An effort to repeal HB2 flamed out as NC GOP leadership failed to corral the votes necessary. Senate Leader Phil Berger refused to consider a clean repeal of HB2, instead offering a bill that would include a 6 month moratorium on non-discrimination ordinances across the state. That was a non-starter for Democrats, who said they had held up their end of the bargain when the Charlotte city council fully repealed its ordinance earlier Wednesday. After 9 hours of waiting for leadership to get the votes, several parliamentary maneuvers were introduced, that ultimately failed.
Lawmakers were back in Raleigh to consider repealing North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2. The fifth special session was called to order by Governor Pat McCrory after Charlotte city council's surprise move to repeal its non-discrimination ordinance. It was that ordinance that prompted lawmakers to hastily pass HB2, which resulted in a backlash against the state already measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper personally lobbied Charlotte council members to repeal their ordinance and got assurances from Republican leaders that the legislature would act. Now the onus is on them to repeal the law.
But the repeal was never certain. It got off to a rocky start. Tensions were evident right off the bat, with the initial announcements of council's moves. Some gay rights activists felt betrayed that Charlotte repealed its ordinance. And Governor Pat McCrory, in a video statement, blamed Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts and Cooper for playing politics with the bill. They argued that a similar deal had been offered before, but the council refused it. However, the council argued this time they got much more assurance of action, and their position was boosted by the election of Cooper to the governor's mansion. He'll take office in January. Tensions boiled over late on Tuesday night after GOP members caucused for at least 4 hours to measure support for the deal. Some members were angry that Charlotte hadn't repealed its entire ordinance, just the part dealing with bathrooms, the part that prompted lawmakers to act. But House Bill 2 went much further than banning transgender people from the bathroom with which they identify. It banned municipal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity across the state and even laws pertaining to the minimum wage. In a series of overnight tweets, the North Carolina GOP blasted Cooper and the city council for acting in bad faith, saying it would be their fault if lawmakers failed to repeal HB2. And on Wednesday morning, less than an hour before lawmakers convened in Raleigh, Charlotte's council took the step of repealing its entire ordinance dealing with LGBT protections.
But even that move wasn't enough. As lawmakers gaveled in the session, there was a small protest from House GOP members that the session itself was unconstitutional. Several members moved to adjourn. House Speaker Tim Moore called those motions "out of order." By a vote of 97-10, the House moved to approve its rules for the special session and promptly went into recess. The Senate approved its rules unanimously and also went into recess.
By 2pm, there was still no word of a deal on HB2. While waiting, Democratic Senator Terry Van Duyn of Asheville, along with Senators Jeff Jackson and Mike Woodard, filed SB3, a full repeal of HB2. The bill was never heard by the GOP-dominated legislature. Later in the day, Republicans finally filed their own repeal sponsored by Senate leader Phil Berger, SB4, which included a 6-month moratorium on new municipal ordinances like the one passed by Charlotte. Berger introduced the bill.
"Members I think the fact that we started at 10:00 this morning and it is now 3:00 will provide some indication of how difficult an issue this is and has been."
Berger said the bill was a chance for a reset. But Democrats weren't happy with the moratorium. Senator Jeff Jackson of Charlotte said simply, this wasn't the deal.
"The deal was simple. Charlotte repeals its ordinance and we fully repeal HB2 without any strings. This bill breaks that deal. Charlotte would not have repealed its ordinance if this had been the deal."
Democratic Senator Terry Van Duyn spoke passionately about the families of LGBT youth she's spoken to, and the bullying they deal with on a regular basis. Her full remarks are below.
But after Berger called for a quick 10 minute recess, that ended up lasting over two hours, it seemed clear the GOP was having trouble finding the votes to pass the bill. Finally at 6pm, the Senate gaveled back into session and Berger offered an amendment to the bill that could actually make the moratorium longer. Instead of the 6 month moratorium, it would conclude 30 days after the legislature's 2017 long session, which could be a significantly longer period of time. Though the amendment passed, Democrats continued to protest, and debate turned ugly. Republican Senator Buck Newton, who unsuccessfully ran for Attorney General, lambasted the "lunatic left" for passing "lunatic ordinances" like the one in Charlotte and thanked Berger for standing up to "the hateful crowd from California and elsewhere." His full remarks are below.
What came next was an extraordinary move of political maneuvering by Senator Berger. He attempted to split the HB2 repeal bill in two votes, repealing it one vote, and voting on the moratorium in another vote. The apparent goal was to ensure passage of both by forcing lawmakers to make hard votes. But the plan went nowhere. Democratic Senator Angela Bryant spoke about it as lawmakers adjourned.
"It's smoke and mirrors. It's a mirage. It's not real. And I don't know if you think the public is stupid, or we're stupid, or who's stupid. But it just does not make sense." The gallery applauded at that point.
Below is the full audio of the move to split the bill into two votes, as well as the post-mortem from various Senators as the the Senate came to adjournment having failed to repeal House Bill 2.
It's estimated the wasted special session will cost North Carolina taxpayers at least $40,000.