North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday failed to repeal the so-called “bathroom bill” after hours of bitter political debate at the General Assembly in Raleigh.
Legislators held the special session two days after the Charlotte City Council gutted a city ordinance that led the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass HB2 in the first place.
Governor-elect Roy Cooper said leaders in the House and Senate assured him that would lead to a deal to repeal the law.
"What they've been saying all along is they wanted Charlotte to repeal its ordinance first," said Cooper. That's what they've said. That's what they've said in public. That's what they've said to me. I looked them in the eye. That's what they said."
Passed during a one-day special session in March, House Bill 2 limits protections for LGBT people and overrides a city ordinance in Charlotte that allowed transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities. It's put North Carolina at the heart of a national debate over transgender rights, government powers and perceived safety issues.
By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger introduced the repeal measure. It included a six-month “cooling-off” period during which no local government in North Carolina would have been able to enact or amend an ordinance regulating employment practices, public accommodations, or access to restrooms, showers or changing facilities.
On the Senate floor, Berger made a case for his version of the repeal.
“Members of the Senate, this is the right thing to do for our state,” said Berger, a Republican from Rockingham. “It is something that helps us get to a reset, so that to the extent you think we have done the right thing or the wrong thing - or Charlotte has done the right thing or the wrong thing - it gives everyone an opportunity to start over.”
The debate in the Senate over the repeal of HB2 was heated throughout the afternoon. Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson, who represents the Charlotte area, said the bill didn’t represent the what some thought would be in a repeal.
“The deal was simple -- Charlotte repeals its ordinance and we fully repeal HB2 without any strings,” Jackson said. “This bill breaks that deal.”
Chris Sgro, director of Equality NC and a Democratic lawmaker from Guilford County, was among the advocates, lawmakers and business people at the General Assembly Wednesday. He said the bill was not a true repeal bill and could have just be extended after the so-called cooling off period.
“It doubles down on discrimination,” Sgro said. “It's political antics we couldn't afford."
Protesters gather at the General Assembly
Protesters descended on the General Assembly as lawmakers held Wednesday's special session to reconsider the controversial bill.
East Carolina University student Miguel Rodriguez said a repeal would make life easier for her and other transgender people in public spaces. But earlier in the day, she said she’s skeptical lawmakers will fully rescind the law.
“I'm very hopeful, but it's North Carolina, so...Like they did this already super secretly, so I hope that like making it more public to undo it that it will get undone,” Rodriguez said.
For months, the state's Republican leaders said they were willing to consider repealing the law if Charlotte acted first to undo its expanded anti-discrimination ordinance. HB2 was a key issue in McCrory's election with Democrat Roy Cooper, who defeated McCrory by about 10,000 votes.
Related: Ongoing Coverage of House Bill 2
Earlier Wednesday, city leaders in Charlotte held an emergency meeting and took more action designed to get the statewide law off the books that limits LGBT rights and designates which restrooms transgender people can use in public schools and government buildings.
The Charlotte City Council voted 7-2 on Wednesday to repeal the entire city ordinance members passed in February. The council already had acted on Monday to throw out parts of the ordinance addressing the expansion of protections on things such as sexual orientation and gender identity when it came to public accommodations.
But not everyone was pleased with the idea of an HB2 repeal, including Lt. Governor Dan Forest, who issued a statement Wednesday morning.
“No economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right,” Forest said. “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.”
For months the state's Republican leaders hinted they may be willing to consider repealing the law if Charlotte acted first to undo its expanded anti-discrimination ordinance. HB2 was a key issue in McCrory's election with Democrat Roy Cooper, who defeated McCrory by about 10,000 votes.
HB2's economic impact lingers across much of North Carolina
HB2 has affected the state's economy since March, with plans for hundreds of new jobs abandoned, concerts canceled, and major sporting events relocated out of state. Economists estimate the fiscal damage to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Cary's Mayor Harold Weinbrecht this week said he will lobby the NCAA and ACC to bring championship events back to his town if the Legislature repeals HB2. The city lost soccer and tennis tournaments when the college sports groups decided to move events out of North Carolina over HB2.
“Having watched [the tournaments] on TV this year at another place, the stands were empty and the fields weren't as good,” Weinbrecht said. “We would have packed the place, especially with UNC in the Final Four, and that was a missed opportunity for everyone.”
Weinbrecht said the town has continued to apply for tournaments since HB2 passed, and he hopes to bring the women's soccer championships back as early as next year.
The town estimates it lost $ 2 million from the NCAA boycott.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.