Seven things to remember amid all the spin about HB2

By: - March 1, 2017 7:29 am

With the one-year anniversary of the passage of the sweeping anti-LGBTQ law HB2 rapidly approaching and the NCAA poised to lock North Carolina out of hosting dozens of championship events for the next six years, legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper are scrambling to find a way to repeal the law and remove the stain on North Carolina’s reputation around the world and end the second class treatment of thousands of people in the state.

There have been proposals and counter proposals in the last few day and a spate of news conferences, video statements, and press releases but the law remains on the books. Here are seven things you need to know about HB2, the current impasse and the misleading spin about who is to blame for the lack of action.

1) HB2 has been a disaster for North Carolina.

Conservative estimates show that it has cost the state $650 million dollars and tens of thousands of jobs. Charlotte alone has lost 2,500 jobs.

The actual damage is certainly worse but is hard to quantify. Because of the law, the state has been crossed off the list for many business relocations before state recruiters have the chance to make their case for North Carolina.

That’s why so many business leaders are grasping at almost any plan to even partially repeal the law and stop the loss of business, tourism, and sporting events in the state. Pro HB2 forces keep trying to downplay the damage the law has done, but if there’s one thing that everyone except its most diehard supporters agree on it’s that the state economy continues to suffer because the law remains.

2) HB2 is a Republican law.

It was passed last March in a special legislative session by a House and Senate with Republican supermajorities and signed into law by former Governor Pat McCrory, also a Republican. HB2 was a Republican initiative whether they want to claim it or not.

Legislative leaders said they had no choice but to pass the law after the Charlotte City Council adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in employment and public accommodations.

That ordinance also allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, a common sense policy already in place in more than 200 cities around the country.

Republican leaders, backed by fundamentalist religious groups, claimed that would allow sexual predators access to women’s bathrooms even though there’s been no evidence of that in cities with the same ordinance in place and HB2 included no enforcement provisions anyway.

But the demagoguery continued with Republican lawmakers and McCrory steadfastly defending the law based on what they claimed were safety concerns. It was all about bathrooms and HB2 is still often referred to as the bathroom law.

3) Legislative leaders broke their word about repeal.

Because of the ongoing economic damage to North Carolina, there have been rumors for months about possible deals to repeal HB2. A deal was finally struck in December.

Then Governor-elect Roy Cooper promised to convince the Charlotte City Council to repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance that lawmakers said was the reason for HB2 and in exchange, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger promised to pass a repeal of the law in a special legislative session.

The Charlotte City Council repealed the ordinance but when the General Assembly session convened, Berger and Moore could not hold up their end of the agreement and started adding conditions to the repeal and the deal fell apart.

Berger and Moore blamed Cooper for their own failure to keep their word and bizarrely continue to blame him for a law passed by the supermajorities they lead.

4) Gov. Cooper presented a common sense compromise.

His plan for repeal presented two weeks ago included tougher penalties for crimes in bathrooms and public facilities and a requirement that local governments give 30-days notice before adopting antidiscrimination ordinances. Berger and Moore rejected that proposal out of hand, preferring to blame Cooper rather than work with him.

5) The latest compromise puts civil rights up for a vote.

Many Republicans and some business leaders rallied around a compromise bill filed last week by Rep. Chuck McGrady that would forbid local governments from passing any ordinances that affect access to bathrooms and other public facilities for transgender people. It says that only the state can set those policies.

The proposal does allow local governments to adopt nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people on the job and in public accommodations, though religious institutions and nonprofits would be exempt from the ordinance.

And most importantly, if 10 percent of voters in the last election sign a petition against the ordinance the city must hold a referendum on it, literally asking voters whether or not gay people could be fired or denied services simply because they are gay.

Cooper and legislative Democrats are adamantly sand understandably opposed to putting civil rights up for a vote.

6) It’s not about bathrooms and never really was.

The battle over HB2 is no longer about bathrooms and the latest skirmish about the alleged compromise show it never really was. Democrats don’t like the idea of banning local governments from allowing transgender people to use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity but they appear ready to accept it to get HB2 off the books.

But that is not enough for legislative leaders, who continue to demand that basic employment and public accommodations protections for LGBTQ people be subject to a vote.

That positions makes clear the motives of most HB2 supporters all along, to deny basic civil rights to LGBTQ people in North Carolina. Republicans rejected attempts during the March special session to add protections for LGBTQ people to the statewide nondiscrimination standard.

Now they want to force a public referendum before allowing any city to provide equal rights.

7) The fate of HB2 is up to legislative leaders

Several Republican legislators vowed during last fall’s campaign to support repeal of HB2 and of course Berger and Moore promised a clean repeal in December after Charlotte repealed its ordinance though they never delivered on that pledge.

Clean repeal is still the best idea and would likely pass if brought to a vote on the House and Senate floor but legislative leaders won’t allow it.

At very least, legislative leaders ought to stop blaming Cooper for a law their supermajorities enacted and end their offensive support for a vote on civil rights for people they are supposed to represent.

They have misled people for long enough and their law has done enough damage to North Carolina.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066