NC Republicans wrestle over repeal of ‘bathroom bill’

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republicans grappled internally Wednesday with whether to repeal a 9-month-old law dictating which bathroom transgender people must use that damaged the state’s economy and national reputation.

Legislators returned to Raleigh for a special session called by GOP Gov. Pat McCrory to eliminate House Bill 2 — the “bathroom bill” — which has been blasted by gay-rights groups and resulted in job losses and sporting event cancellations.

No repeal bill backed by Republicans had been made public by midday. Instead, House Republicans returned to a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that continued into the afternoon. They held a similar meeting that lasted for more than four hours Tuesday night. Some Republicans were unhappy after learning that Charlotte on Monday had not repealed its entire nondiscrimination ordinance, which had been the genesis of HB2, Republican repeal supporter Rep. Chuck McGrady said.

“On a difficult issue where the parties don’t have a lot of trust, we got thrown a curveball by the less than full repeal by Charlotte,” McGrady tweeted early Wednesday.

The fact that McCrory called lawmakers back to Raleigh a month before their 2017 session’s start was challenged by an opponent of HB2’s repeal.

“There is no extraordinary circumstance,” said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, during a brief debate over session procedures, “other than the extraordinary hubris of a city council telling us we have to act by a certain date.” Monday’s action by the Charlotte council was contingent on HB2’s repeal by Dec. 31.

Republicans offered months ago to repeal the law if Charlotte would get rid of its ordinance that expanded nondiscrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations. The Charlotte City Council met Monday and again Wednesday morning before the session opened and voted to eliminate the entire ordinance.

A city spokeswoman said portions of the nondiscrimination 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 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.”

Any repeal bill must pass the House and Senate before going to McCrory, who called the session in keeping with a promise he made months earlier, he said.

The lack of trust over Wednesday’s session extended to Democrats and their allies, who streamed into the Legislative Building and filled into the galleries and rotunda to make sure the repeal occurred.

Demonstrators against Republican policies filled the building just last week Republican leaders convened a surprise legislative session and passed two laws designed to bring the powers of Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper in check when he becomes governor Jan. 1. More than 50 protesters were arrested over two days.

Cooper made HB2 a key issue in his campaign against McCrory, saying he wanted it repealed and blamed McCrory for hurting the state’s brand as a business destination. Cooper won by about 10,000 votes. McCrory conceded just two weeks ago after the vote count went into overtime.

Cooper expects a full repeal of HB2, his spokeswoman said. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said earlier this week that they “would take up the repeal of HB2.”

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 falls a few 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.

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.

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