“It is something that I think satisfies some people, dissatisfies some people, but it’s a good thing for North Carolina.” N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham

House Bill 2, one of the most divisive laws in North Carolina history, was repealed Thursday after Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill approved in the General Assembly earlier in the day.

House Bill 142 passed with bipartisan support — a 32-16 margin in the Senate and 70-48 in the House.

Cooper had announced his backing of the compromise Wednesday, along with Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Many who voted for the bill were not fully satisfied with it but felt the pressure of an apparent noon deadline from the NCAA to repeal HB2 in order for N.C. venues to be considered for the 2018-22 cycle of neutral-site championship events.

“It is a step forward from this terrible piece of legislation,” said House Democratic leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake.

The House vote came about 75 minutes after the apparent deadline.

An estimated $250 million in economic impact was at stake with the 133 bids placed by N.C. venues for the next cycle.

It appears that North Carolina, its legislators and sports venues will have to wait a few days before learning if HB142 would meet the NCAA’s repeal criteria.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told media Thursday it is possible the group could review the new law and decide on its merits by early next week. Emmert addressed HB2 during his annual news conference at the Final Four in Phoenix.

“The politics of this in North Carolina are obviously very, very difficult,” Emmert said.

“But they have passed a bill now, and it’ll be a great opportunity for our (Board of Directors) to sit and debate and discuss it.”

Meanwhile, several social-justice groups including the N.C. chapter of the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement asking the NCAA “to oppose this shameful HB2.0, and not reward legislators who have passed this so-called deal, which is an affront to the values we all hold.”

However, John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, said Thursday that the repeal “allows the opportunity to reopen the discussion with the ACC Council of Presidents regarding neutral-site conference championships being held in the state of North Carolina.”

“This discussion will take place in the near future, and following any decisions (by the council), announcements will be forthcoming.”

The ACC men’s basketball tournament is scheduled to be held in Charlotte in 2019 and Greensboro in 2020.

HB2 is known foremost for requiring transgender people to use restrooms, locker rooms and showers at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates, rather than the gender to which they identify.

A news release from Berger and Moore said the compromise does the following:

  • Repeals HB2.
  • Returns to status quo before a Charlotte bathroom ordinance that led to HB2.
  • Implements a moratorium through Dec. 1, 2020, on local ordinances, similar to Charlotte’s, to allow federal litigation to play out.

“It is something that I think satisfies some people, dissatisfies some people, but it’s a good thing for North Carolina,” Berger said.

Cooper acknowledged Wednesday that HB142 “is not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”

Strange bedfellows

The two votes brought together strange bedfellows of legislators in support of, or opposition to, the HB2 repeal initiative.

The vote split several county delegations, such as in Forsyth, Davidson and Guilford, with Democrats and Republicans voting for and against.

In Rockingham, although Berger was the main Senate proponent, its two House GOP representatives — Kyle Hall and Bert Jones — voted no.

Those opposing HB142 included Democrats who made impassioned pleas for a “clean and full” repeal of HB2, and Republicans who decried the loss of public restroom safety restrictions — even though those established by HB2 essentially were unenforceable.

Meanwhile, some supporters of HB142 made it clear they were casting their votes with pinched noses, whether out of loyalty to Cooper or the GOP legislative leaders for reaching the compromise, or to give the state and its reputation a reboot.

“Members of the far right and far left generally oppose each other, but teamed up to vote no,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, who voted yes. “It was a very rare count.”

Several Republican legislators, perhaps most vocally Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, and Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Beaufort, said they voted no because they didn’t want the NCAA to dictate how the legislature acts on the NCAA’s timeframe.

Speciale pushed to delay the vote until Tuesday, saying more time was need for House members to review the half-page bill, including going home to talk with their constituents.

“Basketball is important to North Carolina; nobody is going to deny that,” Hise said. “But we’ve been threatened as a state and we took the coward’s act and we’re backing down. I can’t stand for that.”

Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, and a primary sponsor of HB2, denounced HB142 as “at best a punt, at worst a betrayal of principle.”

Rep. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, said he voted no because “it is a shame that this multi-billion-dollar nonprofit would use our love of sports and its power to impose a far-left radical agenda.”

Brock accused Cooper of using HB142 as an election ploy, saying “it is the last leg he has to stand on” given what Brock called the successes of Republican-led reform efforts since 2011.

Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, and one of two LGBTQ legislators, said he can respect the repeal effort and the reasoning behind it.

But he said he couldn’t vote yes because “this bill still legislates restrooms, the reasons why companies and the NCAA chose to leave the state. This is not a repeal of HB2 if we are telling city and counties they can’t regulate restrooms. We don’t want special rights, but to be treated equally and to be left alone.”

Brockman said he also opposed the compromise because “there also were no LGBTQ individuals at the table since every civil rights group is against this bill.”

Explaining their votes

Lambeth said he had six main reasons for voting for HB142, citing economic impact and legal considerations.

“We have lost the opportunity to attract some new jobs,” Lambeth said. “The tourism industry in Winston-Salem has shared with me the negative impact it has had on groups using local venues for their events.”

Richard Geiger, president of Visit Winston-Salem, has estimated at least $7 million in lost revenue related to HB2.

Lambeth said attorneys discussing HB2 with Republican legislative leaders said the law “was not going to survive the fourth federal circuit challenge.”

“If we lost that case, the consequences to N.C. restrooms and lockers was not in keeping with safe spaces,” he said. “I believe this is a strong bill that will keep restrooms and locker rooms safe for my wife and grandkids.

“The bill prevents municipalities from violating Dillon’s law and places (anti-discrimination restrictions) back at the state level.”

The Dillon rule is used in interpreting state law when there is a question of whether or not a local government has a certain power.

Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, said she viewed her support for HB142 as “a chance for a fresh restart.”

“Some choices are not easy, and I have weighed this issue with a heavy heart because I don’t believe in any discrimination,” Cunningham said.

“I am casting my vote for the time we are in today, and hope we learn the art of acceptance and to continue to dialogue and understand the differences that separate us.”

Ironically, the 32-16 vote in the Senate was the same tally as the first of a two-part vote Dec. 21 on repealing HB2 — a proposal that featured an option for a 30-day and a six-month moratorium component.

Sen. Minority leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, acknowledged the irony of his Dec. 21 negative vote on repealing HB2 in view of his recommendation for bipartisan support for HB142.

“It is urgent enough that we need to take immediate action from an economic standpoint,” Blue said. “If we’re going to move forward, we need to take it a step at a time, and this has the potential to move us along that route.”

Rep. Henry Michaux Jr., D-Durham, stressed he wanted House Republicans to acknowledge their need for Democratic support to repeal HB142, saying how some of those members tend to marginalize Democrats at other times.

“We’re going to help you move from disgrace to amazing grace and hope this will extend beyond this day and this vote,” Michaux said.

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