McCrory opposes Charlotte bathroom law but doesn't want a special session

Posted February 29, 2016 3:35 p.m. EST
Updated February 29, 2016 6:16 p.m. EST

Restroom, bathroom

— Gov. Pat McCrory says lawmakers should wait until their scheduled return on April 25 to address Charlotte's new ordinance on transgender rights rather than call a special session in the next two months.

"My inclination is to support efforts to have a bill introduced as soon as we come into short session," McCrory said Monday afternoon.

He said the cost of calling lawmakers back early was a primary concern. It costs about $42,000 per day to operate the state legislature during a special session.

McCrory, a Republican, said he wants the Charlotte ordinance addressed quickly "so we can move on to other priority items."

Last week, House Speaker Tim Moore began asking other House Republicans whether they would be willing to return to Raleigh to take up the issue. The Charlotte ordinance goes into effect on April 1.

"While special sessions are costly, we cannot put a price tag on the safety of women and children," Moore wrote to members on Wednesday.

Reaction to Moore's inquiry was mixed, with some lawmakers eager to return and other more circumspect about the need.

A spokeswoman for Moore said he was "still gauging interest" among Republican House members regarding a special session.

As governor, McCrory can call lawmakers back to work at any time. The legislature also has a mechanism by which House and Senate members can call themselves back to session, but the process is cumbersome.

It appears State Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, agrees with McCrory.

"Charlotte City Council’s decision to allow men to share public bathrooms with little girls and women has clearly raised a lot of concern across the state. As of today, the earliest the legislature could take any action would be April 25," a spokeswoman for Berger said Monday afternoon.

The Charlotte measure broadly defines how businesses must treat gay, lesbian and transgender customers, but as in other cities recently, the debate has focused on bathrooms. In particular, the ordinance would allow men and women who identify as something other than their birth gender to use the bathroom in which they are most comfortable.

This has provoked a backlash among social conservatives and others who make the case that it will open the way for sexual predators to harass women and girls. Activists for the rights of transgendered individuals say they there is little evidence that would-be molesters would take advantage of such a law. Rather, it would be cases in which, for example, a person presents as a woman but is forced to used the men's room that could be problematic.

McCrory clearly sides against the ordinance. He did not have a specific vision for what the law would look like, but he said he is working with legislative leaders so that there would be one set of rules for bathroom usage statewide.

"We need to respect the privacy of women and children and men in a very private place, and that's our restrooms and locker rooms," McCrory said. "To have many different cities and towns coming up with their own ordinance in how to deal with restrooms and locker rooms is, I don't think, good for our state."

McCrory is running for re-election this year, and his likely Democratic challenger is Attorney General Roy Cooper. Thus far, Cooper has not made a public statement regarding the Charlotte ordinance, although he did refuse to align North Carolina in court with a Virginia school district that is fighting a discrimination lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to allow a transgender high school student in that state to use the men's bathroom.

The North Carolina Republican Party has been pressuring Cooper to take a stand on the Charlotte matter, and on Monday questioned whether donations to his campaign by advocates for the transgender rights ordinance were influencing his decision.

"The governor and legislature should stop playing politics and start focusing on creating good high paying jobs and making education a priority. State law can't be pre-empted by a local ordinance. Acts that were a crime before this ordinance are still a crime," said Jamal Little, a spokesman for Cooper's campaign.