First, read HB 142 for yourself. It’s short. I’ll wait. Here are the key takeaways of this “reset”: 1) HB 2’s prohibition on local governments and state agencies regulating bathroom access remains, although HB 2’s unenforceable requirement that people use public facilities that conform to their gender identity is gone. 2) HB 2’s preemptions of local nondiscrimination and living wage ordinances are still there, at least until December 2020, although the sixteen NDOs that existed before HB 2 will go back into effect. In addition, local governments’ ability to require their contractors to not discriminate has been restored.
How is that enough? How the hell is Roy Cooper—who spent the last year campaigning on the repeal of HB 2, who wouldn’t be in office were it not for the political catastrophe HB 2 became for his predecessor—capitulating to Republican demands and selling out his LGBTQ constituents?
And for what? Some basketball games? A Springsteen show? A piddling bit of economic development? A press release and an ad for the reelection campaign?
The back story, of course, is that the NCAA gave the state until noon today to repeal HB 2 or it would pull championships from the state until 2022. That Sword of Damocles was the impetus to finally get this thing done, after so many failed compromise efforts, after so much blame game, after so many false starts. And with the NCAA’s deadline looming, what the repeal looked like apparently mattered less to Governor Cooper than the fact that there existed something he could call a repeal.
This is a worse deal than the one Cooper himself rejected in December. The sticking point then was a six-month moratorium on nondiscrimination ordinances. This legislation has a forty-four-month moratorium. That’s an extra thirty-eight months. The only upshot to this bill, so far as I can tell, is that come December 2020, local governments will be able to enact nondiscrimination and living-wage ordinances, something they’ve never before been permitted to do. Unless, of course, the legislature changes its mind between now and then.
(Whether this deal actually satisfies the NCAA is another matter. The NCAA’s statement back in September cited the following reasons for bailing on North Carolina—among others—which this new bill does not appear to rectify: “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.”)
So here we are. A bill that does little to advance the cause of LGBTQ rights in North Carolina for at least another three and a half years will be passed by the legislature and signed into law by a governor who, during his inaugural address less than three months ago, looked us dead in the eye and promised: “When a law attempts to make any North Carolinian less in the eyes of their fellow citizens, I will fight it. I will stand up for you if the legislature cannot or will not. And I want every elected official to hear me when I say: I refuse to spend the next four years engaging in political brinkmanship—because we’ve got too much work to do for the people who need our help.”
Sorry, governor. But this bill makes people less in the eyes of their fellow citizens. And you aren’t fighting. You’re breaking your promise.
Republicans have supermajorities in the House and Senate. If they wanted to and could wrangle the votes, they could pass this pathetic hack job of an HB 2 repeal over Cooper’s veto. And that’s exactly what the governor should make them do: own the damn thing. If they want to continue discriminating against LGBTQ citizens, make Phil Berger and Tim Moore put their names on it. Not his. And he should spend the next three and a half years leading the fight against it, channeling the same anti-HB 2 anger the propelled him into office to drive this ignominy from our state once and for all.
Instead, he’s trying to compromise with evil. And evil is getting the lion’s share of the deal.
This is bad politics. It’s even worse policy.
*This post has been updated to more thoroughly describe what HB 142 does.