Four Republicans who represent all or parts of Wilkes County in the legislature were evenly split in how they voted Thursday on House Bill 142, which repealed the “bathroom bill” (House Bill 2) while keeping certain aspects of it in state law.
Voting against HB 142 were Sen. Shirley Randleman of Wilkesboro and Rep. Jeffrey Elmore of North Wilkesboro and voting for it were Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy and Rep. Lee Zachary of Yadkinville.
House and Senate Republicans and Democrats were similarly split, with some criticizing HB 142 for not doing enough to preserve people’s privacy and protect them from sexual predators and others saying it wouldn’t prevent discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The Senate approved the compromise bill in a 32-16 vote, the House approved it 70-48 and Gov. Roy Cooper signed it into law on the day the NCAA set as a deadline for repealing HB 2 or losing neutral-site NCAA championships through 2022.
The legislature passed HB 2 in March 2016 after the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Charlotte ordinance let transgender people use public restrooms based on gender identity.
Among other things, HB 2 forbid cities and counties from making rules differing from state law on discrimination and bathroom issues and required that people use public bathrooms and showers corresponding to their birth sex.
Although HB 142 repeals HB2, it prohibits state or local government entities from regulating access to multiple occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities except in accordance with state law.
HB 142 also specifically prohibits local governments from “enacting or amending an ordinance regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations,” but says this provision expires Dec. 1, 2020. Legislators said this expiration date allows time for ongoing cases on transgender issues to be heard in court.
Randleman, closely involved in drafting HB 2, said she was very disappointed about passage of HB 142 and voted against it because, “I don’t feel the bill has adequate protection.”
She said she thinks legislators now should and will take a hard look at how laws and penalties that address indecent exposure and similar crimes can be revised to better protect citizens.
Elmore agreed about strengthening criminal laws, but said citizens can be protected even better by preventing situations where these offenses could occur.
He said he also voted against HB 142 because HB 2 affirmed that North Carolina government has full authority over local government ordinances and policies. Elmore noted that local governments derive their authority from the N.C. Constitution.
Much of North Carolina’s economic loss attributed to HB 2 was based on certain companies possibly moving to the state and these moves were highly uncertain even before HB 2 passed, said Elmore.
Randleman and Elmore both said thousands of people in their respective legislative districts contacted them by phone and mail and said they opposed repealing HB 2.
Elmore’s 94th House District includes all of Alleghany County and nearly 94 percent of Wilkes County. Randleman’s 30th Senate District includes all of Wilkes and Stokes counties.
Zachary’s 73rd House District includes the Somers and Brushy Mountain precincts and the southernmost tip of Wilkesboro Two precinct in Wilkes and all of Yadkin and Alexander counties.
Stevens’ 90th House District includes all of Traphill Two precinct and the northernmost part of Edwards Three precinct in Wilkes and all of Surry County.
Stevens serves as House speaker pro tem and introduced the version of HB 142 approved Thursday.
She said HB 2 “was not a bad bill but it had given us (North Carolina) a bad image because of the way the media played it up.” HB 2 became a stain on the state that needed to be removed, said Stevens.
“It was common sense to get us back to where we were before” HB 2 passed and HB 142 this. “It was truly a re-set of the dial to get the rest of the nation off our back.
The Charlotte Observer quoted Stevens as saying the bill approved Thursday resulted from meticulous negotiations in recent weeks with small groups of legislators to find areas of agreement.
Zachary said he and others believe that when a legal challenge of the 2016 version of HB 2 goes before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 10, the liberal court will find a way to destroy the bill because it’s too broad and doesn’t frame the issues properly.
He is an attorney and said he voted to modify HB 2 to win. “I am dedicated to maintaining and protecting the privacy of our citizens in public baths and dressing/changing areas.” He said the legislature rushed to enact HB 2 in 2016 without determining if it would pass judicial scrutiny.
“HB 142 puts the state back where it needed to be in March 2016” by repealing unnecessary parts of HB 2 and focusing on the fact that only the legislature can make bathroom policy for the state, Zachary added. “We are committed to eventually getting it right.”
The vote among House Republicans was 40 for and 33 against HB 142. Among House Democrats, it was 30 for and 15 against. One member of each party was absent.
In the Senate, 23 Republicans voted for and 10 against HB 142. Nine Democrats voted for and six voted against the bill in the Senate. Two Senate Republicans were absent.
The deal came together after the NCAA said North Carolina wouldn’t be considered for championship events from 2018 to 2022 unless HB 2 was changed.
On Thursday, an NCAA spokesman said the organization’s board of directors would announce next week if it will allow the return of NCAA championship games to the state.
The NBA also moved its All-Star Game out of Charlotte and several entertainers, including Bruce Springsteen, canceled concerts planned in the state.
The Atlantic Coast Conference announced in September that it would move all neutral-site championships for the academic year out of the state because of the law. On Friday, the ACC Council of Presidents voted to again consider North Carolina as a host for future ACC championships in all sports.