Cooper deal would roll back H.B 2, eliminate statewide anti-discrimination law

The governor surprised lawmakers Tuesday with a "compromise" offer he says would calm business concerns and take H.B. 2 off the books

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Gov. Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest at a North Carolina Council of State Meeting in Raleigh. Photo by Eamon Queeney, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted details of his proposed H.B. 2 “compromise” bill in rapid succession Tuesday, firing off eight tweets with various comments in less than 10 minutes. The social media blitz follows a press conference, publicized to limited media outlets, during which Cooper said his proposal would be filed Tuesday evening in bills sponsored by House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake). The bills repeal the controversial H.B. 2 law, but Cooper says they also increase penalties for crimes in public bathrooms facilities and require local governments to provide 30-day public notice before voting on new anti-discrimination policies. The Charlotte ordinance was debated for more than 30 days while state lawmakers and then-Gov. Pat McCrory tried to dissuade them from passing it.”Mayors that I’ve talked to across the state have said they will be more careful and deliberate with anti-discrimination ordinances in the future after this H.B. 2 fiasco,” Cooper said in the press conference.Still, being a “Dillon Rule” state means that local governments cannot pass ordinances that conflict with state law, one of the problems that triggered H.B. 2 in the first place. While Cooper said the proposal was “transmitted to Republican leadership” and he didn’t want to “negotiate through the media,” Republicans say they had not received any information about the proposal or its supporters before it was made public.”Gov. Cooper’s press conference is the first we’ve heard of his so-called compromise, so if he has a list of members willing to support his proposal, he should make it public now,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger in a statement Tuesday. “Given that Gov. Cooper’s refusal to enforce existing criminal trespass laws as attorney general was a major reason legislators were forced to pass H.B. 2 in the first place, it is difficult to take seriously his pledge on ‘strengthening penalties.’ This proposal does nothing to address the basic privacy concerns of women and young girls who do not feel comfortable using the bathroom, undressing and showering in the presence of men, and as we saw in Charlotte last year.”Republican legislative leaders have said throughout the H.B. 2 controversy that language in the original Charlotte ordinance left gaping holes for potential predators to use it to gain lawful access to public facilities where privacy should be expected. It also contained fines and possible jail terms for private business owners who did not open their bathrooms to both biological sexes. Both of these are among the reasons lawmakers passed the controversial law in March 2016.Two compromise deals were already thwarted by Cooper over the past six months, one in May and one in December, so Republicans have said it is his turn to come up with a workable deal that can win GOP support.Cooper’s proposal comes as he faces growing pressure to get H.B.2 off the books after he unseated incumbent governor Pat McCrory, running largely on that issue. Cooper has also spent the early weeks of his time as governor delivering pleas to business leaders across the state, asking them to pressure legislators to repeal the law. Pressure has also come from the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign who donated more than $600,000 to help defeat Pat McCrory. In a joint press release with Equality NC, HRC condemned the development, calling this a “political football.””Today’s proposal was unnecessary,” said Rep. Chris Sgro (D-Guilford), a N.C. legislator and executive director of Equality NC. “We all know that transgender people do not pose a public safety risk and should be protected from discrimination, not made the targets of it as H.B. 2 does.”Cooper now says the state is down to the wire as NCAA committees meet to review bid for championships through 2024. N.C. has 133 separate bids for those events, so Cooper says H.B. 2 must be repealed soon. The organization was among those that elected last year to move 2017 events out of the state in protest of the law.”I believe that the NCAA, the ACC the rest of the jobs would come back if we pass this common sense compromise proposal. We haven’t given this specifically to them yet, and they have been hesitant to try to get involved in the process but I feel confident that this would work,” said Cooper.”It would be good to have statewide anti-discrimination ordinances at some point but I don’t think this legislature is ready to go there,” Cooper added after questions about the need for uniform rules from city to city.However, H.B. 2 already contains statewide anti-discrimination language and Sen. Dan Blue’s office confirmed that this proposal does not. In repealing H.B.2, lawmakers would be voting to roll back the state’s statewide anti-discrimination law. How that point would be resolved in a deal has not been addressed.