Raleigh, N.C. — State lawmakers struggled Wednesday with a possible repeal of a controversial law that limits LGBT rights.
Senators were prepared to vote two times on a measure that repeals House Bill 2 while putting in place a “cooling-off period” in which North Carolina cities and counties are barred from passing nondiscrimination ordinances. But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called for a 10-minute recess each time; the first lasted more than two hours, and the second stretched past 6:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Republican House members who spent hours themselves behind closed doors wrangling over whether to support a repeal finally emerged only to approve an adjournment resolution.
The General Assembly enacted House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, in a one-day emergency session in March to nullify a Charlotte ordinance that required businesses in the city to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. But the state law also barred the LGBT community from nondiscrimination protections, setting off national criticism that led to canceled concerts, conventions and athletic events.
“For nine-months, the cloud of HB2 has hung over our state,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham. “A six-month moratorium is not what we came here to do. It just prolongs the cloud.”
Woodard was among several Democratic senators who filed a bill calling for a full repeal of House Bill 2, but that measure was referred to a committee and never heard.
Berger, R-Rockingham, who sponsored the Republican repeal bill, said the moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances “allows us to work over the next six months on a long-range solution.”
“We take the state back to the status quo that existed before Charlotte passed its ordinance,” he said, equating the measure to hitting “the reset button.”
He later amended the bill to stretch a six-month moratorium to an indefinite period that would last through the General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session.
“We’re not back to where we were before HB2,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. “This doesn’t put us back on the same standing, the same solid ground.”
McKissick said he worries that the moratorium morphs into a permanent ban on such ordinances in the coming months while lawmakers are in their regular 2017 session. He said such ordinances have been important over the years to “people who look me” to be able to eat, drink, sleep – and even go to the bathroom – where they wanted.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said House Bill 2 has cost her constituents through a smaller High Point Furniture Market and the loss of Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournament games, and nothing less of a full repeal was sufficient.
“We’re playing games again with people and their lives,” Robinson said.
State Republican leaders have said for months that, if Charlotte lifted its local ordinance, a repeal of House Bill 2 would follow. On Monday, the Charlotte City Council voted to repeal the ordinance if state lawmakers acted by Dec. 31 to repeal House Bill 2. That prompted Gov. Pat McCrory to call for a special session of the General Assembly to do just that.
Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, angrily denounced the Senate bill, saying lawmakers weren’t upholding their end of the bargain.
“This wasn’t the deal. The deal was simple,” Jackson said. “This bill breaks that deal.”
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said the moratorium is needed to prevent the Charlotte City Council from reinstating its ordinance next week or next month.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who oversees the Senate, also came out against a repeal effort.
“No economic, political or ideological can convince me that what is wrong is right,” Forest said via Twitter. “If HB2 is repealed, there will be nothing on the books to prevent another city or county to take us down this path again.”
Forest was so quick on the trigger allowing GOP senators to quash Democratic efforts to amend the bill that he once had to correct himself and allow Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, to complete her statements on the bill before recognizing a motion to table her proposed amendment.
House GOP tries to adjourn
A handful of Republican House members balked Wednesday morning at the special legislative session.
Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, filed a formal protest, calling the session unconstitutional because there was no “extraordinary circumstance” that warranted Gov. Pat McCrory from bringing lawmakers back to Raleigh for their fifth special session of the year.
“The only extraordinary thing that has happened is the extraordinary hubris of a city council that the General Assembly act by a certain date,” Collins said.
“When did we give authority to city councils to call us into session?” Collins asked, noting lawmakers spent part of last week trying to reclaim some authority previous legislatures had ceded to governors.
“We shouldn’t even be here,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, who joined in the protest.
Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, who also joined in the protest, tried to adjourn the House session before any actions could be taken, but House Speaker Tim Moore ruled him out of order.
GOP House members then spent hours behind closed doors, while Democratic members waited in their offices or milled about on the House floor.
Meanwhile, House Bill 2 supporters and opponents crowded the public galleries in the House and the Senate and the third-floor area between the two chambers, displaying signs to rally their causes.
“I hope that they do not repeal House Bill 2,” supporter Dave Burton said, “of if they do repeal it, that they include a provision that prevents Charlotte from re-enacting the ordinance that provoked this whole mess to begin with.”
Rep. Chris Sgro, D-Guilford, called the Senate measure “House Bill 2.2,” saying it continues to discriminate against the LGBT community and not allow cities and counties to address their own needs.
“It doesn’t do anything to help North Carolina be open for business again,” said Sgro, who also is executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina. “This is political antics, and North Carolina can’t afford this.”
Both Sgro and Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, who is openly bisexual, spoke against approving an adjournment resolution Wednesday afternoon.
“I hope we do what we came here to do,” Brockman said before the House voted 58-45 in favor of the resolution.
Charlotte council clarifies action
In an emergency meeting Wednesday morning, the Charlotte City Council sought to clarify its transgender nondiscrimination ordinance to pave the way for a repeal of House Bill 2.
Charlotte’s action on Monday “turned back the clock” on the city’s list of people with protected status, removing protections based on marital status, family status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, city attorney Robert E. Hagemann told the council on Wednesday.
“You did repeal all the public accommodation ordinance on Monday,” Hagemann said.
However, the council’s action left on the books a portion of the February ordinance that was not pre-empted by House Bill 2. By a 7-2 vote Wednesday, the council removed those parts from city code as well.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, accused Democrats on the Charlotte City Council and incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of scuttling previous attempts to repeal House Bill 2 through a compromise and then of lying about Charlotte’s repeal vote on Monday.
“They and they alone created this problem and have now seriously harmed HB2 repeal efforts,” Woodhouse said in a statement early Wednesday.
Councilman Ed Driggs issued a statement late Tuesday saying the council “acted in good faith to do everything that it understood was necessary to facilitate the repeal of HB2.”
““There was no effort on the part of council to preserve or protect any portion of the city code that was in conflict with that understanding,” Driggs said. “If the General Assembly needs us to consider doing more, we ask for a clear explanation of exactly what that entails. If necessary, Charlotte City Council will act to address any unintended omissions from the ordinance it passed on Monday.”
Lawmakers weren’t convinced about the sincerity of Charlotte’s leaders, however.
“I have no faith in the city of Charlotte at this point,” said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, referring to Charlotte council members who passed the transgender nondiscrimination ordinance as “the lunatic left.”
A special thank you to our friends at WRAL for helping out with this post.