North Carolina Senate Fails to Pass ‘Bathroom Bill’ Repeal

(CN) – The North Carolina Senate on Wednesday night failed to pass a bill to repeal the state’s controversial ‘Bathroom Bill,” a state law seen as stripping the state’s LGBT community of discrimination protections.

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger filed a bill Wednesday that would have repealed House Bill 2, but tried to appease the most conservative Republican colleagues by including a one-line provision that placed a six-month moratorium on local ordinances regulating employment practices, public accommodations or access to restrooms.

“This is the right thing to do for our state,” Berger said as he introduced the bill.

The filing of the came after hours of infighting among GOP lawmakers, many of whom fought vociferously in public session and a lengthy behind-closed-doors to uphold the law.

But the moratorium on local anti-discrimination ordinances was too much for Senate Democrats to stomach and they withheld their support for Berger’s proposal.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, said Berger’s proposal proposal was a nonstarter, tweeting, “The deal was simple. Charlotte repeals its ordinance and we fully repeal HB2 without any strings. This bill breaks that deal.”

Republicans could still have passed Berger’s bill in a party line vote, but their conflict within the party proved insurmountable. The bill failed by a vote of 16-32.

Afterwards, the senators sat for several moments in absolute silence. Fifteen minutes later they took up a resolution for adjournment.

The tone of Wednesday’s debate, which convened at 10 a.m. before a packed House gallery and a growing number of protesters gathering outside the Capitol, was sent by a statement issued by the North Carolina Republican Party at 1 a.m., ripping governor-elect Roy Cooper and Democrats on the Charlotte City Council, claiming “they lied directly to the people” over what in fact is supposed to be repealed today.

“The HB2 blood is now a stain soaked on their hands and theirs alone. What a dishonest, disgraceful shame by Roy Cooper and Charlotte Democrats,” the party said.

In a statement posted Wednesday morning on Twitter, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said he continues to support the controversial House Bill 2, and “[n]o economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right.”

“It will always be wrong for men to have access to women’s showers and bathrooms. If HB2 is repealed, there will be nothing on the books to prevent another city or county to take us down this path again,” the Republican said. “The left has already publicly stated the removal of HB 2 is necessary for the rest of their agenda to move forward.

“The names will change, but the national groups who are pushing this agenda will not stop until their social engineering is accomplished. The only thing stopping them are those of us who continue to stand strong,” Forest said.

House Bill 2, also known as the “bathroom bill,” was rushed through the state legislature promptly signed into law by McCrory last spring. It was a response to the Charlotte City Council expanding anti-discrimination protections for members of the LGBT community.

House Bill 2 rescinded those protections and included a provision that said transgender individuals must use public restrooms that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate.

The state’s adoption of the measure prompted boycotts by national corporations, entertainers, and sports leagues, and reportedly cost the state millions in lost jobs. However, many GOP lawmakers continue to support the bill, claiming its stands for traditional America values and protection of women and children from predators.

The stage for Wednesday special session to consider repeal of the law was set Monday, when the Charlotte City Council voting 10-0 to rescind its expanded anti-discrimination protections during a breakfast meeting billed as a session to discuss its legislative agenda for the year ahead.

There was no advance notice that the ordinance would be discussed.

Immediately thereafter, Cooper, who is currently the state’s attorney general, released a statement on his Facebook page saying that he’d been assured a special session would be called on to overturn the controversial state law.

But GOP lawmakers blanched Wednesday after the city released a statement, explaining the vote. They object to the fact that while the city council claimed it removed Charlotte’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance on the books, in fact two parts, that the council said were not preempted by House Bill 2 were retained.

As GOP tempers flared Wednesday morning, the city council held its second meeting of the week to redo its Monday vote to repeal the ordinance in its entirety.

“The City Council acted in good faith to do everything that it understood was necessary to facilitate the repeal of HB2,” the city said in a statement after the 7-2 vote.

But GOP lawmakers at the statehouse continued to assail the Democratically-controlled  Charlotte city council as Wednesday special session got under way.

Rep. Jeff Collins of Nash County, N.C., blasted the city officials for  what he described as their “extraordinary hubris” and then declared he believes the special session is unconstitutional.

Another House member, Rep. Michael Speciale, of New Bern, N.C., then moved the session be immediately adjourned.

Both men received vocal support from many of their colleagues. Collins was heard on his complaints, but Speciale was ruled out of order.

Nevertheless, the House did go into recess a short time later without taking up the fate of House Bill 2. Sen. Berger’s bill was filed shortly before 3 p.m. When the body reconvened, it debated the bill for just under an hour, before adjourning or another backroom caucus that last well over an hour-and-a-half.

Berger, clearly understanding the moratorium killed any chance of Democratic support, offered a last-minute compromise before the vote, agreeing to break in two: one vote for repealing House Bill 2, another on the moratorium.

In the end, it was too little too late.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Lambda Legal, who are challenging House Bill 2 in federal court condemned the legislature for failing to repeal the law.

“The General Assembly and Governor McCrory are playing political chicken, and North Carolinians continue to lose for it. It is an outrage that North Carolina’s lawmakers could not follow the mandate of the voters and repeal H.B. 2,” said Simone Bell, Southern Regional Director at Lambda Legal. “As long as H.B. 2 is on the books, thousands of LGBT people who call North Carolina home, especially transgender people, are being discriminated against and will never feel safe. This was a counterproductive exercise in reaffirming to the rest of the country that North Carolina wants to remain mired in this divisive dispute.”

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said it was a shame “North Carolina’s General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made.”

“The support for the LGBT community from political leaders, faith leaders, businesses, and everyday people that has emerged this year will not fade. These attempts to expel transgender people from public life will not be tolerated. The legislature may not be willing to undo their unconstitutional overreach and respect the rights of LGBT people, so we’ll just have to see them in court,” Esseks said.