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Gov-elect: End near for North Carolina ‘bathroom bill’

Jonathan Drew
Associated Press

Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina leaders struck a deal Monday to kill the state law widely derided as the “bathroom bill,” after it tarnished the state’s reputation, cost it scores of jobs and contributed to the Republican governor’s narrow loss.

Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper announced Monday that legislators will hold a special session to repeal the law known as HB2 that limits protections for LGBT people. HB2 requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding with the sex on their birth certificate in many public buildings and excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from antidiscrimination protections.

Undoing the law would be a step toward mending political divisions that remain raw well after Election Day. Just last week, lawmakers called a special session to strip Cooper of some authority before he takes office next month.

The state’s Republican leaders confirmed they’re open to repealing the measure, but in a sign of lingering acrimony, they accused Cooper of taking too much credit for winning their cooperation.

The passage of HB2 in March thrust North Carolina into a national debate on transgender rights and harmed the state economically. The state missed out on new jobs as companies declined to expand in the state, while cancellations of concerts and conventions exacted a toll. And in a huge symbolic blow to the basketball-crazy state, the NCAA and ACC relocated events.

Monday’s surprising events began in the morning when the Charlotte City Council voted to undo a local nondiscrimination law enacted in early 2016. That ordinance, Republicans legislators say, challenged social norms and spurred them to pass HB2.

“Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore assured me that as a result of Charlotte’s vote, a special session will be called for Tuesday to repeal HB2 in full,” Cooper said in a statement, adding: “I hope they will keep their word to me.”

Outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory confirmed he would call lawmakers back to the Capitol in the final days of his term — but also accused Democrats of using the issue for political gain.

“This sudden reversal with little notice after the gubernatorial election sadly proves this entire issue originated by the political left was all about politics and winning the governor’s race at the expense of Charlotte and our entire state,” said McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor.

Berger and Moore issued a joint statement saying they will take up a repeal if McCrory calls them into session, but accused Cooper of taking too much credit in his announcement.

They said Cooper and Charlotte’s mayor “proved what we said was the case all along: their efforts to force men into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities was a political stunt to drive out-of-state money into the governor’s race.”

Republicans have defended the bathroom provisions as providing privacy and safety by keeping men out of women’s restrooms. Opponents call it discriminatory.

The law was also seen as a referendum on McCrory, who became its national face. He lost by about 10,000 votes while fellow Republicans U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and President-elect Donald Trump comfortably won the state. McCrory was the first sitting North Carolina governor elected to a four-year term to lose re-election.

After its vote Monday, the Charlotte City Council said it remains committed to protecting rights but that it was willing to work with the state to “restore our collective reputation.”

“The Charlotte City Council recognizes the ongoing negative economic impact resulting from the passage of the City’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance and the State’s House Bill 2,” the statement said.

The council’s move is contingent on North Carolina fully repealing HB2 by Dec. 31.

Republicans have said the Charlotte ordinance had to go first before they would consider getting rid of HB2.

A repeal of the state law could also end protracted legal challenges by the federal Justice Department and transgender residents. Much of that litigation has been delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court hears a separate Virginia case on transgender restroom access.

LGBT advocates were cautiously optimistic that the General Assembly would follow through with any repeal, but they also said antidiscrimination protection is an issue more important than politics.

“LGBT rights aren’t a bargaining chip. Charlotte shouldn’t have had to repeal its ordinance in exchange for HB2 to be repealed,” Simone Bell, the Southern Regional Director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “LGBT people in North Carolina still need protection from discrimination.”