This Is Going to Be a Very Bad Year at the North Carolina State Legislature

In this file photo, HB2 protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building in 2016 because of the mega-controversial anti-LGBTQ bill HB2. Last week in NC, Republican lawmakers filed 6 anti-trans bills. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

By Billy Ball

January 4, 2023

North Carolina’s GOP lawmakers are not moving in mysterious ways this time. At the first opportunity, they will pounce on reproductive freedom and LGBTQ+ rights.

In March 2016, Republican leadership in North Carolina’s state legislature returned to Raleigh with the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ law in the country already written. 

Triggered by a Charlotte ordinance protecting transgender people in public restrooms, religious fanatics in the GOP weren’t content just to target the “T” in LGBTQ, so they went after all the other letters too. 

The law barred local non-discrimination rules, forbade transgender people from using the bathroom matching their gender identity, and, because they could, nullified local ordinances raising the minimum wage. 

Remember HB2? Republicans introduced it and passed it in a single day. The cherry on top was the trembling signature of Gov. Pat McCrory, the hapless meat shield who, for posterity’s sake, signed a law stripping local autonomy from the city he was mayor of for 14 years.

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That law was like a scud missile, cooked up behind closed doors. But its impacts were loud and lasting. It cost the state billions in economic revenue. It harmed North Carolina’s reputation. And, most importantly, it directly hurt LGBTQ North Carolinians, not to mention locals who might have benefited from the prospect of a more livable wage in their town.

Because of HB2, NC is still living 2016 down. There’s a chance 2023’s state legislative session will be as damaging, if not more so. That’s not pessimism talking. That’s experience.

In the last decade, the GOP leadership of the NC legislature has been as crafty as it has been cruel.

Session officially begins next week, but lawmakers aren’t expected to get into the bill-making until late January. Here’s why this year’s General Assembly session will rival 2016 for sheer badness:

Abortion Might Be Done in NC

In November, Republicans fell one vote short in the state House of a veto-proof majority, meaning Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto threat survives, if just barely. There is no issue where that matters more than reproductive freedom.

Republican leaders have made no secret of their plans. They would try to ban abortions at the six- or 12-week mark with few, if any, exceptions even if a majority of North Carolinians want to protect abortion rights. But they’ll have to win over at least one Democrat, or wait for one to be absent, which won’t be as hard as it sounds. 

Some of NC’s rural Democrats are more conservative on reproductive freedom than their urban peers. And remember when we said these GOP lawmakers are crafty? In 2019, Speaker Tim Moore and his Republican caucus held a surprise vote on Cooper’s budget veto while dozens of Democrats were absent, some of them attending a 9/11 memorial. 

In the end, Moore and company won’t need to convince a Democrat to vote against abortion access. They’ll just have to convince them to sit out. 

Which is why there is a good chance North Carolina’s status as a safe haven in the South ends in 2023. Millions of North Carolinians will be harmed, people who can get pregnant the most directly. If it does, expect lawsuits, a wave of protests, and, eventually, a backlash against Republicans during the governor’s race in 2024. 

Not Done Targeting LGBTQ+ People

McCrory is no longer relevant in NC politics, and the zealot who spearheaded HB2, Republican Dan Bishop, is in Congress now. 

But Republicans in this state, who are aligning behind anti-gay bigot Mark Robinson for governor, aren’t through attacking LGBTQ+ people yet even if voters are much more open to the LGBTQ community than they were in 2016. 

GOP state lawmakers will move to restrict medical care for transgender people. They will try to scrub any mention of LGBTQ people from schools’ curriculum. And that’s just a start. Robinson, who once called trans people “demonic,” will likely be the GOP frontrunner for governor in 2024. 

Most of the country might have moved forward on equality, but for Republicans clinging to bigotry, they still see a path to passing legislation. When they do pass anti-LGBTQ bills this year, expect businesses, local communities, and, eventually, voters to revolt. 

Before that happens though, expect another difficult year for queer folks in North Carolina. 

Meet the New Gerrymandering, Same As the Old

Gerrymandering is more than a century old. It’s one of the most reviled political con jobs in America, regardless of your political persuasion. 

But to the Republicans in NC who rejoiced at claiming a majority on the state Supreme Court in the 2022 elections, this ancient tactic of manipulating district maps to favor one party over another is just as beautiful as the day they first set eyes on it. 

The 7-7 split in NC’s Congressional races last year, which reflect the fairly even divide of voters in the state, will not sit well with GOP leadership.

They will gerrymander the state legislative and Congressional maps ruthlessly this year, and on redistricting, the governor doesn’t have the power to veto the maps. There will be lawsuits, and Republicans are counting on their new majority on the state Supreme Court to protect them.

They might at that. This fight isn’t over. 

A Bright Spot?

When it comes to health care, access is the word.

North Carolina lawmakers have spent a decade dawdling on Medicaid expansion, a federally funded boost to healthcare access for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. Along the way, the state’s foregone billions in federal dollars and many North Carolinians have been forced to skip out on the most basic of things—a visit to the doctor when they’re sick.  

NC’s suffered a pandemic, a resulting economic recession, a pediatric mental healthcare crisis, and an enduring opioid epidemic—all of which might have been assuaged by expansion. 

But in 2023 legislators might finally approve expansion. If they do, don’t credit the lawmakers. Credit the people who never stopped fighting on this issue since Republicans inexplicably rejected expansion–it literally would have cost the state nothing–more than a decade ago. If this issue were human, it would be old enough to start sneaking into Rated R movies. 

Obviously, these aren’t the only issues that will surface in 2023. Expect debate on immigration, guns, the state’s growing clean energy sector, and the state’s infrastructure, which is due for an influx of federal dollars passed by the Biden administration and Democrats in Washington. 

Watch Cardinal & Pine here and on our social media channels for updates as they develop.

Author

  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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