In fewer than 18 hours, the debate over House Bill 2 went from impasse to compromise, with Gov. Roy Cooper signing a measure repealing North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill.”
“Today, our laws are catching up with our [welcoming] people,” Cooper said at a press conference after signing a revised version of House Bill 142, the repeal measure.
But the governor quickly dispelled any notion that he and the Republican leaders had warmed to one another.
“In a perfect world, with a good General Assembly, we would have repealed House Bill 2 today, and added full statewide protections for LGBT North Carolinians,” Cooper said. “Unfortunately, our supermajority Republican North Carolina General Assembly will not pass these protections.”
Cooper used several opportunities in the remainder of his remarks to call on residents to elect more Democrats to the state legislature for the purpose of undermining the GOP’s policy and political agenda.
The law made three major changes:
- Repealed H.B. 2.
- Specified that regulation of access to multi-occupancy restrooms, showers, and changing facilities will be left to the state, and
- Blocked local governments from adopting any ordinances regulating private employment practices or public accommodations before Dec. 1, 2020.
The outlines of the compromise emerged late Wednesday night, with separate press briefings by Cooper and the Republican legislative leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.
The revised measure came to the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday morning as a completely revised version of H.B. 142, originally passed by the House to increase oversight of occupational-licensing boards. By amending an already-passed House bill, the Senate could pass the measure and return it immediately to the House, which needed only to “concur” with the Senate-enacted form of the bill to send it to Cooper on the same day for his signature.
Berger and Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, the body’s minority leader, presented the bill jointly to the committee, which passed it by voice vote after no debate.
Berger said the measure “satisfies some people, dissatisfies some people, but I think it’s a good thing for North Carolina and represents, as I said, a significant compromise.” Blue said the compromise would return state law to the “status quo ante” before Charlotte passed its controversial anti-discrimination ordinance in February 2016.
That ordinance prompted Moore and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to call a special legislative session in late March 2016 resulting in H.B. 2. (See timeline here.)
After the committee vote, representatives of Equality NC, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union held a brief press conference outside the Legislative Building, urging lawmakers to reject the compromise or Cooper to veto the measure if passed.
The Senate passed the bill, 32-16. Berger and Blue spoke in support of the bill. Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, spoke against the bill, suggesting it would only delay Charlotte-style ordinances rather than prohibiting them.
Twenty-three Republicans and nine Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Ten Republicans and six Democrats voted no.
The House debate became testy, with a handful of H.B. 2-supporting Republicans saying they needed more time to review the 200-word measure. A motion to delay the vote until Tuesday failed by a 34-85 vote. Moore ruled out of order a separate motion to adjourn the House for the day.
Other Republican opponents, including Reps. Michael Speciale of Craven County and Bert Jones of Rockingham County, said the only reason for rushing the vote was to satisfy a Thursday deadline imposed by the NCAA. The collegiate athletics group, which removed a handful of championship events from North Carolina because of H.B. 2, said unless the law was repealed by Thursday the state would not be eligible to host championship events through 2022.
Several Democrats compared the legislation to Jim Crow laws, but Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said he’d support it because he was convinced the GOP didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure without Democratic help.
After more than 90 minutes of debate, the House passed the measure, 70-48.
Forty Republicans and 30 Democrats supported the bill. Thirty-three Republicans and 15 Democrats voted no.
In a press conference after the vote, Moore brushed aside charges that the NCAA’s deadline played a role in timing the vote.
“Look, when you know you have the votes to pass a bill around here, I don’t care what it is. You put the bill on the floor and you vote on it then. And so that’s why the bill was voted on [Thursday],” he said.
During Cooper’s press conference, he also suggested the repeal law would allow cities to impose anti-discrimination laws on local private contractors. This appears to contradict Section 3 of the bill, which prohibits such local restrictions on private business practices.
The claim also was stated in a “fact sheet” Cooper issued at his press conference.
Carolina Journal asked Berger’s office for a response Cooper’s assertion, which was not available at press time.
Associate Editors Dan Way and Kari Travis contributed to this story.