North Carolina fails to repeal ‘bathroom bill’ — now what?
A day after North Carolina lawmakers failed to ax the state’s “bathroom bill” — despite holding a special session to do so — the divisive law might not get a chance at repeal for a very long time.
“This was our best chance to repeal HB2,” Charlotte City Council member John Autry said Thursday.
He was outraged because Charlotte had struck a deal with state officials: The city repealed its “nondiscrimination ordinance” allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms they choose; in exchange, lawmakers were supposed to repeal the state’s opposing bathroom law.
But that second part didn’t happen.
“We’re not dealing with honorable people,” Autry said. “We were double-crossed, triple-crossed.”
Now, the state law, which has drawn nationwide controversy, will probably stay on the books for a while, since both the state House and Senate have strong Republican majorities.
And the state could face more backlash from near and far.
Here’s what you need to know:
How did this start?
Charlotte passed its “nondiscrimination ordinance” in February. Many state Republicans quickly denounced it, with Gov. Pat McCrory calling it “overreaching.”
So they responded by passing HB2, which bans people from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex as listed on their birth certificates.
Fast forward nine months. The state had suffered huge economic losses from HB2, with musicians, the NBA and businesses canceling plans in North Carolina.
That’s when the deal came between Charlotte and the state came to fruition. Sort of.
“The Charlotte City Council acted in good faith to do everything it understood was needed to necessitate the state legislature repealing HB2, a state law that made our non-discrimination ordinance unenforceable,” the city said in a statement. “Despite our efforts, the legislature was unable to pass a bill that would have repealed HB2.”
So what did state legislators do instead?
Republican lawmakers filed a bill called “Repeal HB2” — but it wasn’t the “clean repeal” that many had expected.
It would have imposed a six-month moratorium on any local government that wants to “enact or amend an ordinance regulating employment practices or regulating public accommodations or access to restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”
The moratorium could be renewed again and again, basically making it impossible for cities to pass nondiscrimination laws, said state Rep. Chris Sgro, a Democrat and an openly gay legislator.
“It’s going to continue discrimination,” Sgro said. “We had better see a clean repeal bill if we are going to actually clean up the mess that these folks have made in the state of North Carolina.”
Later, the bill was amended to extend the moratorium — called a “cooling off period” — until after the end of the 2017 General Assembly.
But there were not enough votes to approve the bill. After meeting for nine hours Wednesday, legislators called it quits.
OK. So can’t Charlotte just reinstate its ordinance?
“Our rules won’t allow us to call another meeting to repeal the repeal,” City Council member Autry says.
Besides, with the state law still on the books, it would trump Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance anyway.
How much fallout has North Carolina suffered?
Lots, both politically and economically.
On the political front, McCrory blamed his re-election defeat last month on controversy over the bathroom bill.
The governor said he’d always advocated a repeal of the “overreaching Charlotte ordinance.”
In the nine months since McCrory signed HB2, the state has lost millions of dollars in revenue.
Singers Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, as well as bands such as Pearl Jam and Boston, canceled concerts in the state.
PayPal and Deutsche Bank said they would cancel plans to expand into the state.
And the NCAA said it would relocate several college athletic championship events for the 2016-17 season that were scheduled to take place in North Carolina.
The backlash also goes beyond economics. The Justice Department filed a suit challenging the measure, and the state’s public university system pledged to defy the statewide law.
Who’s to blame?
Depends on who you ask. Accusations about what happened broke down along party lines.
Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican, blamed Senate Democrats and Gov.-elect Roy Cooper in a statement on his website.
“Their action proves they only wanted a repeal in order to force radical social engineering and shared bathrooms across North Carolina, at the expense of our state’s families, our reputation and our economy,” Berger said.
Berger said Cooper instructed Senate Democrats to vote against the bill, something Cooper denied at a news conference.
“There was an agreement among everybody. That’s why we called a special session,” Cooper said.
“They said they had the votes as long as we had the Democrats. We got the Charlotte City Council to take this step, something they didn’t particularly want to take. … What happened is they broke the deal.”
“As long as HB2 is on the books, thousands of LGBT people who call North Carolina home, especially transgender people, are being discriminated against and will never feel safe,” Simone Bell, southern regional director at Lambda Legal, said in a statement issued with the ACLU of North Carolina.
But the The NC Values Coalition said the state will be better off with the law.
“We are thankful for the members of the General Assembly 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,” the group said.
What other NC laws are getting national attention?
After Cooper’s narrow win over the Republican incumbent, the GOP-dominated legislature recently stripped the governor-elect of many powers with a new law.
That law removes state and county election boards from Democratic control, slows the path of legal battles to the state Supreme Court — where a majority of justices were appointed by Democrats — and makes the state Supreme Court elections partisan rather than nonpartisan.
Earlier this year, McCrory signed a law saying police dashcam and body camera footage are not public records, meaning the general public does not have a right to see or obtain copies of them.