Chapel Hill News

Orange County commissioners join call for HB2 repeal

Earl McKee
Earl McKee Earl McKee

The Orange County Board of Commissioners easily approved a unanimous resolution Tuesday seeking HB2’s repeal, but legislative threats gave them pause before voting 6-1 to join future lawsuits.

“I think that it’s proper that we move past (an earlier resolution) and ask as our brother and sister governments have done that this bill be repealed,” Commissioners Chairman Earl McKee said.

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough passed earlier resolutions calling for HB2’s repeal. The Chatham County Board of Commissioners joined them Monday in voting for a similar resolution.

County Attorney John Roberts recommended the commissioners vote separately to support future litigation, after meeting in a closed-door session to hear about his work on the issue with other attorneys.

The suggestion was based in part on his conversation Tuesday afternoon with state Sen. Valerie Foushee, Roberts said.

“Currently we need a local bill fairly desperately, and I’ve been informed this afternoon by Sen. Foushee that it’s not likely she’s going to be able to get that local bill without a committee chair’s assistance,” Roberts said.

“That committee chair supports House Bill 2. If he sees Orange County threatening litigation in a resolution, he may withdraw that support,” he said.

There is no rush to join, Roberts said, since he doesn’t expect litigation to start any time soon.

Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said she also opposes the bill but would cast the lone vote against litigation.

“I just think it’s hateful that we’re being punished,” she said. “We’re being punished in advance of even saying that we want to have litigation, but I want to have a discussion in closed session before I vote on it. I don’t want to jeopardize things that are very important to this county that is also a social justice issue.”

Others supported an immediate vote – despite being bullied, Commissioner Barry Jacobs said – to put their opposition on the record.

“I want to highlight this issue that the attorney has raised,” Commissioner Mark Dorosin said, “that once again we find ourselves at the mercy of a radical right-wing legislature that is threatening to hold up needed local legislation on a completely unrelated matter as punishment, because this board is committed to protecting the equal rights of our residents.”

The commissioners already approved a resolution March 22 supporting Charlotte’s ordinance allowing transgender people to use public restrooms based on their gender identity. That resolution was approved the day before lawmakers met in Raleigh to pass HB2.

The state’s new law also prevents cities and counties from enforcing a local minimum wage and enacting their own anti-discrimination rules, and individuals from seeking workplace discrimination relief in state courts.

The repercussions are wide-ranging, especially for local tourism and business, and could continue, McKee said.

“I’m not sure that we’re not going to have fallout from that, even after that bill is repealed,” he said, “because it has basically stigmatized North Carolina and caused a shadow to come over North Carolina that I think will be here for a while.”

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.