North Carolina fails to repeal 'bathroom bill'
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers have failed to follow through on a deal to repeal a law passed earlier this year that limits protections for LGBT people.
The law has been widely opposed by numerous businesses, organizations and individuals. Gov. Pat McCrory's defense of the bill was a contributing factor in his narrow loss to Democrat Roy Cooper, who will take office in January and announced Monday that he had a deal with legislators to get rid of the law. But the deal fell apart Wednesday during the legislature's special session.
The passage of House Bill 2 in March thrust North Carolina into a national debate on transgender rights and harmed the state economically. The state missed out on new jobs as companies declined to expand in the state, while cancellations of concerts and conventions exacted a toll. The NBA moved its All-Star game to New Orleans, and in a huge symbolic blow to the college basketball-crazy state, the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference relocated events.
Repealing the law could have ended legal challenges by the federal Justice Department and transgender residents.
Passage of the state law was a reaction to the city of Charlotte passing a broad nondiscrimination ordinance the state GOP opposed. On Monday, the city voted to undo its ordinance — but only if the legislature repealed HB2 by the end of the year.
One part of the original law has already been done away with. HB2 initially prohibited employees of private businesses from filing lawsuits in state courts alleging workplace discrimination but the legislature amended the law to reinstate that right.
The law blocked a range of protections from taking effect in the state's largest city. Charlotte's ordinance would have covered gays and lesbians as well as bisexual and transgender people when they try to check into hotels, eat in restaurants or hail cabs; it also added marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city's list of protected characteristics in public accommodations and commercial businesses.
The state law instead created a new statewide public accommodations policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex. But the law includes no specific LGBT protections, essentially preventing local governments from approving ordinances similar to what Charlotte approved.
Weeks after the law's passage, McCrory issued an executive order that expanded protections based on sexual orientation and gender orientation to people who work for the state's executive branch.
The law also forbids cities and counties throughout North Carolina from imposing any additional requirements on employers. A handful of local governments had made veterans a protected class, and this is no longer allowed.
Essentially, government agencies of all kinds must direct men and boys to multi-stall restrooms and locker rooms designated for use by people born as male, and keep women and girls in those designated for the female biological sex.
This applies to public schools, state university and community college systems, state agencies and local government offices.
Single-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities are still allowed "upon a request due to special circumstances" to a local school board or by a person to a public agency. The decision on accommodating the request appears to rest with the school board or the agency.
There are exceptions, such as when preschoolers enter a restroom with their mother or father, or when a person with a disability needs assistance. Transgender people who have obtained a new birth certificate after a sex-change operation can enter the multi-occupancy bathroom that matches their new gender.
But just how individuals should apply and enforce the new rules is unaddressed in the law.
The law also says local governments can't require businesses to pay a minimum wage higher than North Carolina's statewide minimum, currently $7.25 an hour. Cities and counties also can't enforce ordinances setting their own minimum standards for businesses for paid sick leave or other employee benefits, and can't require government contractors to meet public accommodations standards above those set in state law.
Cities and counties can continue to set higher wage and benefit minimums for their own workers, or for company workers when required as part of an economic recruitment and incentives agreement.