Special Session V and where do we go from here?

Special Session V and where do we go from here?

The real barrier to repealing HB2 this week was trust.  Efforts at some kind of compromise had been going on for months, starting in April and ongoing through the fall. But the 2016 elections got in the way. Personalities, partisan politics and power created barriers to productive conversations.  The eight hundred pound gorilla in the room all along was trust.

The way Jennifer Roberts and her City Council, EqualityNC and the HRC birthed the Charlotte ordinance that started all this was muddied from the beginning. The timing of the enactment of the ordinance forced the General Assembly to act quickly. Then they were accused of “acting in the dark.” But quick action was needed to stop Charlotte from running over Article VII Section 1 of the NC Constitution, which says, “The General Assembly….may give such powers and duties to counties, cities and towns and other governmental subdivisions as it may deem advisable.”

Not only had the General Assembly advised Charlotte not to pass the ordinance, they plainly told them not to for over a year.  Don’t these people know the state constitution applies to them? Charlotte thumbed their nose, the General Assembly struck back and we were off to nine months of name calling, accusations, finger pointing, threats and political posturing. Only fueling the mistrust from both sides.

Finally, (and curiously) after the election, Charlotte agreed to a deal. They’d repeal their ordinance if the General Assembly would repeal HB2.  Repeal for repeal.  Simple enough, right?

But things got off kilter when it was discovered that after claiming to repeal the ordinance, Charlotte really didn’t. Which raised that trust issue again.  Then EqualityNC and HRC took to social media to declare that once the General Assembly repealed HB2, their intent was to pass Charlotte-like ordinances in cities across the state. Jennifer Roberts talked about a “long-game.” When the General Assembly responded with, “Not sure we can trust you guys and by the way, have you read the Constitution?” Charlotte did do a complete repeal.  But the trust issue was opened and became raw and festering.

In order to prevent a Charlotte-ordinance epidemic across the state, Phil Berger added to the repeal language of SB4, a cooling off period, a moratorium on local governments “passing any local ordinance regulating employment practices or regulating public accommodations or access to restrooms, showers or changing facilities.” Just some clarification on what the Constitution clearly lays out.

The democrats called foul, claimed the moratorium extended HB2, the republicans said it was necessary after the bad actor repeal/notrepeal/gotcaught/repeal behavior of the Charlotte City Council earlier in the day.  In the end, a lack of trust blew the deal and Special Session V ended in frustration, disappointment and raw emotions. The Republicans noted not a single democrat voted for a HB2 repeal after demanding repeal for months; Democrats said they were tricked. Everyone went home mad.

So where do we go from here?  This post is an extension of a piece I wrote last week on the suggestion of focusing on ideas.  Ideas are powerful things. So, let me add to my list of issues we can all agree on, ideas we can focus on – discrimination, privacy and safety and adhering to the State Constitution.

I like the idea of a moratorium – put the extension of locally passed ordinances on hold – as our Constitution states and authorizes the General Assembly to do.  This Charlotte ordinance, HB2 issue has generated so much discussion and debate that the General Assembly needs to take time to hear from all “stakeholders” and come up with a plan that addresses privacy and safety concerns. Plus it’s unclear what the federal courts are going to do.

Surely we can all agree that no North Carolinian should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.  Ensuring safety and providing privacy in restrooms, changing facilities and showers is something we can all get behind. As North Carolinians, aren’t we bound to uphold our state constitution; defend, support and maintain it?

When the new General Assembly convenes in January, find ideas that we can all agree on. Pass a statewide law that prevents discrimination, ensures the privacy and safety in public facilities. If discrimination is wrong in Charlotte, isn’t it wrong in Hickory? If accommodations are needed for bathroom privacy in Boone, shouldn’t those protections be in Rocky Mount as well?  Local governments are not authorized to act on their own, under the Constitution in Charlotte and in every other locality. If we need to re-visit the Constitution and expand the authority of local governments, it should apply to all local governments.  If these things are problems that we need to fix, let’s fix them across the state. Nothing in our constitution makes Charlotte special.

If the issues raised in the Charlotte ordinance are the problem they claim, and need to be addressed in Charlotte and other select communities, shouldn’t we offer those protections across the state for all North Carolinians? And if we need to ensure privacy and safety in Charlotte, shouldn’t all North Carolinians have the same? If some exceptions need to be built in – let’s talk about it.

There will always be discussions, debates, differences of opinions, personality conflicts and partisan politics. None of this is in itself bad – vigorous, passionate, even heated, but always respectful discussions make for better outcomes. Let’s talk about ideas, work through the differences, rebuild the trust.

The key element to any legislative deal is trust and it has been tarnished during this whole Charlotte ordinance/HB2 debacle. There’s time to heal, time to re-build – if there is a commitment to doing what’s right, as Phil Berger said he wanted to do on the Senate floor this week.   Governor-elect Cooper says he wants to work with the legislature; the legislature says they are committed to finding solutions. Let’s trust them to do the right thing and encourage them to be trustworthy – to themselves, to each other and to us. There’s work to be done.  Let’s all cool off, take some time and start with some good ideas.

Becki Gray / Senior Vice President

Becki Gray is Senior Vice President of the John Locke Foundation. She provides information, consultation, and publications to elected officials, government staff and other dec...

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