RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly adjourned a special session Wednesday night after they were unable to repeal controversial House Bill 2.
A North Carolina Senate vote Wednesday night failed to repeal House Bill 2 after the main repeal and a “cooling off” period were put into separate votes.
The Senate came back in session Wednesday evening with Senate Speaker Phil Berger suggesting — as a last chance — that the HB2 repeal efforts be split into two segments: the repeal itself in one vote and then a cooling off period in a separate vote.
Related: Full coverage of House Bill 2
Berger said that if either vote failed then the bill as a whole would fail.
During a vote on the main part of the repeal, the Senate rejected the repeal with a 32-16 vote. The Senate then voted 32-16 to adjourn and the special session ended.
Republican Senate leader Berger later criticized Democrats for failing to support legislation that would have repealed the law known as House Bill 2. Berger told reporters it appears Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and his fellow Democrats want to keep HB2 as in issue.
The sticking point was a measure in the Senate that would have barred from local governments from passing ordinances that expanded non-discrimination protections until next summer.
“I’m sorry. This was not the deal. The deal was Charlotte repeals fully and we repeal HB2 fully,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson (D) Mecklenburg County.
“The Charlotte City Council really showed their true colors by playing games with us for so long. I think the sense from the majority was they could not be trusted,” said Sen. Buck Newton (R) Wilson County.
“I think that had a lot to do with why it failed today,” Newton added.
During a news conference after the General Assembly adjourned, Governor-elect Roy Cooper blamed the “cooling off” measure for the reason repeal failed.
“Senator Berger brought up last-minute ideas,” Cooper said. “What they’ve done is violated the agreement and trust.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin says Republican lawmakers are the ones that have hurt LGBT people by failing to follow through on a deal to repeal the law.
Earlier in the afternoon, two openly LGBT members of the North Carolina House pleaded with their colleagues to repeal a state law limiting nondiscrimination protections before the General Assembly adjourned.
Democrats Reps. Chris Sgro of Greensboro and Cecil Brockman of High Point spoke late Wednesday as House members considered and passed a resolution laying out when the legislature would adjourn for good.
Republicans have been unable so far to craft legislation repealing House Bill 2 that enough of their House members would support. This has led to hours of waiting and closed-door meetings by House and Senate members.
Sgro said he can’t go home in good conscience without the full and unequivocal repeal of HB2. Sgro is also head of the gay rights groups Equality North Carolina. Brockman said the law has been a disaster for the state. Corporate CEOs, entertainers and sports leagues have opposed HB2 as well.
After hours of delay Wednesday, wavering Republican legislators stumbled with pushing through the repeal of a North Carolina law dictating which bathrooms transgender people must use in government buildings and schools.
The addition of a six-month moratorium on cities passing nondiscrimination ordinances for LGBT people — like the one in Charlotte that led to House Bill 2 — caused Democrats to back away from the bill, calling it only a partial repeal. HB2 has been blasted by gay-rights groups and resulted in job losses and sporting event cancellations.
At the same time, House Republicans remained divided over supporting any repeal legislation, putting the ultimate result of the special session called by Gov. Pat McCrory in doubt.
Around 5:30 p.m., the House voted to adjourn and sat at ease while waiting for the Senate.
Earlier, Senate Republicans began debating the repeal measure that blocked local governments from passing ordinances regulating employment practices or public accommodations related to restrooms, showers or changing facilities for 180 days. But the GOP halted the debate after about 30 minutes and went into a private caucus to talk.
Democrats said the measure broke an agreement reached with Charlotte city leaders who repealed its ordinance that told city restaurants and hotels to let transgender people use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity.
“This wasn’t the deal,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat. “This bill breaks this deal. Charlotte would have not repealed its ordinance is this was the deal.”
GOP Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden, the repeal bill’s primary sponsor, said the delay would give lawmakers time in 2017 to find a long-range solution to address issues that led to Charlotte’s ordinance and HB2.
“It gives everyone an opportunity to start over,” Berger said. “You don’t get those chances very often … an opportunity for us as a state to get this right.
But in another sign of mistrust between Democrats and Republicans since the GOP took control of state government four years ago, Republicans fired back that it was Charlotte city leaders who passed a partial repeal of its ordinance Monday. Council leaders disagreed with that assessment, but still met Wednesday morning — an hour before the special session began — to repeal other portions of the February ordinance that hadn’t been invalidated by HB2.
This was nothing “other than an honest or sincere effort,” city attorney Bob Hagemann told the council Wednesday. “The state is sovereign and we are not. … We’re not smart enough to try and trick them.”
House Republicans couldn’t seem to figure out what they wanted. They spent most of the day in closed-door meetings fighting about whether to approve a repeal bill. Several conservative lawmakers opposed any repeal and said the law needed to be preserved.
“There is no extraordinary circumstance,” said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, during a brief debate over session procedures, “other than the extraordinary hubris of a city council telling us we have to act by a certain date.” Monday’s action by the Charlotte council was contingent on HB2’s repeal by Dec. 31.
They and other social conservative groups said HB2 provides privacy and protection for children using restrooms and locker rooms. The U.S. Justice Department and others contend the threat of sexual predators posing as transgender persons to enter a bathroom is practically nonexistent.
Crowds at the Legislative Building remained inside the House and Senate galleries and in the third-floor rotunda all day, keeping watch on what action lawmakers would take. The mood was much more docile than the angry demonstrations of last week, when Republican legislators pushed through in a surprise session measures that stripped incoming Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper of a range of powers enjoyed by McCrory.
Cooper made HB2 a key issue in his campaign against McCrory, saying he wanted it repealed and blamed McCrory for hurting the state’s brand as a business destination. Cooper won by about 10,000 votes. McCrory conceded just two weeks ago after the vote count went into overtime.
Jennifer Bremer, 66, of Chapel Hill witnessed last week’s tumult and wanted to see whether lawmakers really repealed the law. She says there haven’t been any surprises so far.
“I think it’s intended as cover to enable members who would otherwise oppose repeal to be able to say they got some positive outcome, something to say they stood up for something,” Bremer said.
LGBT groups, which had fought any deal with legislators earlier this year to do away with the Charlotte ordinance, are frustrated by legislators adding the moratorium to the repeal.
“Today seems to be just about them still trying to not admit how badly they screwed up,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “They should admit they messed up and repeal the bill.”
HB2 supporters were also in the building Wednesday.
“I won’t have any privacy, and I — as a lady — do not want to be using a restroom or shower room or locker room with a man,” said Lee Townsend.