North Carolina lawmakers vote to end state's so-called 'bathroom bill'

The North Carolina house and senate voted on Thursday to end the state’s so-called “bathroom bill”, in the hope of expanding business opportunities and attracting sporting events ahead of a Thursday deadline from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to amend the law or lose out on hosting future sporting events.

Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he had signed the bill into law on Thursday afternoon.

The house voted 70-48 to pass the bill. On Thursday morning it passed the senate 32-16, with several Democrats voting against the bill even after the state senate’s Democratic leader, Dan Blue, asked his colleagues to support it. 

The new agreement, House Bill 142, though it repeals the bathroom bill, has angered LGBT and civil liberty groups because it prohibits future anti-discrimination ordinances by cities and councils. This means that cities will not be able to introduce any local laws to specifically protect transgender people.

Although it repeals the state’s directive for transgender people to only use public bathrooms and showers that match their birth gender, it leaves state legislators, rather than agencies, municipalities or universities, in charge of policy on public multi-stall restrooms. Phil Berger, the Republican leader of the state senate, declined to say whether lawmakers planned to quickly use this authority. 

Legislators from all sides were torn over the bill, with many engaging in an emotional debate on the state house floor.

“I cannot in good conscious vote on something that will take us back in civil rights,” said Democrat Chaz Beasley, who voted against the bill.

Yvonne Holley, a Democrat, said she was “torn in my soul” about the decision, because she wanted to support the governor and efforts to improve the bill but disagreed with the rules about anti-discrimination compliances.

Others spoke about their support of HB2, with Republican Bert Jones noting that it was the impending NCAA deadline which caused the bill to be rushed through. “I think everyone knows why we are here and doing this today,” he said. 

Jones also questioned how women and children will be protected if they use restrooms with people of different genders. “The fact that both sides are opposing it shows that it’s a reasonable compromise,” said Republican Scott Stone.

A Republican senator, Thom Tillis, immediately released a statement supporting the HB2 repeal.

“North Carolina’s brand and continued economic prosperity should not be beholden to the loudest voices on either the far left or the far right who don’t have our state’s best interests in mind. I’m glad that state lawmakers were able to reach a commonsense compromise to repeal HB2,” he said.

House Bill 2 (HB2) had limited LGBT non-discrimination protections and required people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings corresponding to the gender assigned to them at birth, in a direct affront to transgender people.

But House Bill 2 was only introduced in March 2016 because the city of Charlotte put in place a city ordinance banning the discrimination of people based on gender or sexual identity, which the state wanted to overrule. 

Thursday’s new agreement would ban such anti-discrimination ordinances until December 2020.

Social conservatives in the general assembly would prefer to have HB2 stay on the books. Gay rights groups oppose the replacement measure because it would still restrict LGBT protections from discrimination. Political repercussions exist for legislators and Cooper.

Cooper, who was elected governor last November with support from LGBT forces and on a platform that included a complete repeal of HB2, said in a release that he supported the compromise unveiled on Wednesday shortly before midnight by GOP lawmakers. 

“It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said. 

The late-night announcement came after the NCAA had said North Carolina sites would no’t be considered for basketball championship events from 2018 to 2022 “absent any change” in House Bill 2, which it views as discriminatory.

On Tuesday, Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, which puts together the NCAA bids for North Carolina, tweeted that the state had until Thursday to change the laws in order for its bid to be considered:

“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now. If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids. The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”

North Carolina cities, schools and other groups have offered more than 130 bids for such events.

HB2 prompted some businesses to halt expansions and entertainers and sports organizations to cancel or move events, including the NBA All-Star game in Charlotte. An Associated Press analysis this week found that HB2 will already cost the state more than $3.76bn in lost business over a dozen years.

The new proposal repeals HB2 but would leave state legislators in charge of policy on public multi-stall restrooms. Local governments also could not pass ordinances extending non-discrimination protections in private employment and in places such as hotels and restaurants covering categories such as sexual orientation and gender identity until December 2020. That temporary moratorium, according to the Republican house speaker, Tim Moore, and the senate leader, Phil Berger, would allow time for pending federal litigation over transgender issues to play out. 

“Compromise requires give and take from all sides, and we are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy,” Berger and Moore said in a statement. It’s not clear whether the NCAA would be satisfied by the changes. 

Responding before Wednesday night’s announcement to anticipated provisions in the legislation, top national and state gay rights activists blasted the proposal and said those who backed Thursday’s measure were not allies of the LGBT community. Only a complete repeal, with nothing else, will do, they say. 

“At its core, it’s a statewide prohibition on equality,” the Human Rights Campaign president, Chad Griffin, told reporters, adding that consequences could fall on Cooper, whom gay rights activists supported in the election, for backing a “dirty deal”.

“It would be a failure of leadership for Cooper” and for Democratic legislative leaders to back this agreement “instead of standing up for civil rights”, the Equality North Carolina executive director, Chris Sgro, said. 

In November Cooper narrowly defeated the GOP governor Pat McCrory, who signed the law. HB2 supporters say ordinances like the one in Charlotte make it easy for sexual predators to enter public restrooms designated for the opposite sex. 

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Written by Amber Jamieson, The Guardian. Original article at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/30/north-carolina-bathroom-bill-roy-cooper-deal