HB2 Repealed, but not without controversy

— As quickly as House Bill 2 was enacted 53 weeks ago, the controversial state law limiting LGBT rights and transgender bathroom access was knocked down on Thursday.

About 12 hours after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders reached a compromise to repeal House Bill 2 late Wednesday, the measure was speeding through its lone committee hearing, and it had cleared the Senate and the House by mid-afternoon Thursday. Cooper then quickly signed the bill into law.

“We are a welcoming state – our people are welcoming – but House Bill 2 was not,” Cooper said during an afternoon news conference. “Today, our laws are catching up with our people.”

State lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in March 2016 to nullify a Charlotte ordinance that required businesses to allow transgender people to use the public bathroom of their choice. The state law said private entities could set their own bathroom access rules and required that people use bathrooms in schools and other government buildings that match the gender listed on their birth certificates.1

The law, which also created a statewide nondiscrimination policy that excluded gay and transgender people and barred cities and counties from extending such protections to them, brought nationwide scorn on the state. Businesses scrapped expansion plans, conventions were moved elsewhere, concerts were canceled and the NBA, the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference all shifted events out of North Carolina.

After a December repeal effort crashed and burned in a bout of finger-pointing, Cooper and Republican legislative leaders negotiated behind the scenes in fits and starts over several weeks to try to rebuild some sense of trust and cobble together a compromise with which both sides could live. Several potential deals appeared and quickly vanished during that time before this agreement.

House Bill 142, which initially dealt with occupational licensing boards, was gutted and replaced with language repealing House Bill 2 entirely and stating that only the General Assembly can regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities. It also prohibits local governments from enacting or amending ordinances regulating private employment practices or public accommodations until Dec. 1, 2020.

The revised bill was titled “Reset of S.L. 2016-3,” referring to House Bill 2’s formal session law number.

“Compromise sometimes is difficult, and this bill represents a compromise,” Berger said Thursday morning in urging Senate passage. “I don’t know that there are that many people that are extremely happy about exactly where we are. There are a lot of folks that would express opinions that we should have done something else, whether they are in favor of the bill or opposed to the bill. However, this is what I believe and I hope you believe is good for North Carolina at this time.”

Cooper, whose election last fall was partly due to his vow to repeal House Bill 2, likewise appealed to people to accept the deal because nothing better was available.

“This is not a perfect deal or my preferred solution. It stops short of many things we need to do as a state,” he said. “This new law is a compromise, but we stopped Republican leaders from adding provisions that permanently placed LGBT rights subject to referendum or allowed people to use religious beliefs to discriminate.”

HB2 vs. HB142

House Bill 142 repeals House Bill 2, but here is how some provisions in the new legislation compare to the controversial 2016 state law:

Bathroom access: House Bill 2 requires all multiple-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms overseen by state agencies, cities, counties and school districts be designated for use by a single gender based on what’s listed on a person’s birth certificate. House Bill 142 says only the General Assembly can establish access rules for public bathrooms.

Nondiscrimination ordinances: House Bill 2 established a statewide nondiscrimination policy for employment and public accommodations based on “race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap,” leaving out protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and it barred cities and counties from going beyond the state policy. House Bill 142 repeals the statewide policy and blocks all local nondiscrimination ordinances until Dec. 1, 2020, but places no restrictions on them after that date.

Local contracts: House Bill 2 prohibited local governments from setting rules for private contractors regarding minimum wage and worker benefits. As part of its repeal provision, House Bill 142 does away with this and doesn’t replace it.