Opinion: HB2, a Year In
A policy disaster, and a harbinger of bad times to come
It’s been a year, although it seems like longer, and aside from one provision jettisoned via executive order, House Bill 2 remains the law. It seems incredible that a bill passed in such haste and with such animus, at such a demonstrable cost, would resist any attempt at repeal. But that happens to be where we are after a year. The latest attempt at repeal comes from N.C. Senator Joel Ford of Charlotte, who’s running for mayor as a Democrat, although you’d never know from the bill, which is fundamentally no different than one Senate leader and Republican Phil Berger floated in December. (With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?) And so it remains. Not only that—it’s inspired other states to propose their own versions of it. Never underestimate the power of a horrible idea.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to rush to the floor a vote on a new law regulating the health insurance market as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Late in the day, the scheduled vote was delayed. But the haste with which House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to force a vote carried echoes of the North Carolina General Assembly’s passage of HB2, which raced from introduction to gubernatorial signature in 12 hours. If passed, the health care bill would, no exaggeration, condemn an untold number of American citizens to early deaths because they wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance. This does not appear to bother those who want the law to remove requirements that insurers cover essential health services such as, incredibly, prescription drugs and maternity care, in a way similar to HB2’s casual rendering of gay and transgender North Carolinians as unworthy of protection from discrimination under the law.
The Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP sees the connection. He was at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, leading a group of clergy, activists, and people whose lives have been improved or saved under the ACA. Charles Pierce of Esquire chronicled a remarkable scene outside the building and inside it, at the door of Ryan’s second-story office:
Upon arrival, they were greeted by two young and luckless staffers from the Speaker's office, who tried to shine Barber on. They were remarkably unsuccessful.
“With all due respect, young lady,” Barber said, gently. “We’re ministers, and preachers, and rabbis, and we wrote him to meet with him. This is not a game for us. This is not an exercise in futility. People will die. We want to look him in the eye. We want to hold him accountable to the Scriptures. He claims to be a Christian. We know that the number one thing for Christians is healing, to care for others. This legislation is sin. It's immoral. My daughter could die. To think that, if she misses a payment, she could have to pay a penalty to a greedy and sick business society in order to keep her insurance, and she’s been sick since she was a year-and-a-half, I need to see … him.”
“We certainly understand that,” said one of the aides, who’d clearly rather have been anywhere else at that point. “If you want to give us the list…”
Earlier, Barber had referred to the proposed bill as “policy violence,” as well as “immoral” and “sin.” He’s used similar language in reference to HB2. Whether it was driven by cruelty, desensitization, or cynicism, the law at one year old looks less like a peak than a precursor, an advance force for more jaw-dropping legislation to come, nearly everywhere you look.