State Politics

NC Senate votes down repeal of HB2; House doesn’t vote; special session adjourns

The North Carolina Senate voted down a repeal of House Bill 2 Wednesday after a day of increasingly partisan rancor that pitted conservative Republicans against the Charlotte they so distrust.

The state House adjourned without voting on repeal of the bill that has cost North Carolina millions of dollars in lost jobs, sports events and boycotts. With that, the hope of compromise between legislators and Charlotte, which enacted the ordinance that gave rise to HB2, dissolved.

Protesters massed outside the Senate chamber rained down shouts of “Shame!”

After a long and frustrating day, the Senate’s top Republican Wednesday lashed out at Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, blaming the Democrat for the legislature’s failure to repeal the bill.

“I think Roy Cooper tried to do everything he could to sabotage a reasonable compromise,” Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters after a more than nine-hour session.

Berger said Cooper called Democratic senators and urged them not to support Berger’s bill, which would have coupled HB2’s repeal with a months-long moratorium on city ordinances like the one Charlotte passed and repealed. The Charlotte ordinance allowed transgender people to use the public restrooms of the gender with which they identify.

Cooper had lobbied Charlotte council members for repeal, which they had twice before rejected, saying that in return Republican leaders had promised to “repeal HB2 in full.”

Charlotte repealed the ordinance that led to HB2 on Monday. It voted again Wednesday morning, wiping away all action taken in February, after legislative Republicans said they hadn’t rescinded it all.

Cooper told a press conference Wednesday night that Republican leaders “broke the deal” to fully repeal HB2 in return for Charlotte’s action.

“I told (Democratic legislators) to stick to this deal,” he said. “What (Republicans) were trying to do was tack on something that wouldn’t work” in the form of the local ordinance moratorium.

“They didn’t have the guts to put the (repeal) bill out on the floor by itself.”

The city said in a statement late Wednesday that 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.”

Asked if he hadn’t agreed to repeal HB2 if Charlotte rescinded the ordinance, Berger cited the fact that Charlotte took two votes.

“We were expecting Charlotte to repeal it and when they failed to do so, the deal was gone,” he said. “The moratorium was not there until we saw what they had done.”

Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, a Republican who had worked to reach a compromise with the General Assembly, said Charlotte’s repeat vote Wednesday showed that “the problem isn’t with the city of Charlotte.”

“We said we weren’t going to be responsible for this,” Driggs said about the decision to repeal all of the ordinance.

The Senate vote on repealing HB2 was 16 yes to 32 no votes.

Reaction to Wednesday’s vote followed partisan lines. The N.C. Values Coalition praised the Senate for keeping HB2 in place.

“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 (LGBT advocacy group) Human Rights Campaign,” executive director Tami Fitzgerald said.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, expressed dismay.

“I am appalled but sadly not surprised that General Assembly leadership failed to uphold its end of the bargain by cleanly repealing HB2,” he said in a statement. “We’ve unfortunately come to expect this from Raleigh Republicans – promoting a rigid ideology no matter the damage to our state’s economy or reputation or the well-being of its residents.”

Moratorium terms

Attempts by Republican lawmakers to short-circuit the special session began minutes after it opened Wednesday morning. Attempts to declare the session unconstitutional or to adjourn it right after opening failed.

Many Republican lawmakers still support HB2 as a stand for traditional values and protection of women and children from predators. Conservative groups prodded them to stand firm.

“No economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in a statement before the session. “It will always be wrong for men to have access to women’s showers and bathrooms. If HB2 is repealed, there will be nothing on the books to prevent another city or county to take us down this path again.”

Berger cast his bill, including a moratorium on local anti-discrimination ordinances, as a way to give lawmakers more time to reach a long-term solution to HB2.

“It’s a very simple bill, and the concept is that we take the state back to the status quo that existed before Charlotte passed its ordinance,” he told Senate colleagues.

Senate members spent much of Wednesday afternoon debating the moratorium, which would have temporarily banned local ordinances regulating employment practices, public accommodations or access to restrooms.

Berger later returned to the floor with an amendment that would extend the moratorium, initially to last six months, to 30 days after adjournment of the legislature’s 2017 session.

Democrats and gay rights advocates attacked the measure as falling short of the presumed bargain to kill HB2 once Charlotte repealed its ordinance.

“I’m sorry, this was not the deal. The deal was Charlotte repeals fully and we repeal fully,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat. “Charlotte was told over and over again: Charlotte, if you take the first step you will be met halfway. Charlotte did that and we’re being shoved away one more time.”

Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, argued that the moratorium could become a permanent ban on cities’ adopting anti-discrimination measures. “It’s been said this presses the reset button,” McKissick said. “The problem is it only presses it halfway.”

But Republican Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson argued that the moratorium would prevent measures the “lunatic left of the city of Charlotte and other places want to enact.”

“I have no faith in the city of Charlotte, no faith that anybody on the other side at this point … will act honorably and in good faith to find a way forward,” he said.

Charlotte’s two votes to repeal its ordinance became a focus of debate as afternoon wore into evening in the Senate.

The Charlotte council’s vote Wednesday morning did not set a Dec. 31 deadline, as the earlier deal had, Republican lawmakers said. But it was enough to shake up fragile negotiations among House Republicans who spent four hours in a caucus meeting Tuesday night, before Wednesday’s meetings.

“It seems like a small thing, but it’s not,” said House Rules Chairman David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County. “We’re trying to act in good faith, and if it was a legitimate mistake that Charlotte made, that’s one thing. If it was something else, that really hurts my ability to stand up and tell members it’s a re-set. We’ve said all along we think re-set is the way to go.”

Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican from Davie County, later compared Charlotte’s action to the cartoon character Lucy repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

“This is the worst political stunt I’ve ever seen,” Brock said angrily. “It’s a political stunt done by the now-mayor of Charlotte. … Sen. Berger is bending over backwards to work with a group that will not work.”

Not so, said Charlotte City Council member John Autry, who was recently elected to the North Carolina House.

“Sen. Berger knows what the deal was, and he agreed to the deal,” Autry said. “Then they moved the goal line. … Charlotte did absolutely the right thing and acted in good faith.”

Staff writers Adam Bell, Steve Harrison, Craig Jarvis, Katie Peralta and Ely Portillo contributed.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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