Raleigh, N.C. — Here are the latest updates on the first day of the 2016 session of the General Assembly in Raleigh:
7:25 p.m.: Protesters shout for a repeal of House Bill 2 as the House adjourns its first floor session. Police lead them from the gallery, but it wasn't immediately clear whether anyone was arrested.
6:30 p.m.: The General Assembly police have started arresting House Bill 2 protesters in House Speaker Tim Moore's office, resulting in cheers of support from other protesters. The decibel level of the protests got markedly higher in the Legislative Building shortly before the arrests.
One protester lay on the floor, forcing four officers to take him by the arms and legs and carry him out of the building.
6:10 p.m.: House Speaker Tim Moore said the General Assembly won't repeal of House Bill 2 "based on circumstances right now," and he wouldn't say whether a bill filed Monday morning to repeal the measure would get a hearing.
"I certainly see no harm in making changes to make it very clear that folks have access to the state courts for discrimination claims. As far as an outright repeal, that's not something we're taking about right now," Moore told reporters.
When asked about the economic impact the law is having on the state – singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas became the latest to cancel concerts in North Carolina – he blamed some groups that he said are encouraging a boycott of the state.
"I don't think we should kowtow to bullying on this. I think we should stand for what we think is right," he said. "The rhetoric just needs to be dialed down because it's just not good for North Carolina."
Moore noted that House Bill 2 creates the first nondiscrimination law in North Carolina and simply mirrors federal law by excluding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications.
"What we've done is taken the federal law and followed that. Now, are there discussions down the road, years down, who knows?" he said. "I'll say this: I don't think anybody should be discriminated against."
5:50 p.m.: Groups of protesters keep filing in and out of the Legislative Building, each hearing exhortations from state NAACP President Rev. William Barber, singing civil rights songs and chanting about the injustice of House Bill 2.
4:50 p.m.: The General Assembly Police say they expect to make 60 arrests during Monday night's sit-in to protest House Bill 2. It would mark the largest number of arrests at the Legislative Building since the first year of the "Moral Monday" protests in 2013.
4:40 p.m.: The first group of protesters sits down on the second floor of the Legislative Building and prays that House Bill 2 be repealed.
State NAACP President Rev. William Barber leads protesters in a call-and-response that cites the racial politics of the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and the need to remain united in the face of oppression.
"It's not a bathroom bill," the protesters chanted.
Some of the protesters dropped fliers calling the law "Hate Bill 2" in the doorway to House Speaker Tim Moore's office.
4:20 p.m.: Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, gives instructions to people on how to enter the Legislative Building and protest House Bill 2 inside, especially those who don't want to risk arrest. Protesters plan to stage a "symbolic sit-in" in groups of 100 to 200, each spending 15 minutes inside, he said. The last group would be inside when the building has closed to the public and could be charged with trespassing, he said.
3:55 p.m.: The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group, disputes the contention of Gov. Pat McCrory's office that House Bill 2 opponents overstated the number of petitions dropped off at the State Capitol earlier in the day.
"We had so many signatures on the petitions, we printed only the list of names rather than more than 185,000 pages of individually signed petitions. And contrary to what Governor McCrory has suggested, thousands of these signatories are North Carolinians," the group said in a statement. "So, if the governor has such a strong disregard for citizens from out of state, he should at least meet with some of these thousands of North Carolinians who are harmed by this bill – as we have been calling on him to do for weeks. We are sure they are eager to share with Governor McCrory, Senator Berger and Speaker Moore how HB2 has harmed the people and economy of this state. The real question today is: how long is Governor McCrory going to continue to ignore the thousands of North Carolinians harmed by this bill and the nearly 200 companies from across this state and the nation calling for repeal of HB2?"
3 p.m.: The state NAACP and the Forward Together Movement rallied hundreds of opponents to House Bill 2 on Bicentennial Mall, across the street from the Legislative Building. The rally and an expected sit-in later in the day at the legislature mark the third anniversary of the "Moral Monday" protests against the actions of the Republican-led General Assembly.
"I too want to keep women and children safe," said Rev. Tonyia Rawls, pastor of Sacred Souls Community Church in Charlotte, referring to the stance of the law's supporters that it keeps sexual predators out of women's bathrooms.
Rawls said state leaders should spend more time addressing domestic violence and sexual assault on college campuses if they truly are worried about the safety of women and children.
"Kill the bill," she repeatedly chanted to the crowd. "Kill this bill because it is immoral and because it doesn't reflect anything constitutional."
Rather than protect children, it "feeds our children the poisonous brew of racism, classism and homophobia," said Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP.
Rev. Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches, said she doesn't have an economic or political opinion about House Bill 2, only a faith-based one. The Bible is rife with passages about treating everyone created in God's image with dignity.
Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh said Passover is a time of redemption, but North Carolina cannot be redeemed until House Bill 2 is repealed.
"As long as one of us is oppressed, all of us are oppressed," said Dinner, comparing the measure with the Jim Crow laws used to enforce segregation.
1:20 p.m.: Gov. Pat McCrory's staff issued a news release stating that the petitions delivered to the State Capitol on Monday morning weren't as voluminous as House Bill 2 opponents led people to believe.
LGBT advocates held a rally outside the Capitol and marched in about 20 boxes they said were filled with petitions bearing the signatures of more than 200,000 people asking that the law be repealed. McCrory's communications staff said all of the petitions could have fit in two boxes.
"The anonymously-funded, national smear campaign led by the Human Rights Campaign is grossly misrepresenting information about the petitions delivered to State Capitol today," the news release states. "Contrary to the media reports, the activists only delivered enough petitions to fill two boxes, and the overwhelming majority of signatures were from out-of-state."
1:15 p.m.: Democratic legislative leaders say House Bill 2 has changed North Carolina's brand as a progressive state to one that discriminates. Too many businesses now want nothing to do with the state, they said, costing jobs and tax revenue.
"This short session is the one opportunity for North Carolina to stem the reputational harm that will be long-lasting," Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said. "(Employers) they see this bill as what is – hostile to employees and a productive work environment."
Blue, D-Wake, cited a report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress that said North Carolina is already at risk to lose $568 million in economic activity from lost business expansions, conventions, sports activities and concerts.
He dismissed the argument put forward by supporters of the law that it helps keep sexual predators out of women's bathrooms.
"What this bill does not do is prevent pedophiles from seeking out victims in public bathrooms. Our children continue to face the same level of risk in public facilties today as they did before House Bill 2 was passed," he said. "We ask supporters of this bill to stop using the children of this state as political pawns to further their agenda."
House Minority Leader Larry Hall said repealing the law would provide a bigger jobs boost for North Carolina than any other legislation the General Assembly could consider in the upcoming session.
1 p.m.: Some LGBT advocates are staging a sit-in at the State Capitol, where they earlier dropped off boxes filled with thousands of petitions seeking a repeal of House Bill 2. Gov. Pat McCrory's office is inside the Capitol.
Rev. Julie Peeples, senior pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, met with McCrory's staff and said she asked the governor to "take the moral lead" in repealing the law.
The protesters left by about 1:30 p.m.
12 p.m.: Hundreds of people attended a rally in support of House Bill 2 on Halifax Mall north of the legislative complex.
The Keep NC Safe coalition, which includes the North Carolina Family Policy Council, the North Carolina Values Coalition and the Christian Action League of North Carolina, organized the rally to encourage the lawmakers who passed the law last month to stand firm against mounting pressure to repeal it.
"House Bill 2 is about restoring common sense in the state and recognizing there are differences between men and women and we don’t want to violate privacy and safety," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition.
Supporters have maintained focus on the bathroom provision of the law, saying it prevents sexual predators from having easy access to women's bathrooms and locker rooms.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, a primary sponsor of House Bill 2, called the nationwide criticism of the law "a dishonest, media-fueled ideological carpet bombing."
"This form of ideological activism is unhinged. It is dangerous. It must be rejected," Bishop said. "What you have not seen reported is what do the people of North Carolina believe."
Republican lawmakers framed the dispute as North Carolina versus the world.
"The battle is about to be joined," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. "They're five to one against us as far as their lobbyists are concerned, but we have the people with us and we have the weapons to win."
"Our values are not shaped by the NBA or Bruce Springsteen," said Rep. Phil Shepard, R-Onslow. "We're standing strong"
Other speakers quoted the Bible and made religious appeals to retain the law.
"When folks come against the truth, they have no idea they go against the Lord Jesus Christ, said David Benham, whose HGTV show with his twin brother was canceled because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. "Legislators, stand strong, and governor, stand strong, and all of the Christians across North Carolina ... we are the ones who need to stand strong.
Penny Young Nance, president and chief executive of Concerned Women for America, announced her group has launched a nationwide boycott of Target, which has said its customers can use whichever bathroom they want.
"There's plenty of competition for your dollars. Vote with your pocketbook," Nance said.
11:40 a.m.: Why does House Bill 946, the measure that would repeal House Bill 2, have such a higher number? The answer has to do with how legislative sessions work.
When the House and Senate gavel into session Monday night, they will essentially be picking up where they left off last September. This is not a new session but a continuation of a session in which nearly 2,000 bills have already been filed between the House and the Senate.
The session that created House Bill 2 was a specially called session, separate from the flow of work that paused in September. It created only a handful of bills, and House Bill 2 was the only legislation of substance to emerge.
11:30 a.m.: A group of Democrats who filed a bill to repeal House Bill 2 held a news conference Monday morning to press legislative leaders to take up their measure.
"This does not have to be a partisan issue," said Rep. Greg Meyer, D-Orange said.
Throughout the news conference, Meyer, Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, and other sponsors of the repeal bill said that there were Republicans who would back the measure if they were allowed to by their leadership.
"I believe we would have more than Democratic support if it was ever given a vote in committee or on the floor," Jackson said.
In addition to repealing House Bill 2, House Bill 946 provides ongoing funding for the state Human Relations Commission. That money item was included in the bill to ensure it complies with legislative rules that otherwise would have blocked lawmakers from even filing the measure.
Rep. Grier Martin, R-Wake, said that North Carolina had been viewed as a progressive, modern state, especially in relation to its Southeast neighbors.
"House Bill 2 puts that carefully cultivated reputation at risk and has cost us jobs," Martin said. "House Bill 2 goes against everything I know about my fellow North Carolinians."
The Democratic lawmakers were pressed as to what the realistic chances for the bill might be, given that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and other Republican leaders have said they have no interest in repealing the measure. The answer frequently came down to continued pressure from business leaders and others from around the country.
"I think what they're hoping will happen is we'll stop talking about House Bill 2," Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, said.
Instead, she said, she would like to make the legislative session "all about House Bill 2."
10:50 a.m.: Four Democrats in the state House have filed legislation that would repeal House Bill 2, which excludes gay and transgender people from discrimination protections and requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their birth gender, not the gender with which they identify.
If passed, House Bill 946 would become effective March 23, the day House Bill 2 was approved and signed into law, and would reinstate an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council that would have allowed transgender people to use the public bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, Grier Martin, D-Wake, Graig Meyer, D-Orange, and Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, also calls for appropriating $545,000 to fund the operations of the state Human Relations Commission.
9:30 a.m.: Scores of LGBT advocates rallied at the State Capitol on Monday morning, dropping off about 20 boxes of petitions signed by more than 200,000 people seeking a repeal of the controversial House Bill 2.
"This is not a bathroom bill, but there is a lot of stuff in here that ought to be thrown in the outhouse," said Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP.
Sarah Preston, acting state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the law is "wreaking havoc on North Carolina's people, its economy and its reputation."
The state has received withering criticism nationwide since passing the law last month. Some businesses have dropped expansion plans, conventions have been moved out of state, performers have canceled concerts and the NBA is considering shifting the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.
The ACLU is among the groups challenging House Bill 2 in federal court on behalf of several transgender people. Joaquin Carcaño, one of the plaintiffs, called the bill "dehumanizing legislation." Calls to suicide hotlines by transgender people have increased since the law's passage, he said.
"Our privacy and safety matter too, and it's been put at risk," Carcaño said.
Several other transgender people spoke at the rally, saying they would face violence if forced to go in the bathroom where they no longer identify with the gender.
"We just want to be able to live and work along side everyone else," Fayetteville native Micky Bradford said. "We want a state that is free from fear of discrimination, free from fear of harassment, fear from fear of violence."
Calling the measure "Hate Bill 2," Barber said it also discriminates against the working poor by prohibiting cities from setting their own minimum wage and against the elderly, women and the disabled by eliminating the ability for workers to sue in state court over employment discrimination.
"If the General Assembly wants to send a clear message that North Carolina does not encourage discrimination and is truly open for business, it must work as expeditiously to repeal this terrible law as it worked to pass it," Preston said.