The sweeping anti-LGBT law HB2 dominated the news in Raleigh for another week, as backroom discussions about changing the discrimination law that’s damaging North Carolina were interrupted by a letter Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Justice advising state officials that the law violated the Civil Rights Act and federal education law.
The letter from DOJ also gave state leaders until Monday to decide that HB2 will not be enforced with the threat of losing several billion dollars in federal funding if they don’t.
Legislative leaders blasted the Obama Administration for the ruling and announced they had no plans to do anything by Monday, which would likely set up another legal battle over the law.
House Speaker Tim Moore had the most puzzling statement, saying that there simply wasn’t time in five days for the General Assembly to come up with a proper response to the ruling.
That led many people to wonder why not since lawmakers passed HB2 and Gov. Pat McCrory signed it all in a day on March 23rd. Surely they could repeal it or dramatically modify it in five days if they decided to.
McCrory announced Friday that he would have a response to the DOJ letter by the Monday deadline but would not elaborate on what the response would be.
Thursday, McCrory made a disjointed appearance before the North Carolina Chamber’s government affairs meeting in Raleigh, awkwardly repeating many false claims about the law in an on-stage interview with Tim Boyum of Time Warner Cable News.
That interview came after an embarrassing appearance by McCrory on a Charlotte radio show earlier in the week where he laughed off the criticisms of HB2 and claimed that Bruce Springsteen canceled his concert in Greensboro because only 8,000 tickets were sold, not because of his opposition to the anti-LGBT law.
It turns out that more than 15,000 tickets were sold and the concert was basically a sellout. It’s not clear where McCrory came up with the 8,000 figure but his false claim made news in North Carolina and around the country.
It is certainly not the biggest part of the HB2 story, but it does make you wonder about McCrory’s grasp of the facts or his willingness to simply make things up to support his position.
Speaking of the NC Chamber, the group still has not taken a position on HB2 more than six weeks after McCrory signed it, despite opposition from roughly 200 major corporations, including many of the largest employers in North Carolina.
Chamber officials have said that they are still studying the law, which is ridiculous since it is not that complicated.
Their silence reinforces rumors that the Chamber made a deal with legislative leaders to mute their criticism of HB2 in exchange for provisions in the law that prohibit local living wage ordinances and ban workers illegally fired because of race or religion or gender from suing in state court.
It’s hard to think of another reason why the state’s largest business lobbying group would not weigh in on a controversial law that so many of its members are vigorously opposing.
The Chamber’s meeting brought officials from many local chambers to the General Assembly. A spokesperson for the Charlotte Chamber told reporters that the group’s members had a clear message for legislators, that businesses were feeling the pain from the backlash from HB2 and that the pain was real.
Ironically, that message came the day after McCrory’s Commerce Secretary John Skvarla said in an appearance in western North Carolina that the controversy over HB2 is not having much of an impact on the state’s economy, exactly the opposite of what Charlotte business leaders are saying.
Skvarla’s comments might also surprise officials in local areas that are losing millions in tourism revenue or in places like Charlotte and Cary and Asheville, where companies have canceled major projects.
And finally the week brought what could be encouraging news about HB2, meetings behind the scenes to repeal or amend it. The meetings included Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who McCrory has often singled out for criticism for her leadership in Charlotte’s adoption of the anti-discrimination ordinance that lawmakers passed HB2 to override.
McCrory and other supporters of the law still have not produced any evidence of problems in the 200+ cities that have an ordinance similar to Charlotte’s already in place that ban discrimination against LGBT people and allow transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
But the fact that lawmakers are talking to Roberts is a positive sign. There are widely varying reports on the details of a possible compromise, but it’s hard to imagine any agreement lessening the economic damage to North Carolina unless it provides basic protections from discrimination for all LGBT people in the state.
It is the least they can do for the people they are supposed to represent and for the economic health of the state they are supposed to be serving.