Democratic members of the N.C. House and Senate gathered Wednesday afternoon for a press conference on the new session of the General Assembly, their priorities and working with new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) and House Minority Leader Dan Jackson (D-Wake) led the wide-ranging discussion, which focused on unmet funding needs in public education, the continuation of disaster relief efforts begun during last month’s special legislative session, the possibility of expanding Medicaid in the state and the repeal of HB2.
Still the largest controversy facing the General Assembly, various aspects of HB2 took up much of the discussion.
Both Democratic leaders said they believe the votes exist in the House and Senate for a full and unequivocal repea of HB2l – but the GOP leadership doesn’t want to let that vote occur.
“The ultimate power of the people of North Carolina – legislative power – is vested here,” Blue said. “If in fact we want to stop this hemorrhaging of economic opportunities and jobs that has been brought about because of House Bill 2, then we would take seriously the deal that was made among the Governor, the President Pro Tempore, the Speaker and the Charlotte mayor and Charlotte City Council.”
That deal, made last month, required that the Charlotte City Council repeal the new LGBT protections it passed – among them a provision that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom matching their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. The council did that — but a split in the GOP caucus prevented clean and unequivocal repeal bill from coming to a vote.
Part of the problem, as expressed by Republican lawmakers: a fear that repealing HB2 will lead to further expansions of LGBT protections like those passed in Charlotte last year, prompting another stand-off with conservative lawmakers in Raleigh.
Democratic lawmakers said the best solution is statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBT North Carolinians.
“Everybody is on notice now that if you pass an ordinance like Charlotte did, the legislature might do something to deal with it,” Blue said.
“We need to deal with the issues that the Charlotte City Council was trying to address,” Blue said. “Separate out what the real issues are from the hysteria about bathrooms and let’s do what deliberative legislative bodies ought to be doing.”
Blue pointed out that lawmakers in both Virginia and South Carolina have declined to enact bills similar to HB2.
“In states all around us – I’m not talking about exotic states like people like to pick at, but our co-Southern states all around us – chose not to do it,” Blue said. “And they’re not being besieged by the kind of problems [with sexual molestation in bathrooms] they say they were trying to prevent.”
Blue said he’s also been talking with GOP leaders about the confirmation process for Cooper’s cabinet appointments. He said he was “comfortable” with the way the process is developing and thinks it will be finalized by the end of Thursday.
Cooper has filed a lawsuit over the General Assembly stripping a number of his powers and authorities in a special session late last month. The Senate asserting the right to confirm the governor’s cabinet appointments is one of Cooper’s complaints. Blue said that lawsuit will still move forward, but in the meantime the the process that’s emerging seems reasonable.
“From what I was told, what is being designed, I think it will be a workable thing,” Blue said.