Negotiations to repeal North Carolina 'bathroom bill' fall apart

A special session adjourned on Wednesday without voting on a proposal to undo the controversial law, which restricts use of bathrooms for transgender people

Plans to repeal the controversial North Carolina law limiting LGBT protections fell apart late on Wednesday, after hours of closed-door wrangling.

Lawmakers held a special session to repeal House Bill 2 (HB2), which had spurred extensive economic boycotts and protests in the state. But the legislative body adjourned for the night without having voted on a proposal.

Outgoing governorPat McCrory had called the special session after the Charlotte city council gutted a local bill that had prompted the law in the first place – a nondiscrimination ordinance that expanded protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations.

HB2, known by some as the “bathroom bill” because it required transgender individuals to use bathrooms that corresponded with the gender on their birth certificates, was passed nine months ago. The bill also removed some civil rights protections for LGBT people and prohibited local ordinances to protect the minimum wage.

During the debate on Wednesday, lawmakers had introduced a bill that would repeal the law, but would also place a six-month moratorium on local ordinances regulating employment practices, public accommodations or access to restrooms. The moratorium was intended to prevent Charlotte from passing a similar measure again.

Gay rights advocates rejected that proposal, saying it would strip local governments of their ability to protect their citizens. The National Center for Transgender Equality said the bill was what it had come to expect from these “dishonest and underhanded extremist lawmakers”.

Democrats, too, rejected this proposal and negotiations fell apart.

“This wasn’t the deal,” said Senator Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat. “This bill breaks this deal. Charlotte would have not repealed its ordinance if this was the deal.”

For months, the state’s Republican leaders said they were willing to consider repealing the law if Charlotte acted first to undo its expanded anti-discrimination ordinance.

Protesters rally against House Bill 2 in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 2016.
Protesters rally against House Bill 2 in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 2016. Photograph: Chuck Liddy/AP

The legislation turned out to be a key issue in McCrory’s loss to Democrat attorney general Roy Cooper, who was defeated by about 10,000 votes in a race the incumbent refused to concede for nearly a month.

McCrory, claimed Democrats had turned HB2 into an issue that “was all about politics at the expense of Charlotte and the entire state of North Carolina”..

Many Republican lawmakers say they still support HB2, which they view as a stand for traditional values and the protection of women and children from predators.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, the lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, urged opponents of repeal to “continue to stand strong”.

“I support HB2 and do not favor its repeal,” Forest said. “No economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right. It will always be wrong for men to have access to women’s showers and bathrooms.

“With certainty, if HB2 is repealed, we will fight this battle all over again with another city or county. The names will change, but the national groups who are pushing this agenda will not stop until their social engineering is accomplished.”

HB2 generated economic boycotts and strong opposition from major corporations, including Apple and Google. PayPal abandoned its plan to bring 400 jobs to the state, entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen canceled dates in the state.

Discussions about repealing the law increased after decisions by the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference to move their championship events out of North Carolina. The NBA also moved an All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, issued a statement after the adjournment pledging: “The legislature may not be willing to undo their unconstitutional overreach and respect the rights of LGBT people, so we’ll just have to see them in court.”

“It is a shame that North Carolina’s General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made,” Esseks added. “The support for the LGBT community from political leaders, faith leaders, businesses, and everyday people that has emerged this year will not fade.”

“The economic pressure, almost more than the social pressure, was critical,” says Carl Tobias, professor of law at University of Richmond. “We’ve seen that in Indiana, we’ve seen it in Arkansas. If states across the south or west pass this kind of legislation, the same kind of pressure will be brought to bear.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Edward Helmore in New York

The GuardianTramp

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