicans could, quite literally and outrageously, call for an override vote when a House member is at a family funeral, or even at the very moment someone leaves the House floor to use the bathroom.

All of which serves to raise once more the perennial question: What is it that Moore is so afraid of?

Thanks largely to the power of the partisan gerrymandering that’s rigged electoral districts in the GOP’s favor in a deeply purple state, the Cleveland County Republican decides when the House meets, which bills are heard, and even plays a huge role in deciding who gets elected to serve under him.

Amazingly, however, in running the House during his years as Speaker, Moore has always behaved more like an anxious autocrat who’s afraid of his own shadow and any hints of democracy.

He’s repeatedly shut down debate and blocked consideration of amendments to bills. He even held a vote on the state budget when nearly all the Democratic members were outside the chamber.

Now he’s at it again.

Moore almost always blithely advances empty non-answers when he’s pressed to justify actions like the new override rule, but as with HB 2, this latest move can be explained, at least in part, as a sop to social reactionaries in the Republican base. With their dreams of imposing new restrictions on reproductive freedom and human sexuality so close to being realized, conservative zealots are clearly willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their objectives. Their embrace of Donald Trump and hijacking of the U.S. Supreme Court nomination process made that clear years ago.

And while Moore, like U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, is no religious right true believer – his political objectives have always clearly been driven first and foremost by a quest for wealth and power – he’s usually more than willing to placate the fringe to bolster his own position. And, if, as is the case here, doing so also helps him to consolidate still more personal control over state lawmaking, well, so much the better.

The bottom line: It’s a basic tenet of democratic government that votes are taken in public and with adequate notice. Sadly, however, as with so many other similar ends-justify-the-means acts of the modern Republican Party, Speaker Moore’s new bathroom rule is yet another assault on this fundamental principle.