Durham Mayor William Bell is sending a House Bill 2 repeal compromise to the governor’s office─despite council members’ rejection of the same proposal two weeks ago.

Bell announced during the council’s meeting Monday that he would be sending a letter to Governor Roy Cooper and Republican leaders Senator Phil Berger and Representative Tim Moore. He said he plans to mail the letter today, copying Durham city officials, the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, and Representative Darren Jackson and Senator Dan Blue, who introduced an HB 2 repeal bill last week in concert with Cooper.

Bell’s decision to send the letter came as a surprise to council members, who during a February 9 work session split 3–3 on whether to suspend the council’s rules and vote on the matter, which wasn’t on the agenda. Motions to suspend the rules require five votes to pass.

“That suggestion obviously did not pass,” Bell said. “I respect the right of my colleagues to vote however they choose to vote and what issues they choose to vote on. That’s certainly their right. I might not agree with it, but it’s certainly a right that I respect. It’s in that tone that I would hope that my colleagues also
respect the right that I have as the mayor of the city of Durham to write a letter as I’m going to present to you all this evening and to the public.” The mayor’s proposal suggests that legislators repeal HB 2 and impose a moratorium on municipalities establishing their own antidiscrimination ordinances for six months or until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a similar case out of Virginia, whichever comes first. Arguments in that case are set to begin March 28.

“We all know that politics is about the art of compromise, trust and commitment in many political decisions areas and this is an important subject upon which to build this proposal,” Bell writes. (See the entire letter below.)

Bell said he was speaking only for himself in the letter─he can’t make the General Assembly take the compromise or make the City Council support it. When asked by council member Charlie Reece if it was his intent to bring the letter to the council for action, Bell said that was “not my intention,” but council members could discuss it if they chose. Reece’s question was the sole comment made on the letter, and the council did not vote on it.

Democratic legislators rejected a similar repeal bill in late December that would have placed a six-month hold on local governments passing their own antidiscrimination ordinances, which HB 2 prevents them from doing currently.

Bell says two things have changed since the December special session in which that compromise failed: the Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board and the “NCAA and other athletic associations made it clear that repeal of HB 2 will be an important factor in determining whether or not they hold their tournaments in North Carolina.”

Bell said that, in his opinion, there is “no downside” to the proposal because as long as HB 2 is in effect, local governments can’t pass antidiscrimination ordinances anyway. “The upside is, if HB 2 is repealed, then, what in my opinion, it may do is at least take away the issue we have before us in terms of economic impact,” Bell said.

Council member Jillian Johnson said the compromise fails to right the wrongs of HB 2.

“I think that repealing HB 2 while essentially leaving its restrictions in place is a really problematic way to try to end the boycotts in North Carolina without addressing the reasons for those boycotts,” she told the INDY after Monday’s meeting. “We are being boycotted because we have a really discriminatory, bigoted, transphobic law on the books, and removing that law while also saying you can’t protect queer and trans people in North Carolina doesn’t actually address the issues that the boycotts are trying to get to.”

At the February 9 meeting, Johnson, Reece, and Don Moffitt voted against suspending the rules. Bell, Eddie Davis, and Cora Cole-McFadden voted for; and Steve Schewel was absent. At that meeting, Reece said the compromise amounted to removing “the paper version of House Bill 2 while leaving it still effectively the law of the land.”