NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina’s legislature is reconvening to see if enough lawmakers are willing to repeal a 9-month-old law that limited LGBT rights, including which bathrooms transgender people can use in public schools and government buildings.
House and Senate members met in the capital Wednesday for a special session two days after the Charlotte City Council gutted an ordinance that in March led the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass House Bill 2, known by some as the “bathroom bill.”
For months, the state’s Republican leaders had said they were willing to consider repealing the law if Charlotte acted first to undo its expanded antidiscrimination ordinance. But the mayor and most council members, with the support of gay rights groups, had been unwilling to do so in the name of equality.
The Democrat-controlled council didn’t act until Monday, two weeks after GOP Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the gubernatorial race to Democrat Roy Cooper.
Some House Republicans threw up a potential obstacle to passing a full repeal Tuesday night after learning the city did not repeal the entire ordinance approved in February that had prompted state lawmakers to act earlier this year, GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville said. A city spokeswoman said portions of the non-discrimination ordinance that had been left undisturbed Monday had not been invalidated by HB2, so therefore was not addressed.
In response, the Charlotte council held an emergency meeting Wednesday morning an hour before the session was to begin and voted 7-2 to do away with the entire ordinance. Council attorney Bob Hagemann said during the 20-miunte meeting that Charlotte leaders had acted in good faith with the legislature with Monday’s action.
This was nothing “other than an honest or sincere effort,” Hagemann said Wednesday. “The state is sovereign and we are not … we’re not smart enough to try and trick them.”
Although House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said earlier this week that they “would take up the repeal of HB2” in a special session, uncertainty over exactly what lawmakers will do remains. The legislature has shown a willingness to go its own way, despite intense outside pressure to scrap the law.
Over the past year, there has been bitter fighting between Democrats and Republicans. Just last week, Republican leaders convened a surprise legislative session and passed two laws designed to bring Cooper’s powers in check when he becomes governor Jan. 1.
Cooper expects a full repeal of HB2, his spokeswoman said.
During the gubernatorial race, Cooper blasted McCrory over the law he signed and its fallout – job losses, canceled concerts and sporting events – contributed to McCrory’s narrow defeat. Cooper, the attorney general for the past 16 years, helped broker Charlotte’s cooperation in the deal and said during the campaign he wanted HB2 repealed.
A few lawmakers from both parties interviewed Tuesday said they anticipated a simple measure they would support to repeal the entire bill.
“My hope for the session is that we have a one-day session with one bill and we go home,” McGrady said. But McGrady said any lawmaker could offer amendments to retain parts of the law, which could complicate matters.
Some conservative lawmakers – urged on by conservative Christians groups that supported HB2 – are likely to want to keep the law in place.
“I’m not interested in repealing anything,” GOP Rep. Jeff Collins of Rocky Mount told The Wilson Times. “I think we did the right thing the first time.”
Repealing the bill would require only a handful of GOP support – perhaps 10 members in the Senate or 15 in the House – if all Democrats voted for it. The session that McCrory called is scheduled several days before Christmas, with some legislators out of town.
HB2 is best known for requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.
It also limits statewide protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public accommodations and employment, and it reinforced a prohibition on local governments from raising minimum wage. Local governments are also prevented from enacting nondiscrimination measures that would go further than state law.
Discussions about repealing the law increased after decisions by the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference to move their championship events out of North Carolina this academic year. The NBA also moved an All-Star Game out of Charlotte.
LGBT groups, which had fought any deal with legislators earlier this year to do away with the Charlotte ordinance, are now on board if the result is the end of HB2.
“Full and complete repeal of HB2 is the only acceptable outcome,” Stephen Peters of Human Rights Campaign said Tuesday in an email.