The fifth special session of the year adjourned with no repeal of HB 2 Wednesday evening, after, earlier that day, the city of Charlotte fully repealed the nondiscrimination ordinance it passed back in February (after having repealed part of it Monday). For Republicans, it’s a missed opportunity to shed the constant monkey on their back; for Charlotte and Governor-elect Roy Cooper, who helped broker the deal, it’s a failure that leaves them with no ordinance and no opportunity for other cities to protect their marginalized populations from discrimination.
At the beginning of the day, crowds—most of them on the anti-HB 2 side—gathered on the third floor, just as they had done last week. As the day went on and the size of the crowds waned, there were rampant rumors throughout the General Assembly about divisions in the House. After Senate Democrats, including Senator Mike Woodard, D-Durham, filed a straight repeal bill, Senate leader Phil Berger filed his own repeal bill, which included a 180-day moratorium on all new ordinances similar to Charlotte’s. (Earlier, as the INDY reported in this week’s paper, municipalities such as Durham and Carrboro had indicated their intention to push for similar laws should HB 2 be repealed.)
Senate Democrats were incensed. “This wasn’t the deal,” Senator Jeff Jackson said. “This bill breaks that deal. Charlotte would not have repealed its ordinance if this was the deal.”
After the House passed an adjournment resolution, and as rumors swirled that Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore didn’t have the votes in their respective caucuses for repeal, Berger attempted to split his bill into two parts: a straight repeal of HB 2, and the moratorium. Eventually, those bills would have been passed as one bill and signed as one law.
The motion to divide the legislation passed, but the repeal of HB 2 failed, with all sixteen Democrats joining the more conservative members of the Republican caucus in voting against, albeit for different reasons.
Republicans and Democrats each launched accusations at the other of sabotaging the deal. After the bill’s defeat, Berger blamed Cooper, accusing him of calling Democrats and telling them not to vote for the bill—something that Senator Floyd McKissick vehemently denied, but that Cooper later confirmed in a press conference that he had done.
“We have heard over and over again from the Democrats that the most important thing for us to do was to repeal House Bill 2,” Berger told reporters afterward. “Unfortunately, it appears to us [that] one side of this equation does not want to repeal House Bill 2. They want House Bill 2 as an issue, just as it was an issue in the campaign.”
Berger, of course, wasn’t being entirely on the level. He knew—as Democrats had made clear—that they wouldn’t support a moratorium. Splitting the bills was effectively his way of making Democrats vote against the HB 2 repeal so that he could accuse them of hypocrisy, which he later did.
At the end of the day, Senate Democrats got what they said they wanted – a straight up or down vote to repeal HB 2. Remember: They didn’t even show up to vote for House Bill 2 back in the spring. And nearly a year later, after the Charlotte City Council finally rescinded the ordinance that forces men into women’s bathrooms and changing facilities, Senate Democrats claimed to want to repeal HB2, and hit reset on the issue. They had their chance. And they voted HB2 down. Unanimously.
“What a mess,” National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Kiesling told theINDY after the vote. “This legislature controlled the process, they controlled the substance, they called the special session, and they weren’t competent enough to do the one job they called the session to do.”
“For 273 long days, HB2 has put LGBTQ North Carolinians at risk for discrimination and violence. Every single day, we have lost businesses, new residents, tourists, concerts, and sporting events,” Equality NC executive director and Democratic state representative Chris Sgro said in a statement afterward. “Today’s failure to repeal HB2 is a blow to not just the LGBTQ community but to the entire state of North Carolina. With HB2 still on the books and the Charlotte Ordinance fully repealed. we will only continue to lose businesses and put LGBTQ North Carolinians in harm’s way.”
For now, however, Charlotte’s ordinance is gone, and HB 2 remains in place.
Cooper, who after the original Charlotte repeal on Monday, said he was assured by Berger and Moore that they had the votes for repeal, held a press conference on Wednesday night at the PNC Arena, where he said Moore and Berger “didn’t have the guts” to stand up to their caucuses.
“My mom and dad used to tell me that when you sat down and looked somebody in the eye and told them something, you should keep your promise,” Cooper said. “But people want us to work together. The people of North Carolina are not what these legislative leaders are saying with this law.”
Check out Alex Boerner’s gallery of scenes from the HB 2 special session here.