Spellings takes right course on HB2

UNC President Margaret Spellings made the right choice not to enforce HB2 and risk the loss of federal education funds.
UNC President Margaret Spellings made the right choice not to enforce HB2 and risk the loss of federal education funds. cliddy@newsobserver.com

So let’s see: HB2 was supposed to protect women and children in public bathrooms from predators. At least, that was one of the points used to justify House Bill 2 after the Republican-led General Assembly passed it to nullify a Charlotte City Council ordinance that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

But now the University of North Carolina, applying common sense and good legal sense, has told a federal court it won’t enforce HB2 because the law is under debate in higher courts. Another reason, not emphasized by UNC, is that the U.S. Attorney General’s Office believes the law violates civil rights laws and enforcing it could put billions of dollars in education money for UNC and public schools at risk.

This is the wise course for the university system and a strong move from UNC President Margaret Spellings, who was brought on by a Republican-led UNC Board of Governors after it fired incumbent President Tom Ross.

This action further renders HB2 more a symbol of meanness than actual regulation. The law applies to public bathrooms but will not be enforced by UNC, one of the largest public institutions in the state. That leaves the law covering only non-UNC government buildings and public schools.

Meanwhile, two months after the law’s passage, it has not been employed in a single incident. This was a solution – a politically inflammatory solution – to a problem that didn’t exist. Even if someone were accused of violating the law’s bathroom provisions, it lacks any provision for enforcement or penalties.

The reputations of UNC and the state have been seriously harmed as a result of this law that sanctions discrimination. The dollars lost through canceled conventions and concerts are in the many millions, along with universities losing interest from job applicants and the damage to come from lost revenue from summer vacationers.

Spellings’ decision, at least, was a moment of reason from the university. Unfortunately, her common sense is not shared by UNC’s partisan and short-sighted board of governors. The board has hired three expensive Washington attorneys to represent it in HB2 lawsuits, and board members want N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper to pay for those lawyers from his budget. It’s a silly suggestion to cover the board’s own ineptitude.

Cooper has given the best advice, saying he won’t defend public officials against a law he says is discriminatory.

The university’s president made a good decision in announcing she would not enforce HB2. Her board should make the good decision to put the heat on Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP leaders in the legislature to repeal HB2.