Charlotte city council retools nondiscrimination ordinance to set up repeal of HB2

In an emergency meeting Wednesday, Charlotte city council retooled its nondiscrimination ordinance to pave the way for state lawmakers to repeal the controversial House Bill 2 “bathroom bill.”

The action, in a 7-2 vote, happened less than an hour before state lawmakers were meeting to repeal HB2. Council members LaWana Mayfield and Al Austin, both Democrats, were the no votes.

State legislators convened at about 10 a.m., an hour after the hastily called council meeting. But they quickly recessed to confirm and assess Charlotte City Council’s actions.

City council on Monday had repealed the major parts of its February ordinance – including all the clauses related to bathrooms and locker rooms that were the main source of Republican opposition. But because City Council’s changes were not repealed entirely, some Republican lawmakers were raising concerns over whether they should approve the overturn of HB2.

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann said there had been some misunderstanding about council’s actions on Monday, but denied that there was any attempt to confuse or mislead state lawmakers.

“You did repeal all of the public accommodation ordinance” Monday, he said. “No attempt was made to hide anything or deceive anybody...I was certain the council acted in good faith.”

“I don’t know that we’re smart enough to actually do that,” he said of tricking the legislature. “But we’re not dumb enough to try.”

The council’s actions on Wednesday essentially reverted the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to where it stood before the February vote, meaning gender identity and sexual orientation would not be covered. The new repeal isn’t tied to a Dec. 31 deadline, as Monday’s action was, and would come into force as soon as the legislature repealed HB2.

The confusion apparently stemmed from which parts of the city’s nondiscrimination protections were repealed. Sections preventing city contractors from discriminating based on new categories such as gender identity – which the city amended in February along with the restroom and locker room, or “public accommodation,” sections – were left on the books. Hagemann said that was because those sections were not preempted by HB2, so the city didn’t think those had to be repealed.

If HB2 is overturned, the city’s nondiscrimination protections would now cover the same five categories they did before the February amendments: Race, biological sex, color, religion and national origin.

In a statement after the meeting, the city said, “Today, the Charlotte City Council took additional steps to ensure the repeal of HB2 would not be jeopardized in any way...The City Council acted in good faith to do everything that it understood was necessary to facilitate the repeal of HB2.”

Mayor Jennifer Roberts said she had spoken to lawmakers Wednesday and is hopeful that HB2 will be repealed.

Mayfield told reporters she had “no faith” in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which created HB2 as well as voted to limit the power of the incoming governor, Democrat Roy Cooper.

“You cannot make an honest deal with dishonest people,” said Mayfield after the vote.

Following the city council vote, the state American Civil Liberties Union tweeted out a statement saying, “#HB2 has caused harm to transgender people in #NC & now must be repealed in full without delay.”

That fifth special session of the year for lawmakers was set in motion on Monday with the surprise repeal of a February ordinance that lets transgender people use the public bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Because the city council did not repeal its entire ordinance, some Republicans were calling into question why they should repeal HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that both voided Charlotte’s ordinance and wiped away more general protections for LGBT people.

North Carolina has lost sporting and entertainment events, planned job creation and other revenue from people and companies opposed to HB2.

Many Republican lawmakers still support HB2, which they view as a stand for traditional values and protection of women and children from predators. Conservative groups are prodding them to stand firm.

Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat, lobbied Charlotte council members for repeal, which they had twice before rejected. Cooper has said that in return, Republican leaders had promised to “repeal HB2 in full.”

While Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and council members have vowed to revisit protections for the city’s LGBT residents, it is unclear whether they can regain the protections they repealed.

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696, @abell