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Repeal Of North Carolina's HB2 Law Fails As Legislature Adjourns Special Session

Supporters of Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and those advocating to repeal HB2 hold signs last month in Charlotte, N.C.
Brian Gomsak
AP Images for Human Rights Campaign

Updated at 8:00 p.m. ET

The North Carolina Legislature began a special session on Wednesday morning to vote on the repeal of a controversial state law that limits civil rights protections for LGBT people, but the effort failed by day's end as the Legislature adjourned without passing any bill.

The session was part of a deal between state lawmakers and Charlotte officials. But some Republican state leaders are furious about the way they say Charlotte handled its side of the agreement. Charlotte officials, meanwhile, are denying allegations that they misrepresented their actions.

The state law in question is HB2 — also called the "bathroom bill" because, among other things, it requires transgender people to use bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate. It was passed in March, in direct response to an expansion of a local anti-discrimination measure in Charlotte the previous month.

Republican state lawmakers and Democratic leaders in Charlotte had apparently struck a deal under which the city would repeal the local ordinance, and in return, state lawmakers would repeal HB2.

Charlotte said it has carried out its side of the deal — but there are disputes about how the process worked, with Charlotte officials saying the City Council acted in good faith, and Republicans accusing them of lying.

Here's what happened:

On Monday, the Charlotte City Council announced it had "voted to remove the Non-Discrimination Ordinance from the City Code."

People on both sides indicated an understanding had been reached — with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory calling Charlotte's repeal "all about politics" but agreeing to call a special session "as promised." Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper called on legislators to "keep their word" and repeal HB2.

But according to The Charlotte Observer, the City Council didn't actually repeal the full ordinance on Monday:

"Council members did remove the part of its ordinance that dealt with public accommodations, prohibiting business such as stores and restaurants from discriminating against people based on categories such as race and religion — and also sexual orientation and gender identity. That part of the ordinance included the provision that related to transgender people being allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

"However, council members left some parts of the ordinance intact.

"The city's ordinance still prohibits the city from hiring contractors who have been found to discriminate against a subcontractor because of an employee's race or religion — as well as because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"That means the city ordinance still offers some legal protections, though small ones, to people who are gay or transgender."

Around 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party released a statement blasting Democrats in Charlotte, saying they "lied directly to the people."

The City Council and Cooper "have now seriously harmed HB2 repeal efforts," the statement reads. "The HB2 blood is now stain soaked on their hands and theirs alone. What a dishonest, disgraceful shame by Roy Cooper and Charlotte Democrats."

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann says those allegations are false, reports David Boraks of member station WFAE.

Boraks adds that Hagemann says the city didfully repeal the changes made to its anti-discrimination laws — with a vote that took the city "back to 1968," the first year Charlotte had any sort of anti-discrimination measure.

But to assuage concerns about how wholeheartedly Charlotte acted to reverse the measure, the City Council is now re-repealing the anti-discrimination protection, with a new vote to put the city back exactly where it was before the expansion passed in February.

The Charlotte City Council scheduled an emergency session Wednesday morning and did just that, WFAE reports.

All eyes turned to the state Legislature, where lawmakers debated a bill proposed by Senate Republicans that would repeal HB2 and institute a "six-month cooling-off period" during which no local government could pass a new ordinance protecting people from employment discrimination or regulating access to "restrooms, showers, or changing facilities."

But a repeal measure ultimately failed in the Senate, and the special session of the Legislature adjourned without passing any bill.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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