North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper slammed Republicans on Wednesday for failing to repeal House Bill 2, the polarising state law that critics say discriminates against LGBT residents.
Lawmakers had convened in Raleigh that day for a special session dedicated to repealing the law, but came up empty-handed after the meeting descended into a fiery partisan debate. Democrats ultimately refused to sign off on a Republican-backed proposal that would have repealed the law, but would have kept its effects in place indefinitely.
“Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me, and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” Cooper told reporters during an emotionally-charged press conference after the session.
Passed by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature in March, HB2 blocks North Carolina towns from passing non-discrimination ordinances to protect LGBT residents. Opponents dubbed it the “bathroom law” because of one provision requiring transgender residents to use the public restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their sex on their birth certificate, rather than their gender identity.
State Republicans have adamantly defended the law since its passage, even as it prompted businesses to freeze expansion plans, sports leagues to relocate major events, and musicians to cancel concerts in North Carolina, costing the state an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars.
But their tune changed this week, when Cooper apparently brokered a deal for them to repeal the law in exchange for Charlotte, the state’s biggest city, erasing its own non-discrimination ordinance that inspired HB2 to begin with.
However, Cooper said the deal called for a full repeal of the state law — and that’s not what Republicans proposed on Wednesday. Their bill would have repealed HB2 while calling for an indefinite “cooling-off period” in which local governments would not be allowed to make ordinances aimed at protecting LGBT residents.
“I told the Democrats to vote for the deal to fully repeal House Bill 2,” Cooper said at the conference. “I told them to stick to this deal. This moratorium idea that sprung up in the last couple hours, it wouldn’t work, it doubles down on discrimination,” Cooper said at the press conference.
The moratorium would have lasted until 30 days after the end of the legislature’s 2017 session, although some Democrats said they feared Republicans would extend it indefinitely, or make it a permanent ban on protecting LGBT residents.
Democrats rejected the proposal on Wednesday, as did some Republicans who opposed repealing the law altogether. But Cooper insisted that had a clean repeal of the law been on the table, it would have seen bipartisan support.
“They didn’t have the guts to put the bill out on the floor by itself for a vote,” he said. “If they had, it would have gotten the votes of Republicans and Democrats, and there would have been enough to pass it.”
Meanwhile, the architect of Wednesday’s proposed bill, Republican state Sen. Phil Berger, was quick to blame Democrats for his bill’s failure.
“Roy Cooper and Senate Democrats killed the repeal of HB2, abandoning Roy Cooper’s commitment to avoid divisive social issues by shooting down a temporary cooling off period on ordinances like the one that got us into this mess last March,” Berger said in a statement.
He added: “Their action proves they only wanted a repeal in order to force radical social engineering and shared bathrooms across North Carolina, at the expense of our state’s families, our reputation and our economy.”
The next chance for the HB2’s repeal is in January, at the start of the General Assembly’s 2017 session.