Late Wednesday, politicians in Raleigh announced they had struck a deal for the latest attempt, which appears to be the most politically viable effort yet. The bill has the support of the Republican leaders of the state house and senate along with Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, though whether it can actually pass in a vote scheduled for Thursday is not yet clear. It appears to be narrower than a repeal attempt that failed in December amid opposition from both Democrats and Republicans.
The bill under consideration now might be considered something of a Humpty Dumpty bill: The goal is try to put things back the way they were and pretend the whole fight never happened. The dispute kicked off in February 2016, when the city of Charlotte passed a local ordinance that barred discrimination against LGBT people, with a controversial provision saying that transgender people must be allowed to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify.
The General Assembly then passed, within a span of less than 12 hours, H.B. 2, which not only reversed Charlotte’s law but prevented any other city from passing an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance or raising its local minimum wage. The bill also mandated that transgender people in public facilities use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.
The legislation actually imposes more restrictions on cities than a repeal attempt that failed in December, during a special session days before Christmas that was called for the express purpose of repealing H.B. 2. That bill, introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a Republican, would have repealed H.B. 2 and instituted a six-month cooling-off period before any local governments could pass a new ordinance on public accommodations. Democrats countered with a clean repeal demand. Both bills failed as the legislature collapsed into bitter partisan recrimination. Cooper opposed that deal.
More recently, Democrats have proposed repeal packages that would institute a moratorium on new ordinances that would end, for example, 30 days after the current legislative session. Republicans have suggested repeal coupled with stricter penalties for bathroom-related crimes and a “conscience clause” for people with religious objections.
“I support the House Bill 2 repeal compromise that will be introduced tomorrow. It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said in a statement after 11 p.m. Wednesday. The state Democratic Party also endorsed the plan.
Nonetheless, the news of the agreement was ill-received by North Carolina progressives as well as major national groups. As Democratic lawmakers streamed to the governor’s mansion for a meeting Thursday morning, they were met by protestors. Chris Sgro, an LGBT activist who briefly served in the General Assembly last year and led efforts to repeal H.B. 2, blasted the agreement and called it a “sham proposal.” The Human Rights Campaign, which has also lobbied for repeal, charged that the current bill “doubles-down on discrimination.” Chase Strangio, an ACLU lawyer who has worked on legal suits related to H.B. 2, said on Facebook that the “effect and rhetoric” of the repeal bill “are precisely the same.” The state chapter of the ACLU said that “lawmakers must reject this disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip.”