Cooper tries again to broker a deal to repeal HB2

Cooper tries again to broker a deal to repeal HB2

Photo by Melissa Boughton

Step 1: Repeal House Bill 2, North Carolina’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Step 2: Strengthen penalties for individuals who perpetrate crimes that violate the safety, security and privacy of people in public bathrooms or dressing rooms.

Step 3: Require 30 days’ notice to the public and the General Assembly before a vote in cities and municipalities that plan to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper presented this new “common sense proposal” Tuesday to compromise with state Republicans in an effort to repeal HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation.

But before the bill could even be introduced in the legislature, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger released a statement condemning Cooper for even trying.

“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, it does not require an assault to make a woman feel violated,” Berger said. “Gov. Cooper continues to dodge the question, but North Carolinians deserve to know his position on the key HB2 issue: does he believe men should be able to go into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities?”

Senate President Phil Berger

Cooper said at the press conference that he believes local governments should decide the issue of who can use what bathroom and that he supports a full repeal of HB2.

When asked, he did not give his personal opinion about whether he believed allowing transgender individuals into certain bathrooms was a threat to public safety. He instead made clear that his compromise is meant to address constituents’ concerns about safety in public restrooms – something HB2 does not address.

“There are some North Carolinians concerned about safety in public bathrooms,” he said. “Regardless of whether I believe House Bill 2 addresses that problem in any way, I want to say to them, ‘I hear you, and I have a proposal that specifically addresses your concerns.'”

HB2 has cost the hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs. North Carolina is also on the brink of losing at least another $500 million over the next six years as the NCAA has warned it would disqualify the state from hosting championship events if the law is not repealed soon.

Cooper said the ACC and NBA would likely soon follow suit.

He and the legislature made a compromise in December to repeal HB2 but it fell through after Republican leaders refused to put a clean repeal up to a vote. Republicans instead tried to force through a “cooling-off” period for cities intending to pass anti-discrimination ordinances, despite the fact that the Charlotte City Council fully repealed the ordinance that prompted HB2.

Senate Democratic leader Sen. Dan Blue, who joined Cooper at the press conference, said Republicans have refused to offer a viable solution to HB2 that would bring jobs and sporting events back to North Carolina.

“This proposal requires some compromise by Democrats, but it addresses every single one of legislative Republicans’ reported concerns surrounding HB2 and we’re willing to come together to get the job done,” he said.

Blue said he does not typically support harsher penalties to increase incarceration rates, but he said a compromise was necessary to put HB2 behind them.

“It’s imperative that we continue this conversation and then we continue to move forward on this matter rather than retreating to our respective sides, which appears to be happening,” he said.

Blue added that legislators should be focusing on teacher pay, fully funding classrooms and expanding Medicaid, not HB2.

“We should be in deep discussion about how to bring quality jobs to North Carolina and especially quality jobs to rural North Carolina,” he said. “That’s where our energy needs to be over the next six months; instead we’re spending all our time and energy on a law that causes so much harm.”

House Democratic leader Rep. Darren Jackson joined Blue and Cooper in calling for bipartisan support of the new proposal.

“We have been working and searching every day to find a solution to House Bill 2 that will bring back both sports and businesses, and that actually has the votes to pass,” he said. “To this point, we haven’t received any offers to do that, but I believe today’s compromise could.”

HB2 hasn’t recruited a single job, recruited a single sporting event or made a single North Carolinian safer, Jackson said.

“If the Republican leadership has the backbone to bring our proposal to the floor, we will bring back sporting events, bring back jobs and arguably make the state safer,” he said.

Cooper, Blue and Jackson said the state is running out of time, and encouraged that the proposal be passed as soon as possible.

The Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina held a press conference after Cooper’s announcing that they do not support the new proposal.

“Today’s proposal is yet another chance to fix this mess, but it adds unnecessary language addressing problems that simply do not exist,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC senior vice president of policy and political affairs. “LGBTQ people are the ones at risk every day HB2 remains on the books, and transgender people especially continue to bear the brunt of this shameful politicking. North Carolinians deserve a full, clean repeal of HB2. When that happens, it will only be the beginning of steps needed to restore the state’s deeply tarnished reputation and economy. It’s far past time to move North Carolina forward.”

Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said Cooper’s proposal today was unnecessary.

Equality NC’s Chris Sgro

“Charlotte and other cities have in the past carefully considered protecting LGBTQ citizens against discrimination,” he said. “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 HB2 does. Let us be very clear about what’s going on. [House speaker] Tim Moore and Phil Berger are acting against the best interest of our state and the LGBTQ community.”

At the press conference, Cooper said he supports statewide non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, but he didn’t think the legislature was ready to go there and the priority right now is to repeal HB2.

He said the 30 day notice in his proposal will make sure any ordinances passed will have input from all kinds of people, including legislators, city council members, the public; and it assures whatever is passed is a reflection of that community.

“I believe if the legislature had had to give 30 days before it passed House Bill 2, it never would have passed,” Cooper said.

This would be the fourth piece of legislation aimed at repealing HB2. None appear to have Republican leadership support.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest also responded negatively Tuesday to Cooper’s proposal.

“If Governor Cooper’s proposed bill for repealing HB2 becomes law, it will create a state-sanctioned ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ policy in our bathrooms,” he said. “Heterosexual men will be able to access women’s showers and bathrooms by simply posing as a transgender individual. They will be able to watch women and children shower, or shower next to them. As long as the man doesn’t touch them, assault them or film them, no legal protection would be afforded the offended woman or child. Nothing.

As a husband and father of four, the concept of ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ as a meaningful response to HB2 is a sad commentary on how far the progressive movement and the elected officials beholden to it, will risk the safety of our people to achieve a radical social policy agenda.”

It’s been almost a year since HB2 was passed. Cooper said the law has divided the state, stained its reputation and shouldn’t survive long enough to see its first birthday.

Before the backlash, Cooper said he was confident his proposal would work in uniting the legislature to finally repeal HB2. He added that he was open to keeping a line of communication open with Republicans to work further on the proposal if necessary.

“I am open to hearing the response of Republicans on this,” he said. “I think that this is a good solution – I don’t want to negotiate through the media. We’re going to continue to talk, I hope. I hope they will continue to talk with us on this.”