2017-11-11 / Editorial

Cooper’s recent HB2 move surprises the political set

Just when you thought North Carolina had moved on from bathrooms, House Bill 2 is back in the headlines thanks to a surprise move by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper wants to resolve a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and LGBT groups that challenges the HB2 replacement law that Cooper signed in March. The replacement law – the result of a compromise between Cooper and legislative leaders – repeals the requirement that people visiting government facilities must use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate.

The new law creates a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” system for bathrooms – nothing explicitly prevents transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, but nothing in state law tells them they can. Cooper’s proposed deal has angered legislative Republicans, who are also parties to the lawsuit and don’t support the compromise. They’ve accused the governor of breaking the deal reached in March, and it’s hard to see how Cooper’s proposed policy wouldn’t violate the law he signed. That law is clear that only the state legislature can set bathroom access policies for government facilities, not individual agencies.

So why’s Cooper doing this? “For too many reasons, it is not in our state’s best interest to remain in drawn-out court battles that still linger because of HB2,” he said.

I can’t help but think timing is an issue too. The last thing Cooper wants is to have the bathroom issue litigated in open court next year as he tries to rally Democrats to the polls to break Republicans’ veto-proof majority in the legislature. Cooper’s HB2 compromise bitterly divided Democrats, many of whom thought he was caving in to discrimination. That anger toward Cooper appears to have died down, but it could easily flare up again at a crucial time for Democratic Party unity.

The GOP hasn’t said much about the executive order Cooper signed on the same day as the settlement was announced. That order bans hiring discrimination in his administration on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – and the policy will extend to private companies that contract with the state.

Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him @RaleighReporter.

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