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The North Carolina state legislature ended a special session today without accomplishing the session's promised goal -- repeal of the anti-LGBT House Bill 2.
Gov. Pat McCrory had called the special session for lawmakers to vote on a repeal after the Charlotte City Council agreed to repeal its LGBT-inclusive public accommodations ordinance, which had spurred the state to pass HB 2 in a special session in March. But today the Senate voted down a repeal bill, and the House adjourned without taking a vote, The Charlotte Observer reports. Both chambers have a Republican majority.
The Senate rejected the repeal measure by a vote of 32-16, according to Reuters, then adjourned without taking up a related one that would have placed a six-month moratorium on municipalities enacting nondiscrimination ordinances that cover sexual orientation or gender identity. The House had adjourned earlier.
This leaves in place HB 2, which among other provisions prevents cities from enacting or enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances and prevents transgender people from using the restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities that correspond with their gender identity, if those are located in government buildings. It has resulted in nationwide public outcry, with North Carolina losing out on business expansions as well as sporting and entertainment events.
Today's debate on repeal saw each side accuse the other of backing out on the deal that led to the special session. Republicans said Charlotte did not hold up its end, as Monday's City Council vote to repeal its ordinance left in place some provisions, such as one that bars city contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity. The City Council met again today and repealed the entirety of the ordinance.
"It seems like a small thing, but it's not," House Rules Chairman David Lewis, a Republican, told the Observer. "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 reset. We've said all along we think reset is the way to go."
The Charlotte City Council responded to the debate at the state capital today by issuing a statement saying it had "approved a full and clean repeal" of the ordinance.
With that in place, Democrats objected to the fact that Republicans wanted the moratorium, therefore letting a key provision of HB 2 remain in force. "I'm sorry, this was not the deal. The deal was Charlotte repeals fully and we repeal fully," said Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson, according to the Observer. "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."
Republican Sen. Buck Newton, however, told the paper the moratorium would block ordinances the "lunatic left of the city of Charlotte and other places want to enact." And Senate leader Phil Berger blamed Democrats, including lawmakers and incoming Gov. Roy Cooper, who brokered the deal, for killing the repeal bill because of their objections to what he called a "cooling-off period."
"Their action proves they only wanted a repeal in order to force radical social engineering and shared bathrooms across North Carolina, at the expense of our state's families, our reputation and our economy," Berger said in a prepared statement.
But that "cooling-off period" would mean HB 2 wasn't really repealed, said Democratic Rep. Chris Sgro, the legislature's only openly gay member. "It's HB2.2 It doubles down on discrimination. It does not repeal HB2," he told the Observer. "It doesn't help us get the NCAA back, it doesn't help us get the NBA back or PayPal. It means North Carolina remains deeply closed for business." The NCAA had pulled collegiate championship games from the state, the NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, and PayPal canceled an expansion in North Carolina.
LGBT-supportive organizations immediately condemned today's action, or lack thereof. "Tonight, self-interested North Carolina politicians showed that they will stop at nothing as they resigned themselves to an even worse reputation and an economy that's continuing to plummet," said a statement issued by said Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund. "If nothing else, these lawmakers not only need to repeal HB 2 but also pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. If they do nothing, HB 2 will go down in history as one of the most vindictive and damaging laws in the state's recent history."
"This is politics at the expense of people's safety and livelihoods," added a statement from Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi. "HB 2 targets transgender people for harassment and discrimination on an unprecedented scale, and has already cost the state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Communities across North Carolina continue to suffer because HB2 jeopardizes people's safety and businesses' ability to operate in the state. It is time for the legislature to stop playing games and enact a full, unconditional repeal of this destructive law."
"It is a shame that North Carolina's General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made. The support for the LGBT community from political leaders, faith leaders, businesses, and everyday people that has emerged this year will not fade. These attempts to expel transgender people from public life will not be tolerated," said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT & HIV Project. "The legislature may not be willing to undo their unconstitutional overreach and respect the rights of LGBT people, so we'll just have to see them in court."
"The General Assembly and the Governor McCrory are playing political chicken, and North Carolinians continue to lose for it. It is an outrage that North Carolina's Republican lawmakers could not follow the mandate of the voters and repeal H.B. 2," said Simone Bell, southern regional director at Lambda Legal. "As long as H.B. 2 is on the books, thousands of LGBT people who call North Carolina home, especially transgender people, are being discriminated against and will never feel safe. This was a counterproductive exercise in reaffirming to the rest of the country that North Carolina wants to remain mired in last year's divisive dispute."
The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and the law firm of Jenner & Block are challenging H.B. 2 in federal court on behalf of four LGBT North Carolinians and members of the ACLU of North Carolina.