‘Bathroom bill’ on verge of repeal?

Published 12:50 am Wednesday, December 21, 2016

By Jim Morrill and Craig Jarvis

The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE — Despite last-minute appeals, North Carolina lawmakers could repeal the state’s so-called “bathroom bill” today, putting an end to a nearly yearlong legal, cultural and economic battle.

Lawmakers are scheduled to convene another special session at 10 a.m. to consider repeal of House Bill 2, the law that limits LGBT protections and requires transgender people to use the restroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory called the special session Monday after the Charlotte City Council, in a surprise move, rescinded the ordinance that prompted it.

Democrats credit Gov.-elect Roy Cooper with helping broker the deal. Republicans say the Charlotte council finally did what it had refused to do at least twice before under the Republican governor.

“The city council has taken care of their side of the equation and we need to take care of ours,” said GOP state Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius.

Unlike last week’s two special sessions, which saw more than two dozen bills filed, lawmakers are expected to limit the scope of this week’s session.

“There’s a significant group of Republican legislators that would like to have one bill done in one day and go home,” said state Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican.

A repeal bill is likely to be supported by Democratic legislators. That means only a fraction of Republicans could be needed to pass it. Tuesday, several pro-HB2 groups tried to make sure lawmakers won’t repeal it.

A group of Charlotte pastors held a news conference outside Charlotte’s Government Center Tuesday. Mark Harris, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charlotte, urged lawmakers not to repeal HB2.

“We urge them to stand strong,” he said.

Harris criticized Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the City Council for passing the ordinance in the first place. He said he didn’t think there was a problem with LGBT discrimination in Charlotte, and said the council’s decision to quickly repeal the ordinance confirmed that.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, urged supporters to contact lawmakers.

“Lawmakers need to hear from you that a vote to repeal N.C.’s privacy law betrays the children and families whom North Carolinians worked hard to protect this past November,” Fitzgerald said.

It’s unclear how much opposition there might be to the measure that appears to have the support of GOP leaders.

“I think it’s important that we bring it to the House floor for a vote, I’ll push for that,” said Republican state Rep. Gary Pendleton of Raleigh. “A lot of people don’t want to do that. Basically, it’s a few of us urban people against all those rural people.”

The law is blamed for costing the state hundreds of jobs and millions in tourism dollars. The NBA moved its All-Star Game and the NCAA and ACC moved tournament games from the state.

Some lawmakers are ready to put the issue behind them.

Republican state Rep. Craig Horn of Union County said he’ll “probably” vote for repeal. The chair of the House Education Committee, he said his main focus is schools.

“I can’t continue to be distracted by other issues,” he said.

Republican state Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston County acknowledged that some lawmakers would feel relief. “And some feel we got caught in a political trap,” he said. “Earlier efforts were made in September to try to do the same thing. Now that the election is over it seems to be much easier.”

Republicans offered a similar deal at least twice before, only to have the Charlotte council reject it. Democrats say GOP lawmakers never before offered the assurances they appear to have now. Republicans say Cooper and other Democrats made sure no deal would succeed.

Democrats point to a September interview in which House Speaker Tim Moore, asked about a deal with Charlotte, said the Legislature could “get rid of most of those provisions and just make sure we kept in the bathroom piece and the other things.”

Republicans cite news reports that Cooper lobbied Democratic lawmakers last summer against a revision of HB2. A Cooper spokesman said at the time that Cooper favored full repeal, and revisions would not go far enough.

GOP state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County said he thinks the votes are there to repeal HB2. Lawmakers, he said, are ready “to get the negative stigmas off the state of North Carolina and Charlotte.”

“I’m grateful to Charlotte for making the opportunity available,” he said. “They started it. We’ll finish it.”