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Cooper Offers HB2 Compromise, Berger's Office Immediately Critical

Jim Morrill/Charlotte Observer
Governor Roy Cooper with Rep. Darren Jackson (left) and Sen. Dan Blue

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper on Tuesday introduced an HB2 repeal he framed as a compromise.  Cooper, along with Democratic party leaders Sen. Dan Blue and Rep. Darren Jackson, said the bill would address the concerns of all parties.  But shortly after Cooper's press conference, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger's office issued a statement calling it a 'so-called compromise' and repeating an inflammatory jab calling on Cooper to say whether he supports allowing men into women's restrooms.  

The bill is the 4th introduced by Democrats during the long session to repeal HB2, but the first one with the weight of the Governor's backing.  The bill would repeal HB2 but also stiffen penalties for crimes committed in public bathrooms and changing rooms and would require a 30 day notice for any municipal vote on anti-discrimination ordinances.  

The clock is ticking on potentially more economic damage.  Cooper says North Carolina has 133 bids for NCAA championship events that could be decided on in days or weeks.  The state could miss out on those events for the next 5 or 6 years, according to a letter sent by Scott Dupree of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.  

Senator Berger's office put out the following statement:

“Gov. Cooper’s press conference is the first we’ve heard of his so-called compromise, so if he has a list of members willing to support his proposal, he should make it public now. 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. Gov. Cooper continues to dodge the question, but North Carolinians deserve to know his position on the key HB2 issue: does he believe men should be able to go into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities?”

In a further blow to the potential repeal, both the state gay rights group Equality NC and national Human Rights Campaign opposed the additional measures beyond repeal.  Here is part of ENC Executive Director Chris Sgro's statement:

“Today’s proposal was unnecessary. Charlotte and other cities have in the past carefully considered protecting LGBTQ citizens against discrimination. We all know that transgender people do not pose a public safety risk and should be protected from discrimination, not made the targets of it as HB2 does. Let us be very clear about what’s going on. Tim Moore and Phil Berger are acting against the best interest of our state and the LGBTQ community.  They are treating our economy like a political football and trying to cast blame on everyone else for their failure to actually repeal HB2 in December. At this point, we all know what the answer is -- full repeal of HB2. Only a full repeal of HB2 will fix our state, allow businesses to come back and allow for the safety of LGBTQ North Carolinians. Every day that Berger and Moore play politics with our state, is a day LGBTQ North Carolinians live in danger and one that our state cannot prosper.”  Here is the full statement.

It's not clear whether the votes are there for repeal, compromise or not.  Cooper insists that enough Republicans would join with Democrats to vote for a repeal, and says it's up to Republican leadership to allow a vote on bills in which there isn't a majority of support from the Republican caucus.  So far, that hasn't happened.  A special session in December to repeal HB2 fell apart after Berger refused to offer a clean repeal, instead insisting on a 6 month moratorium on new local ordinances, something framed as a "cooling-off period."  Democrats rejected the bill, insisting that with Charlotte's ordinance repealed, the compromise was already in place.  Many Republicans oppose repealing HB2 period.  The special session got off to a rocky start when Charlotte was forced to vote a second time, the morning of the special session, to repeal its full ordinance after it came to light that they had only repealed part of the ordinance.  Trust was already in short supply because of that and because of a previous special session just days earlier in which Republicans voted to strip Governor Cooper of many of his powers before taking office.  Republican leaders have since insisted on Cooper to offer a compromise.  But now that he has, considering Berger's response, repeal of HB2 still appears far from certain.

House Bill 2 was passed in response to a Charlotte city ordinance that offered protections for transgender individuals in public restrooms and locker rooms.  Critics said the ordinance opened the door to sexual predators and Republican leaders rushed to pass HB2 in 12 hours.  The bill requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding with the sex on their birth certificates, set statewide anti-discrimination measures that excluded sexual orientation and gender identity, and prevented local governments from offering more protections.  It also prevented those governments from raising minimum wages.  Backlash to the bill was severe and immediate.  Businesses have canceled expansions, concerts and sporting events canceled, and conferences moved.  The economic damage is estimated to be at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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