HB2, News, Special Session

Legislature fails to repeal HB2 in special session; Senator says ‘we’re worse off now’ than before

Anti-HB2 sign

North Carolinians in the Senate gallery brought signs showing their support for the repeal of HB2. Photo by Melissa Boughton

In true North Carolina General Assembly fashion, all the fireworks of the fifth special legislative session of the year went off in the 11th hour – or rather, the ninth hour for those keeping track of the day.

Legislators were called to Raleigh to repeal House Bill 2 after Charlotte repealed its anti-discrimination ordinance. They left without repealing anything.

There were two bills filed Wednesday in the Senate — one introduced by Democrats to repeal HB2 in full and the other introduced by Republicans to repeal HB2 with a six-month “cooling-off period” that would prevent local governments from enacting ordinances “regulating employment practices or regulating public accommodations or access to restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

The latter was taken up and sparked a heated debate.

Sen. Terry Van Duyne, D-Buncombe, raised her voice as she stood up and talked about her heartbreaking conversations with the LGBTQ community.

“These people are suffering every single day, and we are saying thats OK and that’s wrong,” she said. “This is tarnishing our reputation as a state that is open for business. That is a fact.”

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, Granville, likened HB2 to discrimination in the Civil Rights Era, but was quickly told by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to spare everyone the history lesson.

“As much has been stated about pushing the reset button, [this bill] only pushes it halfway,” McKissick said. “It doesn’t get us back to the place we were. We need to go back and we need to reevaluate how we got to where we are.”

The ongoing Senate discussion ended abruptly with an unexplained 10-minute recess turned two-hour break, in which the House voted to adjourn with no action on an HB2 repeal. When the Senate finally returned, President Pro Tem Phil Berger introduced an amendment that lengthened the cooling-off period to 30-days after the long GA session in a move he described as a compromise.

The Democrats didn’t see it that way.

“I’m sorry,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenberg. “This was not the deal.”

He said the deal was for Charlotte to repeal it’s ordinance and the legislature to repeal HB2, in full. A cooling-off period, he and other Democratic senators said, was not a full repeal.

Berger said the cooling-off period was to ensure other cities didn’t enact ordinances like Charlotte’s immediately following the repeal of HB2. He also said it would buy legislators time to work together toward a resolution.

The amendment was adopted despite the immediate death of two amendments Democrats previously tried to offer – one that would reduce the cooling period to three months and another that would change the language of a provision preventing cities from enacting ordinances having to do with minimum wage.

After another recess, Berger said Republicans didn’t believe Democrats that they truly wanted to repeal HB2, and that they were going to give them one last chance by splitting the bill into two parts. The first part was a simple HB2 repeal and the second was a cooling-off period on its own, and they would take separate votes.

“What you have before you is not some gimmick to create the best of both worlds,” Berger said, adding that it was a good faith effort on their part.

Senate floor

Pictured is the Senate floor.

Democratic leader Dan Blue, from Wake, pointed out that if both parts of the bill passed, they would again become one bill to be taken up in the House. He and other Democrats said the move was just another way for the Senate Republicans to pass what they wanted to pass.

When it came time for a vote, the first part, the simple repeal of HB2, failed, subsequently and ultimately killing the bill. Berger blamed the Democrats and said he couldn’t believe what happened.

Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren, Wilson, called the bill and Berger’s attempt to split it smoke and mirrors, and asked who he thought was stupid enough to fall for it.

McKissick said he was afraid outsiders would read what happened at the special session as the state doubling down on discrimination.

“The worst part of this is that we’re worse off now than we were when we arrived,” he said. “Every day we let HB2 remain on the books is a scar on the name and reputation of North Carolina.”

He encouraged both parties to come together in the future to work collectively on a solution.

The Senate adjourned just before 7:30 p.m. without ever taking up the Democrats’ Senate bill that simply repealed HB2.

After the session, House Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, placed the blame largely on the Charlotte City Council – and especially Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

“There was a divide – that’s a fair statement to say – in the House Republican Caucus,” Lewis said. “But I think the divide was based on that we were called back, we were told that Charlotte had fully repealed, and come to find out that they had not.”

That bred mistrust in the GOP caucus, Lewis said, and Roberts’ previous clashes with the General Assembly led to a split that couldn’t be bridged to achieve repeal.

But Lewis also acknowledged a divide in the caucus over LGBT issues in general.

“I do think there is a gap in understanding,” Lewis said. “There’s a gap in maybe appreciation of some of the challenges that some of our fellow citizens face that we need to educate ourselves on and we need to explore more fully.”

Rep. Chris Agro, D-Guilford, is one of just two out LGBT legislators in the General Assembly. He also serves as executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina.

He said Charlotte, its mayor and its council acted in good faith this week to secure a full and unequivocal repeal of HB2 – but the General Assembly failed to follow through on their end of the bargain.

“The City of Charlotte was never the problem,” Sgro said. “They passed a best practice ordinance employed in hundreds of other cities like Jackson, Mississippi and Orlando, Florida. It was necessary to protect LGBT citizens. Unfortunately HB2 overturned that and all local non-discrimination ordinances and then went a step further – it didn’t just allow discrimination, it mandated discrimination. It continues to mandate discrimination.”

Joe Killian contributed to this report.

Commentary, Special Session

Peevish, petulant and petty to the end: McCrory puts an exclamation point on four dreadful years

There was just a smidgen of hope this week in good government circles that Gov. Pat McCrory would summon up a shred of courage and class and do what’s right by vetoing House Bill 17 from last week’s kangaroo special legislative session — the measure that, among other things, decimates a good deal of gubernatorial power for his successors.

As was noted in this space yesterday, the bill is opposed by some important conservative voices and must be seen — even if one isn’t sure about all of the substantive details — as the product of an absurdly rushed and badly flawed process. Surely, McCrory — a man who has sued the General Assembly over gubernatorial prerogatives not as important as the ones contained in this legislation — would at least decline to sign it and leave the decision to his successor, who takes office in two weeks.

Sadly, however, it was not to be. Faced with a challenging political moment that provided him with one last real chance to play the role of a statesman who would stand up to the bullies down the street at the Legislative Building in order to benefit the common good, McCrory did what he has almost always done in such situations; he blinked and caved in.

What’s more, in keeping with the churlish and whiny manner that has become his trademark, the Guv waited a few days (he signed the other major bill from the special session in a matter of minutes) and then, just when caring and thinking people’s hopes were starting to rise, dashed them with a bizarre, offensive and downright ridiculous statement in which he complained about “misleading TV ads” and “paid protesters.”

It was, in sum, a fitting conclusion to dreadful four years in office for a man who was never up to the job and never tired of blaming others for the problems that were the product of his own shortcomings. Come to think of it, no wonder McCrory appears to be under serious consideration for some kind of job in the Trump administration — with a record like his, McCrory ought to fit in perfectly working for the new Tweeter-in-Chief.

With the General Assembly returning for yet another special session this week on the subject of the execrable HB2, perhaps McCrory will figure out a way to put a double exclamation point on the end of his term. Stay tuned.

News, Special Session

After governor signs controversial bill, State Board of Education chair condemns new law as “unconstitutional”

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

Minutes after Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday signed a controversial bill mandating stiff new limits on the powers of Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education—a panel composed of gubernatorial appointees—state board Chairman Bill Cobey vowed his board would meet with their attorneys to consider their response.

“I don’t want to pass judgment on the governor,” said Cobey, a Republican appointee of McCrory. “But it’s still unconstitutional in my opinion.”

Cobey is one of at least two Republican appointees on the state’s leading public school board to take issue with the GOP-led House Bill 17, which not only impacts Cooper but wrests powers from the State Board of Education and hands them over to incoming N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

The sweeping legislation was filed and speedily approved with little public vetting in a surprise special session of the legislature last week, called shortly after lawmakers wrapped work on a hurricane relief bill.

Johnson, a Winston-Salem Republican, was a surprise victor over longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson on Election Day.

Cobey said Monday night that he believes “most” of the law’s provisions relating to public schools are unconstitutional. And while he did not guarantee legal action, the state board is slated to hold a special session Tuesday morning to weigh their answer.

Cobey’s board is predominantly Republican, but drew the ire of some conservative school choice backers when they voted down a spate of new charter applications in August they deemed as lacking.

Charters are publicly-funded schools granted greater flexibility in staffing and curriculum than their traditional school counterparts.

Among the provisions of the new law, management of the state’s Office of Charter Schools would be shuttled from the State Board of Education to Johnson. The law will also prohibit state board members from having any of its sitting members on the Charter School Advisory Board, which makes recommendations to the state board on charter applications.

The charter school board, for now, includes state board member Becky Taylor, who was among the board members who voted against a few charter applications in August.

On Thursday night, Cobey continued to defend that vote, arguing that his board was simply “doing our job.”

“There are some people out there who think we should approve everything that comes to us,” said Cobey. “But there are a lot of tax dollars tied up in this. I personally can’t have that on my conscience.”

Check back with Policy Watch Tuesday for updates on this pivotal state board meeting.

News, Special Session

Did Gov. McCrory battle court packing scheme, or was it a media myth?

In a press release late Monday Gov. Pat McCrory said he would sign N.C. House Bill 17 – the bill that strips incoming governor Roy Cooper of a number of powers and appointments McCrory enjoyed while in office.

But one of the stand-out statements in the release had nothing to do with HB17. In listing a number of ways he was working behind-the-scenes to protect the separation of powers during last week’s two special sessions of the North Carolina General Assembly, McCrory wrote:

“I also successfully worked to deter any efforts to expand the composition of our Supreme Court.”

For weeks leading up to the special session, there were rumors the Republican majority would try to expand the N.C. Supreme Court and have McCrory appoint conservative judges to avoid the Democratic majority that was the result of November’s election.

But legislative leaders and the executive director of the N.C. Republican Party last week decried the rumors as baseless gossip begun by liberal groups and perpetuated by a left-leaning media.

Now, it seems, McCrory is taking credit for helping to beat back a scheme some in his party claim never existed.

As has been widely reported, the rumored court packing scheme was actually first floated among conservative policy groups and media back in November and remained popular in some conservative circles up until last week.

News, Special Session

Gov. McCrory will sign HB17, stripping next governor of various powers, appointments

Governor Pat McCrory will sign N.C. House Bill 17, stripping incoming Gov. Roy Cooper of a number of powers and appointments.

McCrory made the announcement late Monday in a prepared statement.

“Last week, I was extremely proud of our bipartisan effort to enact much needed relief to help our citizens recovering from Hurricane Matthew.

“I also signed legislation to reorganize a broken election process, bringing stronger ethics and a fair and transparent system to ensure consistent application of rules and procedures across our state.

“During the past week as the legislature called themselves back into session, I was actively working as your governor to protect the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. Examples include discouraging proposed legislation moving major departments including Information Technology and Commerce outside of the governor’s authority. I also successfully worked to deter any efforts to expand the composition of our Supreme Court.

“Due to these efforts, I have come to realize that the current changes to executive authority in House Bill 17 have been greatly exaggerated by misleading TV ads, paid protesters and state and national media outlets.

“This bill enhances state employee policies, transfers school safety programs to the education department, allows our state legislature to make university trustee appointments, and clarifies the roles and organizational structure of the superintendent of public instruction and board of education – hardly extreme changes.

“My major disagreement with this bill is requiring confirmation of cabinet secretaries. This is wrong and short-sighted and needs to be resolved through the leadership skills of the governor-elect working with the legislature beginning in January. With this in mind, I will sign House Bill 17.”