Old North State Report - December 22, 2016
HB2 Repeal Fails
Amid deepening acrimony, a supposedly bipartisan deal to kill the North Carolina law known as the "bathroom bill" fell apart Wednesday night, ensuring the likelihood that global corporations and national sports events will continue to stay away from the state. The law limits protections for LGBT people and was best known for a provision that requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. It was passed earlier this year after Charlotte officials approved a sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance.
The repeal compromise touted by both Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory called for Charlotte to do away with its ordinance. In exchange, lawmakers would undo the LGBT law. But both sides balked: GOP lawmakers cried foul when Charlotte leaders initially left part of the city's ordinance in place. And when the Senate bill called for a months-long ban on cities passing similar ordinances, Democrats said Republicans were going back on their promise. Cooper said the moratorium essentially doubled down on discrimination. "The legislature had a chance to do the right thing for North Carolina, and they failed," he said. "This was our best chance. It cannot be our last chance."
The troubles in reaching a resolution exposed the intense distrust within the legislature that has only intensified over the years, especially since Republicans took over control of state government in 2013. Cooper's victory was greeted last week by Republicans acting in a special session to strip away several powers. "This has been a long and ultimately frustrating day," Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters after the session ended. He blamed Cooper and Charlotte leaders for sinking the deal. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue criticized McCrory for calling the special session a few days before Christmas when there didn't seem to be an agreement.
And House Republicans couldn't seem to figure out what they wanted. They spent most of the day in closed-door meetings fighting about whether to approve a repeal bill. People crowded the House and Senate galleries and in the third-floor rotunda all day, keeping watch on the action, or lack thereof. But the mood was much more docile than the angry demonstrations of last week when more than 50 demonstrators were arrested over two days.
Social conservatives were thrilled with the preservation of HB2. North Carolina Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald praised lawmakers "who stood up for what is right and represented the will of voters by stopping the move to cower and cave-in to the City of Charlotte and the Human Rights Campaign." Conservative groups said HB2 provides privacy and protection for children using restrooms and locker rooms. Lawmakers have worked "hard to protect our families, and women and children from the risk that might be imposed by these lunatic ordinances that the lunatic left in Charlotte and other places want to enact," said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson who championed HB2 when it was passed in March and supported it ever since.
The U.S. Justice Department and others contend the threat of sexual predators posing as transgender persons to enter a bathroom is practically nonexistent. "This was a counterproductive exercise in reaffirming to the rest of the country that North Carolina wants to remain mired in this divisive dispute," said Simone Bell, Southern regional director at Lambda Legal, a gay-rights group. HB2 has been blasted by gay-rights groups and resulted in conventions, jobs and sporting events like the NBA All-Star Game shunning North Carolina. Corporate critics of the law included Deutsche Bank and Paypal, which both backed out of projects that would have brought hundreds of jobs to the state.
The law was also seen as a referendum on McCrory, who became its national face. He lost by about 10,000 votes to Cooper. Meanwhile, fellow Republicans U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and President-elect Donald Trump comfortably won the state. McCrory was the first sitting North Carolina governor elected to a four-year term to lose re-election. Repealing the state law could also have ended protracted legal challenges by the federal Justice Department and transgender residents. Much of that litigation has been delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court hears a separate Virginia case on transgender restroom access.
Cooper said earlier this week that Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore had assured him that Charlotte's vote to repeal its ordinance would lead to a full repeal. He had lobbied Charlotte's city council to gut its local nondiscrimination ordinance. Republicans fired back that it was Charlotte city leaders who passed a partial repeal of its ordinance Monday. Council leaders disagreed with that assessment, but still met Wednesday morning — an hour before the special session began — to repeal other portions of the ordinance. The local repeal was contingent on undoing HB2 by Dec. 31. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a release that the law will continue to burden Republicans. "Today, the public trust has been betrayed once again. Lawmakers sent a clear message: North Carolina remains closed for business," Griffin said.
(Gary D. Robertson and Emery P. Dalesio, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/21/16).
After a day of difficult negotiations among Republican legislators, a split state Senate on Wednesday failed to reach an agreement on repealing House Bill 2, bringing an abrupt end to three days of promising efforts to put the divisive issue behind the state. The repeal bill failed on a bipartisan vote of 32 opposed and 16 in support. Republican leaders in the House and Senate had worked all day to convince reluctant members to replace a repeal with a "cooling-off period" prohibiting local governments from regulating employment practices, public accommodations or access to restrooms, showers or changing facilities. But that proved to be a sticking point for Senate Democrats, who were not willing to repeal HB2 at the cost of putting a moratorium on local governments. The outcome prompted an uncharacteristically angry response from Senate Leader Phil Berger, who accused Roy Cooper, the governor-elect, of pressuring Democratic senators to vote against the bill.
Sen. Berger said he felt betrayed by some of the Democrats, who had indicated they could go along with the bill. "I cannot believe this," Berger said. Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, vowed to continue working on the issue in the long session that begins in January. "We had a great opportunity to do some good work," he said. "Unfortunately it didn't happen." Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue criticized Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders for bringing everyone back to Raleigh for a fifth special session to vote on a deal that turned out not to have support just days before Christmas.
Berger had introduced a bill that called for a six-month moratorium, but he said some senators didn't think that was enough time to come up with long-term solutions to the discrimination issues that have been debated all year. So Berger amended the bill to extend the cooling-off period to 30 days after the legislature adjourns its long session next year, which typically runs into July or later. Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, said the moratorium implied that the real goal of HB2 was to undermine employment discrimination protections, not restrict public restroom use. When it appeared Berger's bill was headed toward trouble, he attempted a last-ditch legislative maneuver to split it into two votes: One on the repeal and the other on the moratorium. The first vote, on the repeal, failed and that killed the entire bill.
Sixteen Republican senators joined Democrats in defeating the bill, including Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, and Sen. Ronald Rabin, R-Harnett. All eyes had been on the House, where the repeal bill was expected to emerge. Members of the GOP caucus met for four hours Tuesday night and at least five hours Wednesday behind closed doors. Efforts to unify the caucus to repeal HB2 were bogged down by legislators who either supported the current law or were concerned that Charlotte's city council wasn't being straightforward about its intentions.
The Charlotte City Council without notice on Monday said it had voted to repeal its February anti-discrimination ordinance that had led to the passage of HB2 earlier this year on condition that the General Assembly would repeal HB2 by the end of the year. McCrory called the legislature back into a Wednesday session to do that. But on Tuesday evening it surfaced that Charlotte had not repealed its entire anti-discrimination ordinance. The city attorney said he thought the part of the ordinance that was repealed — the so-called bathroom provision — would satisfy the legislature's concern that special accommodation not be given to those who want to use public restrooms that do not coincide with their gender at birth. The council met early Wednesday to resolve those concerns by repealing the rest of the changes it made in February, which also prohibited discrimination in public contracts in the city.
(Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/21/16).
During the debate over repealing House Bill 2 on Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, blasted the Republicans for not fulfilling their end of a deal with Charlotte City Council. Jackson said elected officials from the city of Charlotte "acted in good faith." The Senate Republicans burst out in laughter. During the special session, there was indecision all day and into the night over how and whether HB2 would be repealed. But one thing most Republicans agreed on: They had an intense dislike for the Queen City. "So when you talk about trust, I think the city of Charlotte has been as disingenuous as anybody I've ever seen," said Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow.
Historically, tensions have simmered between North Carolina's largest city and elected officials from across the state. Some have disdainfully called the city "The Great State of Mecklenburg." But the GOP's distaste for the city has been building since the city in March expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance that gave the LGBT community legal protections. It reached new levels Wednesday. City Council on Monday repealed part of its nondiscrimination ordinance in hopes that the General Assembly would repeal HB2. But while many legislators believed that council members had repealed their entire nondiscrimination ordinance, the city had only repealed the part of its ordinance dealing with LGBT protections in public accommodations and bathrooms.
The city kept part of the ordinance that prohibited the city from hiring contractors who discriminated against their subcontractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also intact: a provision that would prohibit taxi cabs from discriminating against a potential passenger for being gay or transgender. When word circulated Tuesday that some of the ordinance remained, some legislators talked about scuttling the deal. City Council's two Republicans said the city wasn't acting in bad faith. It was an honest mistake, they said. The city nonetheless held an emergency meeting Wednesday morning to repeal the rest of the ordinance.
Senate President Phil Berger criticized the city's back and forth. "(The city) said they did it Monday, but they did not," he said. Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, hammered the city. "President Reagan said trust but verify," he said. "Did the city fully repeal it? Nope. They said it was a technicality. No way it was a technicality." He said the City Council pulled "the worst stunt I have ever seen." Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, added: "I have no faith in the city of Charlotte." Berger said his proposed six-month moratorium on new LGBT nondiscrimination legislation – what he called a "cooling off period" – was in part because Charlotte leaders talked about working to pass nondiscrimination legislation as soon as HB2 was repealed. The special session began on a shaky note for Charlotte. In the House, Rep. Jeff Collins R-Nash, opened the debate by saying the entire session was unneeded and "unconstitutional." He blamed Charlotte for having to call the special session. Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, captured the mood toward her city: "The animosity is very high."
(Steve Harrison, Katherine Peralta and Jim Morrill, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/21/16).
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