RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina government personnel laws would prohibit job applicants from being forced to opine about politics and culture to get hired and forbid employee trainers from promoting certain concepts in Republican legislation getting close to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
The full House voted 72-46 on Wednesday for a measure that also would block the promotion of beliefs related to race and sex that some lawmakers have likened to “critical race theory.” The Senate approved a narrower version of the bill last month.
Senators now must decide whether to accept the House version, which would also spread the proposed hiring and training limits beyond state agencies and departments to the University of North Carolina and community college systems as well. GOP Sen. Warren Daniel of Burke County, a sponsor of the Senate bill, said later Wednesday he anticipated Senate leaders would support the House change.
The UNC Board of Governors already approved a campus policy in February that prohibits “compelled speech” in hiring, tenure and admissions decisions.
The competing House and Senate measures don’t expressly name “critical race theory,” a complex academic and legal framework that centers on the idea that racism is embedded in the nation’s institutions, perpetuating inequality.
But GOP lawmakers in other states have largely focused on limiting how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom. The North Carolina House passed in March a K-12 education-centered bill prohibiting certain instructions on the topics. That bill remains in the Senate. Cooper successfully vetoed in 2021 a similar K-12 measure, saying at the time it would insert politics into education. This year, Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
The state worker proposal would prevent agency staff from encouraging or requiring job applicants to explain their political beliefs or affiliations as a condition of employment. Applicants could still share their beliefs voluntarily or respond to items on their resume. And the prohibitions wouldn’t apply to workers who aren’t subject to personnel protections because they’ve been hired to serve in an elected official’s administration.
“We think you ought to be hired and fired and promoted in this state based on your merit, not on what you believe in some political context,” GOP Sen. Brad Overcash of Gaston County, another bill sponsor, told a House committee earlier Wednesday.
The legislation also would forbid anyone entering a state government workplace from promoting to executive branch employees that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” or to believe they should feel guilty for past actions committed by people of the same race or sex. Other prohibited concepts would address certain views about the U.S. government, the ’“rule of law” and character traits.
Overcash described the need for the bill by relaying worker training and hiring plans at some UNC system schools that he said would emphasize social justice and “unconscious” racial bias.
Democrats and their advocates said the bill language is unconstitutionally vague, would have a chilling effect on speech and prevent state workers from learning about biases they hold unknowingly.
“I’ve learned over the years that when governmental bodies start making laws about speech, they’re walking into some tricky territory,” Rep. Abe Jones of Wake County, a former judge, said during the House floor debate. “I would suggest that this bill needs some serious contemplation before we jump in this pool.”
A private contractor paid to train to state employees could respond to related questions from new hires but would need to make clear that the agency doesn’t endorse those ideas.
Former President Donald Trump popularized the idea of expanding those restrictions beyond schools when he issued an executive order in 2020 prohibiting federal agencies and contractors from including concepts in their employee training sessions that constituted “anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” Prominent Republicans around the country have successfully spun critical race theory into a political tool to curb discussions about racial topics such as systemic inequality, inherent bias and white privilege.
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