N.C. General Assembly adjourns special session without H.B. 2 repeal

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger (R-Guilford) and Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) listen to discussions about Senate Bill 4 during a fifth special session of the General Assembly Wednesday

RALEIGH — After a protracted single day of bargaining and vote-whipping, the fifth special legislative session of 2016 was adjourned without taking action to repeal or modify controversial House Bill 2, the reason Gov. Pat McCrory called the General Assembly back during Christmas week.The Charlotte City Council, with encouragement from Governor-elect Roy Cooper, voted Monday to repeal portions of its city code in order to act on a previous offer from state lawmakers that the repeal of the ordinance may allow them to repeal the state legislation that has garnered national press and boycotts.While the council and Cooper represented the Monday vote as full repeal of the ordinance, it was discovered shortly thereafter that the council had, in fact, not repealed the entire ordinance.”Gov. [Pat] McCrory called a special session for repeal, based on good faith when Roy Cooper and Charlotte democrats announced to the world a full repeal of the Charlotte ordinance,” said executive director of the N.C. Republican Party Dallas Woodhouse in response to the discovery. “However they lied. The HB2 blood is now stain soaked on their hands and theirs alone. What a dishonest, disgraceful shame by Roy Cooper and Charlotte Democrats.”Subsequently the council convened an emergency Wednesday morning meeting, voting 7-2 to repeal the entire original ordinance that triggered H.B. 2, laying the foundation for the General Assembly to move forward in reconsidering the law.From the start, it was apparent lawmakers were having difficulty whipping votes for a full repeal of the law. Hours passed with no legislation filed until the N.C. Senate became the prime mover with Senate Bill 4 (S.B 4).The N.C. House bobbed in and out of recess as they awaited traction on the Senate side and caucused for hours in an apparent attempt to make a deal with Republican lawmakers firmly against repeal.Specifically, S.B. 4 would have repealed the much-maligned H.B. 2 in its entirety, while also issuing a six-month moratorium on similar municipal ordinances throughout the state. The “cooling-off period” was deemed a poison pill by Democrats who ultimately voted against bill, thus squashing any chances of repealing H.B. 2 before 2017.”I cannot believe this,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Eden) in response to the failed legislation. “You also know that Roy Cooper called everyone of you and said ‘don’t vote for that,’ even after I had conversations with several of you that said ‘That sounds reasonable — makes sense — we oughta do that’.”Democratic senators took issue with the characterization and said they had expected a “clean bill” to repeal H.B. 2.”In terms of Governor-elect Roy Cooper reaching out to me and speaking to me, that did not occur,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham). “Now I don’t know who he may or may not have spoken to. I do believe that there was a perception, on his behalf and on behalf of others that we spoke with, that this was going to be a clean repeal. Unfortunately, what we ended up here today with was not a clean repeal.”Still Republican senators insisted that theirs was a good faith effort to repeal the law, and seemed almost mystified at the fact that Democrats voted against it even with the cooling-off period.”Today we made every effort,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker (R- Union). “The proclamation from the governor said to reconsider H.B. 2 and that’s exactly what we did. We had a plan, we have a plan, and we look back at the vote and I voted to repeal H.B. 2, and my friends on the back row, my Democratic friends, did not vote for it. We could have had it off the books today, and we made every effort to consider your input.”The chambers voted to adjourn sine die without having passed a single measure to repeal or modify H.B. 2.At a press conference following adjournment, veteran lawmaker Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham) expressed his surprise at the day’s end result.”I have been a member of this body for close to 40 years and … I have never seen anything like this happen in that time,” said Michaux. “They made commitments that they couldn’t keep. You don’t come to a legislative body not knowing what your count is. I mean, it’s just that simple. If you didn’t have the numbers then you should have never called special session.”The extended caucus meetings behind closed doors indicated that reaching the required vote count for a repeal effort was tougher than perhaps originally thought. It is unclear how the House chamber would have voted on S.B. 4.Barring a sixth special legislative session of 2016, the General Assembly has adjourned for the year and will reconvene on Jan. 11 to tackle budget and redistricting issues.