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Gov. Cooper Still Faces Stiff Resistance With Latest HB2 Repeal Proposal

Rusty Jacobs

Governor Roy Cooper has put the HB2 ball back squarely in the legislature’s court, or so he hopes.

The Democrat called a press conference Tuesday to announce what he called a “common-sense” compromise to the problem of repealing the so-called bathroom bill. And, Cooper added, the need for repeal is urgent.

“We’re approaching a year under the burden of House Bill 2 but we can’t let this law see its first birthday,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s proposal offers a three-step solution: immediate repeal of HB2; stiffer penalties for assaults or violations of privacy that occur in public bathrooms or other facilities such as dressing rooms; and a 30-day public notice period before any local government may vote on a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance.

The Republican-led legislature passed HB2 in March of last year. GOP leaders were responding to the Charlotte City Council’s adoption of an ordinance aimed at protecting the rights of people in the LGBT community. Among other provisions, the bill requires transgender people to use public bathrooms and facilities that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate.

The bill’s passage triggered widespread condemnation and a boycott. Performers canceled concerts in North Carolina and athletic organizations moved lucrative events to other states. Cooper said the state’s losses will just continue unless HB2 is repealed.

“If we don’t repeal House Bill 2 now, the NCAA will disqualify our state from hosting championships for the next six years," he said. "North Carolina has 133 bids in for championships and all of them could be gone soon and these are bids in communities all over North Carolina.”

Cooper said the state also stands to lose out on jobs that companies have considered bringing to the state but for HB2.

This proposal, however, is not the first time Cooper and Republican lawmakers have talked about a possible compromise. The General Assembly held a special session in December for the purpose of repealing HB2. That attempt at repeal was supposed to be the product of a deal Cooper helped arrange. However, Republican leaders attached repeal to another bill that would have imposed a moratorium on local governments drafting anti-discrimination ordinances like the one in Charlotte.

Since then, Cooper and Republicans have gone back and forth over who was to blame for the failed repeal vote. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has said Cooper and the Democrats need to compromise.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Cooper said he's ready to compromise, again. This time, Cooper asserted, the compromise he is proposing addresses all the concerns Republicans have expressed with regard to any repeal of HB2.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, who appeared with the governor at Tuesday’s press conference, said Cooper’s proposal addresses all the concerns he has heard Republican proponents of HB2 express. Blue said the votes are there to push through a repeal.

“I will urge the Senate Democrats to support this proposal and I believe that they will," Blue said. "Republicans have the simple majority in the Senate, 35. We only need 11 of those 35, less than a third, to enact a repeal of House Bill 2 and we can do that very quickly.”

However, a terse response from Senator Berger’s office suggests Blue and Cooper may be overly optimistic. First, a spokeswoman for the Republican senator said in a statement that the governor’s press conference was the first time Berger heard of Cooper’s so-called compromise. That contradicted a statement by the governor, who said that he had not received an “acceptance” of this proposal but that it had been transmitted to the Republican leadership.

Berger’s spokeswoman Amy Auth further stated: “Given that Gov. Cooper’s refusal to enforce existing criminal trespass laws as attorney general was a major reason legislators were forced to pass HB2 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, it does not require an assault to make a woman feel violated.”

Berger and Republicans are not the only ones expressing displeasure with the governor’s latest proposal. Chris Srgo is Executive Director of Equality NC, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights and protections. He said Republicans are just playing games with opponents of HB2. Srgo said Senator Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore are just playing “political football” with no intention of coming to an agreement on repeal. Srgo said the focus needs to remain solely on repeal of the bill, period.

“And no member of the LGBT community is a risk to public safety in a public restroom or anywhere else and that conversation is frankly a distraction from the real issue at hand,” Srgo said.

All of which is to say, Cooper has a hard sell to make to people on all sides of the HB2 debate.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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