Lawmakers, Cooper Strike HB 2 Repeal Deal

Mar 29, 2017

A deal to repeal House Bill 2 has been reached.

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and Republican leaders in the General Assembly made the announcement late Wednesday night. They all called it a compromise.

After days of closed-door caucus meetings, political theater and negotiations, the announcement was surprisingly brief.

"We have reached an agreement with the governor," said Senate leader Phil Berger.

He took no questions, per an agreement he made with Governor Cooper.

"I support the House Bill 2 repeal compromise that will be introduced tomorrow," Cooper said in a prepared statement late Wednesday. "It's not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation."

The proposal has LGBT advocacy groups furious, and it will need Democratic votes in both the House and Senate to pass. Votes are scheduled for Thursday.

The full repeal bill is also brief - just 154 words compared to nearly 2,500 in House Bill 2.

And yes, it repeals House Bill 2 but it's not a clean repeal.

The proposal would bar state agencies, schools, universities, cities and counties from changing regulations on who uses which bathrooms or locker rooms. It also would ensure that only state government can decide this particular issue.

The bill also bars local governments from enacting any rules "regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations." This is a very broad change which could have unintended consequences since it would bar any new rules on restaurants or hotels.

That provision would eventually end. But not until December of 2020. Previous bills had called for moratoriums lasting months, not years.

That long timeline is one reason LGBT advocacy groups are fuming.

"This bill is a statewide prohibition on equality," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

He says the LGBT community was locked out of these negotiations.

"When you are dealing with the rights, the fundamental rights of a minority community, there is no deal that they aren’t part of."

Chris Sgro, the Executive Director of Equality NC echoed that sentiment.

"This evening we hear that a backroom deal is being struck without the LGBT community or the reputation of North Carolina in mind."

Both men say this is not a repeal of House Bill 2, but a doubling down on discrimination against the LGBT community. And Chad Griffin has this warning:

"We will hold all elected officials accountable, Democrat and Republican, who target our community by advancing this statewide ban on non-discrimination protections."

That includes Governor Roy Cooper.

And that threat may carry weight in this deal. The LGBT community is an important voting block for Democrats. And though Republicans have a supermajority in the General Assembly, Democratic votes will likely be the key in passing this measure.

"You know, the 35 Republican Senators don’t see eye to eye on this issue," says Sen. Jeff Tarte, R- Mecklenburg.

Tarte says the bill needs bipartisan support for approval.

"My guess is it's going to require some large number of Republicans in conjunction and collaboration with a smaller subset of Democrats to agree to move this agreement forward. And the same thing would need to be in place in the House."

Tarte voted for House Bill 2 in March 2016. He says will vote for its repeal today.

"House Bill 2 needs to die because as a brand it is absolutely toxic and needs to go away."

But he says this deal is anything but perfect.

"You know we're a long way from what I would say is a completely acceptable long-term approach to doing the two primary objectives that we need to do, which is have an environment which does not encourage or allow discrimination against anybody on one end. And on the other, that we have the proper ordinances and statutes that protect the right to privacy in public accommodations," Tarte says.

The 2020 moratorium, the most controversial part of this compromise, worries Tarte.

"The hope and desire is that it brings everybody back to the table. The NCAA, the sporting organizations, the large corporations, the small business owners see it as a way to get back and conduct business as normal to the extent possible."

The moratorium also gives time for this issue to be ultimately settled in court.

The NCAA will weigh in Thursday. It's expected to announce host cities for championship games through 2022. The league has already warned North Carolina that it will be locked out of hosting these events unless HB 2 is addressed.

With this deadline looming, the repeal legislation has been fast tracked. The full Senate is expected to vote before noon on the measure. If it passes, House Speaker Tim Moore says his chamber will then hold a concurrence vote, which means no amendments, just a simple up or down vote.