North Carolina speaker: On LGBT, Charlotte must repeal first

AP News
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Posted: May 24, 2016 6:33 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Chances appear to be dwindling that North Carolina lawmakers will alter a contentious, new state law limiting LGBT nondiscrimination protections, because a legislative leader says they won't act until Charlotte first throws out its local ordinance increasing those protections.

House Speaker Tim Moore said this week he and other Republican legislators are willing to rewrite some parts of what's known as House Bill 2. Among other things, it directs transgender people to use the restroom and locker rooms aligned with their biological sex.

But he said colleagues initially want to see Charlotte city leaders act — and in particular, to take the municipal regulation off the books. While House Bill 2 blocked enforcement of the city ordinance, supporters of the state law say Charlotte started the problem by passing the ordinance to begin with.

"I do think very frankly if Charlotte gets rid of the ordinance ... it gives us the opportunity to look at some of those tweaks we've talked about making," Moore told reporters. "For any conversations to happen, Charlotte needs to take a look at what it did and it needs to be the first to make any movement before there's any conversation."

But city officials showed Monday night they aren't willing to do that.

The council voted 7-4 against a motion to hold a vote Wednesday on a resolution to remove the nullified ordinance from the books. It was the same margin as Feb. 22, when the council approved the ordinance, which expanded protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public accommodations.

"We cannot compromise on basic human rights. Any repeal of LGBT protections is bad for business, bad for Charlotte's future," Mayor Jennifer Roberts tweeted before Monday's council meeting.

Gay rights groups say legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed House Bill 2, are the ones who should be acting to repeal the law. They accuse the Charlotte Chamber and Republican officials in Raleigh of trying to "bully" council members into thinking they are the ones causing the negative, national attention.

"Their negligent, hastily considered piece of legislation is what's turning off potential business development in this state, but that is the problem," Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro, who is also a state House member, said Tuesday. The notion that the legislature might change the law if the ordinance is repealed is a "false bill of goods," he said.

GOP leaders insist that Charlotte defer to state government. Moore also said the legislature will protect the law's bathroom provisions, which are the subject of multiple lawsuits. Those provisions, Moore said, are "non-negotiable."

McCrory, who would have to sign any changes into law, wants lawmakers to rescind a provision in the House Bill 2 that prevents workers who allege workplace discrimination from using a state anti-bias law to sue in state court for damages. The Charlotte ordinance did not address that kind of litigation.

McCrory's office didn't immediately respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment on the council's vote Monday, but he suggested keeping the ordinance could be an obstacle. "I think you would have had movement, at least on the things I've been wanting to change," McCrory told Charlotte's WBT radio Tuesday.

Roberts has met with Moore and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, whose chamber also would have to agree to any adjustments.

Berger is skeptical about making wholesale changes.

"I don't think it is something that should be repealed or that we'd be inclined to repeal," Berger said Monday before Charlotte's vote. He had no additional comment Tuesday, a spokeswoman said. Moore said Tuesday that city council inaction means action by the legislature is unlikely "at this juncture."

The state law has unleashed a national backlash against North Carolina and debate over transgender rights. Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan wrote in a weekend op-ed column that by the city acting first, it would lead to reforms of H.B. 2 "that advance our city and state as places where discrimination is not tolerated — for anyone."

Equality NC and the national Human Rights Campaign worked furiously up to Monday's meeting, pressuring council members to stand their ground. The groups also worked last year to elect a council majority that approved the ordinance after a similar vote fell short last year.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Drew in Raleigh and Tom Foreman Jr. in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.