Amid deepening acrimony, a supposedly bipartisan deal to kill the North Carolina law known as the “bathroom bill” fell apart Wednesday night, ensuring the likelihood that global corporations and national sports events will continue to stay away from the state.
The law limits protections for LGBT people and was best known for a provision that requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. It was passed earlier this year after Charlotte officials approved a sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance.
The repeal compromise touted by both Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory called for Charlotte to do away with its ordinance. In exchange, lawmakers would undo the LGBT law.
But both sides balked: GOP lawmakers cried foul when Charlotte leaders initially left part of the city’s ordinance in place. And when the Senate bill called for a months-long ban on cities passing similar ordinances, Democrats said Republicans were going back on their promise. Cooper said the moratorium essentially doubled down on discrimination.
“The legislature had a chance to do the right thing for North Carolina, and they failed,” he said. “This was our best chance. It cannot be our last chance.”
The troubles in reaching a resolution exposed the intense distrust within the legislature that has only intensified over the years, especially since Republicans took over control of state government in 2013. Cooper’s victory was greeted last week by Republicans acting in a special session to strip away several powers.
“This has been a long and ultimately frustrating day,” Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters after the session ended.
He blamed Cooper and Charlotte leaders for sinking the deal. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue criticized McCrory for calling the special session a few days before Christmas when there didn’t seem to be an agreement.
And House Republicans couldn’t seem to figure out what they wanted. They spent most of the day in closed-door meetings fighting about whether to approve a repeal bill.
People crowded the House and Senate galleries and in the third-floor rotunda all day, keeping watch on the action, or lack thereof. But the mood was much more docile than the angry demonstrations of last week when more than 50 demonstrators were arrested over two days.
Social conservatives were thrilled with the preservation of HB2. North Carolina Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald praised lawmakers “who stood up for what is right and represented the will of voters by stopping the move to cower and cave-in to the City of Charlotte and the Human Rights Campaign.”
Conservative groups said HB2 provides privacy and protection for children using restrooms and locker rooms.
Lawmakers have worked “hard to protect our families, and women and children from the risk that might be imposed by these lunatic ordinances that the lunatic left in Charlotte and other places want to enact,” said Republican Sen. Buck Newton, who championed HB2 when it was passed in March and supported it ever since.
The U.S. Justice Department and others contend the threat of sexual predators posing as transgender persons to enter a bathroom is practically nonexistent.
“This was a counterproductive exercise in reaffirming to the rest of the country that North Carolina wants to remain mired in this divisive dispute,” said Simone Bell, Southern regional director at Lambda Legal, a gay-rights group.
HB2 has been blasted by gay-rights groups and resulted in conventions, jobs and sporting events like the NBA All-Star Game shunning North Carolina. Corporate critics of the law included Deutsche Bank and Paypal, which both backed out of projects that would have brought hundreds of jobs to the state.
The law was also seen as a referendum on McCrory, who became its national face. He lost by about 10,000 votes to Cooper. Meanwhile, 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.
Repealing the state law could also have ended 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.
Cooper said earlier this week that Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore had assured him that Charlotte’s vote to repeal its ordinance would lead to a full repeal. He had lobbied Charlotte’s city council to gut its local nondiscrimination ordinance.
Republicans fired back that it was Charlotte city leaders who passed a partial repeal of its ordinance Monday. Council leaders disagreed with that assessment, but still met Wednesday morning – an hour before the special session began – to repeal other portions of the ordinance. The local repeal was contingent on undoing HB2 by Dec. 31.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a release that the law will continue to burden Republicans.
“Today, the public trust has been betrayed once again. Lawmakers sent a clear message: North Carolina remains closed for business,” Griffin said.