The NCAA and ACC pulling their championships out of North Carolina because of HB 2 may have been the final straw: after three Republicans have called for a repeal of HB 2, rumors are swirling that the Republican House leadership met on Thursday to consider calling a special session ahead of the election.
And, in a story first reported by The News & Observer's Colin Campbell
, the North Carolina Restaurant Association says that HB 2 could be repealed as early as next week, if Charlotte repeals its ordinance.
“NCRLA has received assurances this week from legislative leadership, that if the Charlotte City Council repeals (its nondiscrimination ordinance) at their meeting on Monday, the General Assembly is prepared to meet in special session as early as next week to repeal House Bill 2,” NCRLA president and CEO Lynn Minges said in a news release.
“Furthermore, Gov. Pat McCrory has assured NCRLA that he is willing to call legislators into a special session next week for this purpose if both the city and legislators have the votes for repeal.”
A legislative source tells the INDY
that the special session is rumored to include a full repeal, but with the legislature handcuffing municipalities from passing more nondiscrimination laws. This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Charlotte leaders or LGBTQ rights advocates will go for, but it might allow the Republicans to blame Charlotte’s recalcitrance for the mounting HB 2-related losses.
Governor Pat McCrory has been badly hurt by HB 2; since March, his slight lead over Cooper has evaporated, and Cooper currently averages about a five-point lead
over McCrory, according to Real Clear Politics.
On Tuesday night, the first crack in the Republicans' wall appeared when Senator Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, called for a full repeal
in an interview with WRAL. Barringer, who represents a district that includes Apex, Holly Springs, and part of Cary, is also facing a tough re-election fight and has been hit hard by Democrat Susan Evans over HB 2. (An email to Barringer hasn't been returned.)
Then, on Wednesday night, Senator Rick Gunn, who represents Alamance and Randolph counties, called for
"modifying or possibly repealing" HB 2:
“I’m opposed to giving men access to women’s and girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms, but I am also concerned about the impact HB2 is having on our state and the Triad — especially NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference athletic championship events — and I think it is time we give serious consideration to modifying or possibly repealing HB2. It is time for the federal courts to protect women’s and girls’ privacy and strike down President Obama’s bathroom sharing mandate.”
Finally, last night, another Republican from Wake County, Representative Gary Pendleton, also came out for a possible repeal, telling The News & Observer
“When I saw it was coming up, I didn’t go to the session,” he said, adding that he instead wanted state leaders to sue the city of Charlotte for overstepping its authority in passing a nondiscrimination ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. “I wasn’t going to go down there and get harassed and harassed and harassed to vote for something I just didn’t want to vote for.”
Pendleton said most Republicans thought HB2 would only address the bathroom issue. “When they got there, here was this thing with about 15 other things tacked on it,” he said.
Among the four (by our count) who have openly re-considered HB 2—Senator Jeff Tarte told The Charlotte Observer
that we "need to do something," without specifying what that something actually is—
only Gunn is completely safe in his re-election, representing a district that Mitt Romney won in 2012 by a comfortable twenty points. In contrast, Romney won Barringer's and Pendleton's districts by less than six points, and Tarte's by less than ten. Pendleton is facing Democrat Cynthia Ball, while Tarte is facing Democrat Jonathan Hudson and Libertarian Chris Cole.
Other Republicans in tough districts, meanwhile, have remained silent; our calls and emails to several representatives, including Marilyn Avila of Wake County, have gone unreturned, and other outlets are having the same problem.
As more and more Republicans have started speaking out against HB 2, the idea of a special session to fix HB 2 has again been floated. Democrats have been calling for repealing HB 2
for months, but now that at least a trickle of Republicans are joining them, unconfirmed reports from legislative sources that the House leadership met on Thursday to discuss HB 2 have led to questions about whether or not the legislature might be called back into an emergency session.
When asked about the possibility on Thursday, Governor McCrory declined to answer.
There are two ways a special session could be called.
"If the governor were to call a special session, he could just call it, and the legislature would have to convene," says Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the General Assembly. "They wouldn't have to pass anything, though. They could just adopt a resolution to adjourn."
The other way to convene a special session would be a petition with three-fifths support from the legislature; that's how Speaker Tim Moore and Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, in his role as president of the Senate, called the special session that resulted in HB 2. Complicating matters is that Senate Republican leader Phil Berger is currently on vacation.
If a special session is called, it would be the closest one before an election in at least fifty-six years. Since 1960, as far back as the North Carolina General Assembly's online records go, the latest a special session has been called prior to an election was August 1996, when Governor Jim Hunt called the legislature back to renegotiate the budget.
Democrats say they’re not willing to accept anything less than full repeal—and any tinkering around the edges is likely to need Democratic votes.
"We're the General Assembly of North Carolina. We don't need to wait on one of our cities to do something, we can come back and repeal HB 2 in a day," says Representative Grier Martin, D-Raleigh. "And we should act like big boys and girls and not have to wait for one of our cities before we do the right thing."
Representative Duane Hall says that Charlotte shouldn't be forced to repeal its ordinance in order for the legislature to come back into session. "Not one single dollar or company has left because of that ordinance," says Hall. "They’re trying to blame it on Charlotte, but no one has left because of that.
"I’m not willing to come back for anything short of full repeal,” Hall adds, “and if they say that’s what they’re offering, I want to ask what else they’re going to do in the special session. If they're going to put in something to prevent municipalities like Charlotte from preventing discrimination, then if that’s part of the agenda, I won’t vote for anything else but full repeal."
Barringer said she was excited by the news that there might be a repeal. "That would be absolutely wonderful, I hope they’re listening to me," she told the INDY when informed of the Restaurant Association's statement. "If nothing else, there’s one lone senator here that started all of this, and the next time I’m in a high school classroom and someone says that one person can’t make a difference, I’ll have my discussion points ready.”
UPDATE: "We can't afford more antics from Pat McCrory, Phil Berger, and Tim Moore. They are the ones who got us in this situation in the first place and are costing our state millions,” Chris Sgro, Equality NC director and a former member of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. “Hundreds of other cities across the nation already had in place a similar ordinance to Charlotte's. While important to the LGBT community, it was not unique. What is unique and dangerous is HB2. It's HB2 that cost us the NCAA, ACC, and the NBA. It's HB2 that's causing us economic harm, and it's HB2 that needs to be repealed. Enough games and blame - repeal HB2."