Thursday, December 22, 2016

Another year (or more) of HB2?

House Bill 2 lives on, despite promises earlier this week that a deal had been reached to ditch the hastily passed legislation that has cost North Carolina millions of dollars in tourism and new jobs that went elsewhere. The law on bathroom access and civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity is still on the books because Republicans in the General Assembly backed out of what Democrats and the Charlotte City Council thought was a done deal.

Charlotte City Council on Tuesday repealed the portions of a local ordinance passed last February that were rescinded by House Bill 2. When some Republicans raised objections that Charlotte had agreed to kill the whole ordinance and not just the parts addressed by HB2, City Council met in emergency session Wednesday to complete the repeal of its ordinance. The vote also eliminated a deadline for the state to repeal HB2.

But Republican leaders saw that hesitation as a heinous plot to keep local civil rights laws on the books, and legislative opposition grew along with mutual distrust. Charlotte provided the "clean" repeal, but GOP legislators backed away from a "clean" repeal of HB2. A GOP proposal barring local civil rights ordinances for six months in return for HB2 repeal ran into Democratic opposition. Republicans shouted that Charlotte's original rescission vote, which was quickly changed to satisfy critics, had abrogated the whole deal. But the six-month ban on local laws was clearly a violation of the deal to get rid of HB2 if Charlotte got rid of its ordinance. The Charlotte ordinance as repealed, but legislators would not follow through by repealing HB2.

Fingers were pointed in all directions. Even before Wednesday's vote on the repeal died on the Senate floor, Gov.-elect Roy Cooper was being blamed for HB2 remaining on the books through the summer. A Facebook post I saw claimed Cooper had lobbied legislators NOT to repeal HB2 in July because, allegedly, he wanted to use the law in his campaign for governor. Those who posted that false report must have forgotten that it was not the legislature that killed a July deal, it was the Charlotte City Council, which voted down a repeal of its civil rights ordinance that started this whole conflict.

GOP spokesmen were quick to blame Cooper for scuttling this week's deal, but it was the GOP legislators, some motivated by sincerely held "right vs. wrong" beliefs and others only seeking political advantage, that killed the repeal of HB2.

Whatever you think of HB2 or transgender rights, you have to admit that HB2 has been costly to North Carolina in economics and prestige. With this week's inaction, more losses will come.

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