Raleigh, N.C. — As quickly as House Bill 2 was enacted 53 weeks ago, the controversial state law limiting LGBT rights and transgender bathroom access was knocked down on Thursday.
About 12 hours after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders reached a compromise to repeal House Bill 2 late Wednesday, the measure was speeding through its lone committee hearing, and it had cleared the Senate and the House by mid-afternoon Thursday. Cooper then quickly signed the bill into law.
"We are a welcoming state – our people are welcoming – but House Bill 2 was not," Cooper said during an afternoon news conference. "Today, our laws are catching up with our people."
State lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in March 2016 to nullify a Charlotte ordinance that required businesses to allow transgender people to use the public bathroom of their choice. The state law said private entities could set their own bathroom access rules and required that people use bathrooms in schools and other government buildings that match the gender listed on their birth certificates.
The law, which also created a statewide nondiscrimination policy that excluded gay and transgender people and barred cities and counties from extending such protections to them, brought nationwide scorn on the state. Businesses scrapped expansion plans, conventions were moved elsewhere, concerts were canceled and the NBA, the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference all shifted events out of North Carolina.
After a December repeal effort crashed and burned in a bout of finger-pointing, Cooper and Republican legislative leaders negotiated behind the scenes in fits and starts over several weeks to try to rebuild some sense of trust and cobble together a compromise with which both sides could live. Several potential deals appeared and quickly vanished during that time before this agreement.
House Bill 142, which initially dealt with occupational licensing boards, was gutted and replaced with language repealing House Bill 2 entirely and stating that only the General Assembly can regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities. It also prohibits local governments from enacting or amending ordinances regulating private employment practices or public accommodations until Dec. 1, 2020.
The revised bill was titled "Reset of S.L. 2016-3," referring to House Bill 2's formal session law number.
"Compromise sometimes is difficult, and this bill represents a compromise," Berger said Thursday morning in urging Senate passage. "I don't know that there are that many people that are extremely happy about exactly where we are. There are a lot of folks that would express opinions that we should have done something else, whether they are in favor of the bill or opposed to the bill. However, this is what I believe and I hope you believe is good for North Carolina at this time."
How lawmakers voted on HB2 repeal Cooper, whose election last fall was partly due to his vow to repeal House Bill 2, likewise appealed to people to accept the deal because nothing better was available.
"This is not a perfect deal or my preferred solution. It stops short of many things we need to do as a state," he said. "This new law is a compromise, but we stopped Republican leaders from adding provisions that permanently placed LGBT rights subject to referendum or allowed people to use religious beliefs to discriminate."
Opposition on both sides
Although the Senate approved the measure 32-16 with little debate, numerous lawmakers and advocates on both sides backed up Berger's statement, heaping criticism on the bill.
"Our lives are not compromises. Our lives are not to be bargained with. It is a true violent act against us if you are discussing how to sacrifice our lives and our safety for the sake of basketball," Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man who is suing the state over House Bill 2, told the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday morning.
The deal comes as the state faces a deadline imposed by the NCAA, which is selecting sites for championship events to be held between 2018 and 2022. In the wake of House Bill 2, the NCAA pulled championship events from the state, and the organization said none would be held in North Carolina as long as the law remained in effect.
The NCAA deadline looming over the debate and the rush to vote on the repeal legislation angered several conservative House members.
"The NCAA is not only calling what legislation we pass but the timeframe we pass it in North Carolina. That's a horrible precedent to set," said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.
"Perhaps it would be appropriate if we would commemorate the passage of this bill by inviting the governor to come down to the building today and lowering those two flags [the U.S. and North Carolina flags outside the Legislative Building] and putting up in their place a flag of a certain intercollegiate athletic association and a white flag," said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham.
Some House members tried to push the vote back to next Tuesday, but that motion failed 34-85.
"This whole issue has been political from the beginning, and I guess it's going to end that way," said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven. "We sold ourselves, and the people sitting up there in the galleries are no longer the people that we represent, are no longer the people that we work for. The people on the basketball courts are who we work for."
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, which pushed for House Bill 2's passage, said business interests and the NCAA unfairly put the General Assembly "under a full-court press."
"The truth remains, no basketball game, corporation or entertainment event is worth even one little girl losing her privacy and dignity to a boy in the locker room, or being harmed or frightened in a bathroom," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "I hope that our state will learn from this and stand stronger in the future against the bullying and intimidation tactics of groups like the NCAA, the NBA and billion-dollar corporations who care more about their political, hypocritical agendas than the well-being and dignity of the people in our great state."
Meanwhile, on the other other end of the political spectrum, several Democrats said the compromise should be defeated because it isn't really a repeal of House Bill 2.
"I cannot in good conscience vote for something that I believe takes us backward on civil rights ," said Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg. "Consider what kind of signal this sends about our state to the rest of the country, but also consider what signal it sends to the next generation of North Carolinians."
Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, said lawmakers were approving continued discrimination statewide of the LGBT community.
"When our children ask us which side of history we were on, what are we going to tell them?" Fisher asked. "I don't vote to discriminate against other citizens of North Carolina. We don't compromise on civil rights."
Chris Sgro, executive director of advocacy group Equality North Carolina, called the compromise legislation "a bit of a betrayal," noting the LGBT community worked hard to get Cooper elected because he pledged to repeal House Bill 2.
"North Carolina is going to remain a place that transgender people, LGB people, are going to remain actively discriminated against," Sgro said. "They've forgotten the underlying economics of this, and that's discrimination."
The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups were pressing the NCAA not to accept the deal as a House Bill 2 repeal and to continue blacklisting North Carolina as an event host.
Principles at stake
While those on the left argued against discrimination, those on the right said the the safety of women and girls in public bathrooms was at stake, and that principle shouldn't be sacrificed.
"This bill is, at best, a punt. At worst, it is a betrayal of principle," said Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, the only senator to speak against the bill.
"The men and women of North Carolina are hungry for people to stand on conviction," said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union.
"There is nothing magic about House Bill 2 in and of itself. It's the ideas in it, and it's the principles," House Speaker Tim Moore said in an afternoon news conference. "While there were changes in this, we feel those core principles were still adhered to and kept in this version of the bill. So, the idea continues forward – protection of the bathrooms, changing rooms, locker rooms and regulations of the cities when it comes to (nondiscrimination ordinances)."
Still Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, noted a repeal would mean transgender people "will be able to do what they did before House Bill 2 was in place" with regard to bathrooms.
"I realize many went to the restrooms, and there wasn't a problem or issue," Stevens said.
Some of the most impassioned rhetoric during the House's 90-minute debate came from the chamber's only two LGBT members, although Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, said he hoped his words weren't marginalized by his sexual orientation.
"We don't want special rights. We just want to be treated equally and left alone. That's it," Brockman said, calling the repeal legislation "HB2 2.0."
"The people who love and care for us do not support this bill, and if the stigma and the suffering associated with HB2 continues, then it is the cross of my community to bear," said Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover. "We would rather suffer HB2 than to have this body one more time deny us the full and unfettered protection of the law."
More pragmatic lawmakers argued that the compromise was the best possible solution for the greatest number of people in North Carolina, and the measure eventually passed 70-48.
"Don't talk about this bill and how bad it is. Talk about the two bills," said Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake. "In no respect is House Bill 142 not better than House Bill 2. If you're a city, this bill is better. If you're a transgender individual, this bill is better than House Bill 2. In no way is this bill a step backward from House Bill 2. It may not be the step forward that you wanted to take, but it is a step forward."
"The fact that both sides are opposing it probably shows that it's a pretty reasonable compromise," said Rep. Scott Stone, R-Mecklenburg. "The time has come for us to get out from under the national spotlight for negative things. ... We need to get that national spotlight off us for that and back onto North Carolina for what we are so good at."