Senate leaders attempt sneaky hearing of anti-LGBT amendment

Revised bill, unavailable on legislature's website, to be heard in Senate committee on Monday

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: September 10, 2011 in News

RALEIGH, N.C. — Leaders in the North Carolina Senate have apparently attempted to sneak in a hearing of a proposed anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment when they open their special fall session on Monday.

WRAL reporter Laura Leslie broke the story late last night when she posted a revised version of HB 61, a proposed amendment that would place term limits on legislative leaders like the Senate’s president pro tempore and the House’s speaker. Senate leaders had announced Friday that HB 61 is would be heard on Monday in the Senate’s Judiciary I committee. The substituted bill language, however, has nothing to do with term limits; it strips out the that language and replaces it with the text of the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.

The new version of the anti-LGBT amendment seeks to clarify an earlier Senate version which banned all recognition of all relationships other than marriage. The new version retains language that calls opposite-sex marriage the state’s “only domestic legal union,” but adds,  ”This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

The proposed committee substitute is not yet available on the legislature’s website. Leslie confronted Jim Blaine, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, and asked him about the apparent secretiveness of the committee substitute.

Leslie reports:

Senate Leader Phil Berger’s Chief of Staff Jim Blaine said there was no attempt to hide anything. “Under Senate rules, we don’t have to notice meetings until midnight the day of the meeting, and at the same time send out a PCS.”

Then why tell the public you’re talking about term limits Monday, when you’re really planning to debate the marriage amendment?

“Well, that’s the name of the bill,” Blaine answered.

“We are in no way, shape or form trying to hide this,” Blaine said. “If we wanted to sneak this through, we’d put it out Monday at noon. If you notice the members of the committee on Friday, it’s public domain.”

But the state’s open meetings law requires that the public, not just meeting attendees, be informed about what their elected officials are voting on. How would they know you’re planning to debate this bill?

“You have it, don’t you?” Blaine asked. “I think they will be given every opportunity to weigh in.”

The only reason I have it, I explained, is because it was leaked to me by a third party – not because the public was informed about it.

Leslie has more about the timeline of the substituted bill’s creation and more from Blaine. See her full report at wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/10111181/.

The proposed anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment has been a primary focus of Republican legislative leaders. It’s been on the docket since the beginning of the session and leaders briefly considered hearing it during their July session on redistricting. On Monday, lawmakers return to Raleigh for a special session devoted to an array of constitutional amendments, the anti-LGBT measure among them. The amendment, which would ban marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples, requires the approval of three-fifths of the House and Senate. If it passes next week, it will be placed on the November 2012 ballot. The governor has no veto authority over proposed constitutional amendments.

On Monday evening, statewide advocacy group Equality North Carolina will hold hometown vigils across the state. They are also encouraging supporters to join them for a rally opposing the amendment at the legislature’s Halifax Mall at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Country singer Chely Wright, a lesbian, will headline the event.