Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The state’s legislature is considering a bill that would seize the authority of local governments on fair housing, wages, and even traffic laws.
North Carolina boasts what may be the most conservative state legislature in the nation. Republicans in Raleigh have moved beyond the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act–type bills passed by conservatives in some other states. Instead, some conservatives in the North Carolina legislature want to absorb for the state several powers enumerated to local municipal governments.
An amendment to a bill about licensing counselors, Senate Bill 279, would preclude city and county governments from passing laws and ordinances about affordable housing, minimum wage, and a variety of other subjects. If the bill is passed and signed by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, it will curtail the authority of local government, consolidating it instead for the state.
(UPDATE: Very early on Wednesday morning, in the waning hours of the legislative session, the General Assembly ratified Senate Bill 279, but without the amendment language that would strip cities of so many powers. The bill had quickly garnered opposition from local-government officials as well as LGBTQ advocacy groups.)
While it’s hard to square this move with the limited-government role that the GOP has long cherished, it is easy to see who stands to benefit from this effort: business owners, land owners, home owners, and incumbents of other forms of wealth, property, and industry.
One component of the bill would even strip from cities the right to regulate local landlord-tenant relations. “[T]he provisions of this Chapter supersede and preempt any ordinance or resolution adopted by a city or county that purports to regulate or impose upon a business any requirement pertaining to the rights and duties of a landlord and tenant,” the amended bill reads.
The News & Observer reports that the changes were added to the bill by state Senator Chad Barefoot and Representative Paul Stam late Monday night. The senate bill is another example of the “gut-and-amend” style of introducing sweeping changes late in session. The bill could reach the governor’s desk as soon as Tuesday afternoon.
The bill as amended would deny local and county governments the authority to raise the minimum wage within their jurisdictions. Under the state’s new “general ordinance-making powers,” city and county governments would lose the ability to regulate any private employment practices—opening the door to conservative discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim customers and employees.
Local governments would further be restricted from passing any laws or ordinances that would “[r]egulate or control vehicular or pedestrian traffic on a street or highway under the control of the Board of Transportation” and some other rights of way.
One of the biggest usurpations of power in the amendment concerns fair housing. The bill would amend the State Fair Housing Act to prohibit any body except the state government from setting affordable-housing goals, mandates, minimums, or other practices.
An effort to pass a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (such as the Indiana law that garnered widespread criticism earlier this year) for North Carolina failed earlier this year. In Charlotte, a local ordinance that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to nondiscrimination protected categories also failed by a narrow margin.
This amendment—to a completely unrelated bill regarding licensure standards—would restrict cities such as Charlotte from even considering things like a local nondiscrimination ordinance. Senate Bill 279 would simultaneously secure special rights for conservative and Christian landowners and businessmen.
“These provisions were inserted in the conference report with no prior public notice. They did not appear in any prior version of the bill as it was debated in committee or on the floor of either chamber,” Charlotte Mayor Daniel G. Clodfelter said in a statement addressed to delegates from Mecklenberg County. “These provisions set our community back nearly half a century and will have a lasting negative impact on everyone.”
The amended bill is a bold move. In several passages within the bill, the text lists the purpose of the amendment as “local governments preempted.” That’s an understatement.
Top photo: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr