An attempt by Durham Mayor William Bell to compromise with legislators in an effort to get HB 2 repealed died during a city council work session today.
The suggestion came after the council heard comments from members of the advocacy group Open for All NC calling on the city to take action. Bell suggested that Durham partner with other cities to again urge legislators to repeal HB 2 but also promise not to pass its own antidiscrimination ordinance—that cities other than Charlotte could still pass their own antidiscrimination ordinances was a cited by lawmakers as a reason for not repealing HB 2 last year
—until the Supreme Court settles a Virginia case with implications for the North Carolina law
City attorney Patrick Baker said he expects that case will be heard in March.
“What I’m trying to do is to relieve some pressure now by getting it off the books, allowing some time to see what happens in the next stage─which is the Supreme Court─and also freeing up the state from these economic pressures that we’re under because HB 2 is on the books,” Bell said. But a motion to suspend the council's rules, the first step needed to vote on the measure since it was not on the agenda, failed. The vote was 3–3—with Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece, and Don Moffitt voting against; Bell, Eddie Davis, and Cora Cole-McFadden voting for; and Steve Schewel was absent—and motions to suspend the rules require five votes to pass.
Reece said Bell's plan represents "a much worse deal" than one rejected by Democratic legislators in late December: a repeal bill that included a six-month moratorium on municipalities passing their own antidiscrimination ordinances, which HB 2 forbids them from doing.
Reece said he felt Bell's proposal was "well-intentioned" but "does nothing to protect the people of this city."
“I can’t support a measure that would remove the paper version of House Bill 2 while leaving it still effectively the law of the land and that’s what this measure asks us to do is to leave the force of House Bill 2 in effect on this community while removing it on paper to allow the economic benefits to flow,” Reece said, “assuming national organizations will accept that─if they will accept this fiction that we’re trying to create that we’ve removed House Bill 2.”
Bell said his proposal did not need to be the city's only course of action; if legislators still had not repealed HB 2 in several months, the city could look at joining other cities in suing the state for the right to pass their own antidiscrimination ordinances, as council member Jillian Johnson suggested.
Promising to hold off on antidiscrimination rules, Johnson said, "feels to me like we are failing to protect our residents to get an economic advantage”—referring to the benefits the state and the region would incur from HB 2’s repeal
Senator Mike Woodard, D-Durham, was called to the podium to give a legislator's perspective on the debate. Woodard, along with two other senators, filed a bill today that would fully repeal HB 2 as well as create a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance. A companion bill was also filed in the House.
Woodard’s advice was to “proceed cautiously” and encouraged council members to involve the city’s Human Relations Commission.
“If legislative leaders are telling us they don’t want cities to act─let us act, let us be the ones to step forward and protect the LGBTQ citizens of the state,” Woodard said. “They say they are scared of cities acting, well then we should act.”
Council members also discussed expanding the HRC's powers so that it can investigate discrimination claims related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Baker said he would research the legality of that proposal.
The commission currently has the authority to hear, investigate and mediate complaints “alleging discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, familial status, or handicap.”
Commission members, in a 12-2 vote on Tuesday, passed a resolution saying it would support such a change to city code, said chair Phil Seib.
“It won’t give us the ability to have binding arbitration or subpoena but it will give citizens a chance to face those who have discriminated against them in some form,” Seib told the council. “The majority of the commission and myself as chair believe that the cost of HB 2 has not only been financial but has cost the state a large part of its humanity.”