House Bill 2 is dead — but nobody’s super happy about it

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House Bill 2 is dead.

After brokering a deal with the Republican-led state legislature, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill on Thursday that repeals a law widely seen as discriminatory against transgender people and that led major sports and entertainment groups to remove events from North Carolina. 

The repeal bill leaves several provision of House Bill 2 in place and prevents cities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances until the year 2020.

But the most controversial provision — which required people to use the bathroom of their gender listed on their birth certificate — is gone.

The bill — which described itself as a “reset” — was a compromise that drew support from both Republicans and Democrats but left neither side truly happy.

“This is not a perfect deal and is not my preferred solution,” Cooper said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “This was the best deal that we could get.” 

Here’s an explainer of what just happened.

I already forget, what all did House Bill 2 do?

Long story short, HB2 was the state legislature’s reaction to a Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance. What Charlotte’s ordinance did was to prohibit companies in the city from discriminating against LGBT people, and to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

The Republican legislature had a strong, immediate reaction and passed a sweeping bill that undid Charlotte’s ordinance.

House Bill 2 did a lot of things and honestly, I had to go back and look up all its provisions myself. Here are the three main things the law did:

  • Required people to use the bathroom of their biological gender while in public buildings (private businesses could decide their own policies).
  • Prohibited cities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances or minimum wage requirements.
  • Prevented people from suing in state court over discrimination claims.

All of that’s gone now, right?

No.

The big one — the bathroom requirement — is no more. This was the big flashpoint, to the point where the law was derided as the “bathroom bill.” Gov. Cooper seemed proudest of that.

“That is gone. It is an issue that has affected our reputation and hurt us. It is gone,” Cooper said.

The second aspect is still mostly in place, at least until 2020. The repeal law puts bathroom regulation in the hands of the state government and prevents cities from passing ordinances “regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations.” That’s code for nondiscrimination ordinances or minimum wages.

The state legislature removed the state civil action part of it back in July. So that was already gone.

Is this a repeal or not?

Technically, the bill signed Thursday repeals House Bill 2. It’s the first line of the bill.

For the most part, individual rights are the same as they were before Charlotte passed the nondiscrimination ordinance and everybody got mad at North Carolina.

The only real difference is that now cities are prevented from passing special protections for LGBT people. Some people believe that to be a crucial part of the whole debate.

charlotte pride parade

A young Pride attendee watches the parade

What protections do LGBT people have now?

LGBT categories are still not protected classes in North Carolina. People can be fired or denied service in this state for being gay or transgender. This is the same status as federal law.

Gov. Cooper said he wants to make LGBT categories a protected class in our state but he knows the Republican-led state legislature won’t go along with it.

So where are transgender people supposed to pee now?

Uh… I guess the same place they went before all this began? For some reason, this never really came up.

Why do so many people hate the repeal bill?

The bill made everybody mad.

Liberals don’t like the moratorium on cities’ ability to pass nondiscrimination ordinances. They also feel like Democrat leaders turned their backs on LGBT people. They wanted a straight-up repeal of HB2 with no strings attached. 

“I am deeply disappointed that the Republican leaders in the General Assembly continue to see LGBT people as unequal and refuse to let cities like Charlotte govern themselves,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said in a statement.

Conservatives don’t like that there is no longer language on the books that specifically requires people to use the bathroom of their biological sex. 

“If HB2 was right to begin with, which I believe it was, then why are we repealing it?” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in a statement. “We are yielding the moral high ground and giving in to a new form of corporate extortion from an unaccountable, out of state, non-elected, tax-exempt organization (NCAA) and for what?… a ballgame?”

So who IS happy about it?

The business community.

Charlotte has been hit hard economically by the controversy over HB2, and the Charlotte Chamber, in particular, has been desperate to get out from under that black cloud.

I’ve heard about compromises before that didn’t happen. What made them get serious about it now?

You’re right. There was supposedly a compromise back in September but it didn’t come to fruition.

This time, North Carolina was under a deadline by the NCAA. The collegiate sports association is getting ready to divvy out championship games for the next several years and had warned the state that if nothing changed, North Carolina wouldn’t get any.

After losing the NBA All-Star Game and this year’s NCAA men’s basketball games, lawmakers were feeling the pain.

Cooper said had this deadline passed by, there might not ever have been momentum to get anything done.

Will this reset be enough to satisfy the NCAA and NBA and the global business community?

Gov. Cooper seems to think it will.

“I believe sports are coming back,” Cooper said. He said that he had been in close contact with NCAA while this compromise was hammered out.

Only time will really tell.

ncaa-trophy

Is this a victory for Gov. Cooper?

For better or worse, this was Cooper’s deal. He used up a lot of political capital and alienated a good portion of the liberal base of his party.

But there is also the potential that he’s shored up his bona fides among the centrist coalition that sided with him instead of former Gov. Pat McCrory last November.

“No one likes everything about this legislation,” Cooper said, “but it does take an important step forward.”

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Andrew Dunn
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