Deal to repeal North Carolina 'bathroom bill' collapses amid partisan hostility

Charlotte City Council had struck a deal with state lawmakers to repeal both the city's local nondiscrimination ordinance and the state's HB2, but the deal fell apart Wednesday.

Jonathan Drake/ Reuters
Republican State Senator Norman Sanderson holds his head while fellow Republican Senator Andrew Brock (R) looks during a failed attempt to repeal the controversial HB2 law limiting bathroom access for transgender people in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. on December 21, 2016.

Partisan politics killed a compromise in North Carolina on Wednesday, with Republicans in the state legislature and Democrats in Charlotte each accusing the other this week of reneging on a deal to repeal both a local nondiscrimination ordinance and the state's so-called "bathroom bill."

Gov. Pat McCrory, the Republican who will leave office next month after his narrow loss to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, called for state lawmakers to convene a special session to repeal House Bill 2, which limits LGBT protections and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms that contradict the sex listed on their birth certificates. But the Senate voted down the repeal Wednesday, highlighting the state's partisan rancor by placing blame squarely on the city.

On Monday, Charlotte's council voted to repeal the portion of its nondiscrimination ordinance that HB2 preempts. After Republicans accused the city of not repealing it entirely, a second vote was taken Wednesday morning to fully repeal the ordinance, as WBTV reported.

"We were expecting Charlotte to repeal it and when they failed to do so, the deal was gone," Sen. Phil Berger, the chamber's top Republican, told The Charlotte Observer. 

The city contended in a statement Wednesday that it had "acted in good faith to do everything it understood was needed" to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

Republican lawmakers began trying to truncate the special sessions shortly after it began Wednesday morning, with motions to declare the meeting unconstitutional or adjourn immediately failing, as the Observer reported.

Senator Berger proposed attaching a months-long "cooling off period," or moratorium, on local nondiscrimination ordinances pertaining to public bathrooms, showers, and changing facilities. At first it was a six-month proposal, then he amended it to last until 30 days after the legislature's 2017 session concludes.

"The moratorium was not there until we saw what they had done," Berger said of the city officials.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Charlotte, however, said, that it was his fellow senators on the other side of the aisle who reneged on the compromise.

"I'm sorry, this was not the deal. The deal was Charlotte repeals fully and we repeal fully," Senator Jackson told the Observer. "Charlotte was told over and over again: Charlotte, if you take the first step you will be met halfway. Charlotte did that and we're being shoved away one more time."

The latest rift comes after Republican lawmakers dramatically reduced the governor's power in the wake of Gov. McCrory's loss – in many ways making retribution for similar treatment from Democrats in decades past, as The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson wrote Saturday:

An illiberal streak has appeared in North Carolina politics at least as far back as Reconstruction, when, with the help of Ku Klux Klan voter suppression tactics, Democrats took the legislature and impeached Republican Gov. William Holden.

In 1988, the Democrat-controlled Senate stripped the office of the lieutenant governor of much of its power when a Republican won the post for the first time that century.  

And this year, federal judges have ruled that not only have many of the state's General Assembly districts been racially gerrymandered, but that Republicans legislators also used "almost surgical precision" to disenfranchise black Democrat voters with new voter rules put into place in 2013. The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on the voter laws by the end of its term in June.

Even in light of this history, the political theater raging in North Carolina could be an unsettling force.

"People don't realize how much a stable democracy depends on norms, not actually the laws. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you do it," Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, told the Monitor.

"People call this blatant partisanship, but that's an insult to partisanship," he said of the legislature's vote to reduce the governor's power following the election. "This is blatant undermining of democratic norms."

This report contains material from Reuters.

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