Deal to repeal North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill’ clears key hurdle

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North Carolina lawmakers Thursday are voting on a deal that would repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” — a compromise backed by the Democratic governor but decried by LGBT groups that say it would still allow for discrimination.

The deal, announced Wednesday night, would eliminate the law created by last year’s House Bill 2. It requires that — in schools and other government-run facilities — people must use public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.

The year-old law effectively forbids transgender people from using restrooms at government facilities that match the gender they identify with. It also prevents local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, like the one in Charlotte that prompted Republican state lawmakers to introduce HB2 last year.

But the compromise bill being considered Thursday also effectively maintains a feature of HB2 by leaving regulation of bathroom access solely in control of the state legislature. And it stipulates that local governments can’t pass their own anti-discrimination laws until December 2020.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the state’s two top Republican legislators struck the deal Wednesday night after several other failed attempts over the past year. State leaders faced considerable economic pressure, because companies and organizations that opposed the law, like the NCAA, withdrew events from the state and called off job-expansion plans.

“l support the House Bill 2 repeal compromise,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”

The deal was approved Thursday morning by the state Senate, and was headed to the House for a final vote. If approved, the bill would then go to Cooper.

“Compromise requires give and take from all sides, and we are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy,” the state’s Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement.

LGBT groups oppose the deal
LGBT groups immediately criticized the deal, saying it’s a “repeal” in name only — with one advocate calling it “HB2.0” — and that it fails to protect transgender people from discrimination.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, called the agreement a “shell piece of a legislation,” on which the LGBTQ groups had not been consulted.

Though the deal would repeal key provisions of HB2, critics contend it would keep objectionable parts of it alive, including keeping bathroom regulation in the legislature’s hands.

They also object to this language: “No local government in this state may enact or amend an ordinance regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations” until December 2020.

That section effectively would stop, for the next three years, a repeat of Charlotte’s ordinance. Charlotte’s City Council had passed a rule that expressly permitted transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender they identify with.

“The initiative is not a repeal,” Sgro said. “It’s doubling down on the discrimination that HB2 exacts — it’s HB2.0. It doesn’t allow municipalities to protect people from discrimination till 2020.”

“It doesn’t do anything to better the lives of LGBT North Carolinians.”

The Human Rights Campaign tweeted: “Any NC lawmaker who supports this bad #HB2 “deal” is no ally of LGBTQ people & will have planted themselves on the wrong side of history.”

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality expressed disappointment that instead of fully repealing HB2, the deal “enshrined other parts for the foreseeable future.”

“NC will become one of only a few states where protecting people’s rights is illegal,” Keisling posted.

HB2’s impact on North Carolina
The passage of HB2 last year triggered a massive outcry and prompted businesses, entertainers and sports leagues to boycott the state. The law is estimated to have cost the state millions through the loss of jobs, businesses and consumer spending.

The 2017 NBA All-Star Game, which was held in February, was moved out of Charlotte to New Orleans. The NCAA relocated several college athletic championship events for the 2016-17 season over the law and implied four more years of tournaments are at stake if HB2 stands.

The NCAA stated last week that it had moved the championships out of North Carolina “because of the cumulative impact HB2 had on local communities’ ability to assure a safe, healthy, discrimination free atmosphere for all those watching and participating in our events.”

“Absent any change in the law, our position remains the same regarding hosting current or future events in the state.”

This week, an NCAA sports committee is to start deciding where the 2018-2022 championships will be held. This added deadline may have put more pressure on North Carolina’s politicians to hammer out a last-minute deal on HB2.

Why NCAA left North Carolina
It remains to be seen how the NCAA will view North Carolina’s attempt at repealing HB2.

When the NCAA announced in September it was moving championship events out of North Carolina, it listed the following factors:

North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one’s birth certificate, regardless of gender identity.
North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community.
Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff. These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut.