Politics & Government

Gov. Cooper says he’s in talks about repeal of House Bill 2

Governor Cooper in talks about repeal of House Bill 2

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday he sees an opening for another possible deal with legislative leaders to repeal House Bill 2.
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Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday he sees an opening for another possible deal with legislative leaders to repeal House Bill 2.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that he sees an opening for another possible deal with legislative leaders to repeal House Bill 2.

In Charlotte to speak at the McCrorey YMCA’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday breakfast, the Democratic governor told reporters after the breakfast that he has been talking with GOP Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore since their last proposed deal collapsed in December.

“We’ve had it out. A couple of times, we’ve talked,” Cooper said. “They certainly do want to move forward in some way.”

The rub for the legislative leaders, Cooper said, is that they want to have a majority of their fellow Republican lawmakers on board for repeal before holding votes on the floor. It’s an informal rule. But the leaders, who are elected to those posts by the rank-and-file members of their party caucuses, prefer to have the majority of their party behind them in whatever they do.

The governor said the votes for repeal are there if both Republican and Democratic lawmakers against HB2 are counted.

“My argument to (Berger and Moore) is that there are enough overall votes – even if you don’t have a majority (in the) Republican caucuses – to pass repeal,” said Cooper. “And I’m urging them to do so. It’s too important to our state.”

Cooper also said he would advise the Democratic-controlled Charlotte City Council not to re-enact the nondiscrimination ordinance that was nullified by the legislature’s passage of House Bill 2. Late last month, during the negotiations with Cooper and legislative leaders, the council took a symbolic vote to remove the ordinance from the city’s books.

But, in the wake of the collapse of the proposed December deal, some on the council have talked about re-enacting it to show they are committed to trying to legally protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

“Charlotte has taken the step that Republican leaders wanted them to take, and now we need to keep pushing the legislature. The ball’s in their court. It’s time for them to act,” Cooper said. “I don’t see that there’s any need for (the City Council) to (re-enact the ordinance), no.”

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who also attended the breakfast, echoed Cooper. She said that she has also been talking with Berger and Moore lately and is hopeful all sides can agree on something “positive. Not just a re-set.”

“We are where we’re going to continue to have conversations. And we want to figure out some way forward that repeals HB2 and also sets in place some way to recognize that everyone deserves protection,” Roberts said. “We have to let our cities be cities. I don’t know what that looks like yet because there’s a lot of different ideas about how that may go about.”

Roberts also agreed with Cooper that a symbolic re-enactment of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance would be seen as a provocation by the GOP legislature.

“I think we have talked about the fact that, if we were to re-enact something that’s dead and will stay dead and will just be a symbolic act ... that would be a symbol of provocation,” she said.

Berger and Moore did not return phone calls and emails from the Observer on Monday. But, earlier this month, in remarks during a ceremonial opening day for the legislature’s long session, Moore said he thinks lawmakers will take another look at House Bill 2.

The controversial state law, which has led to boycotts of North Carolina by some corporations, sports leagues and performers, requires transgender people to use the bathrooms in government facilities that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates. The Charlotte ordinance had said transgender persons should be allowed to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity.

‘Action’ on Medicaid

In his meeting with reporters Monday, Cooper also said that his administration plans to “take action” to try to move forward with its bid to expand Medicaid in North Carolina.

Late Monday, state and federal officials filed court motions asking a judge to lift a court order that temporarily blocked Cooper’s plan to expand Medicaid in this state before President Barack Obama leaves office.

On Saturday, a federal judge had temporarily suspended Cooper’s plan, preventing the Obama administration from acting on the governor’s request to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act for 14 days. By then, Republican President-elect Donald Trump will be in office. He has vowed to repeal and replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

“What we are asking for with Medicaid expansion is simple,” Cooper said Monday. “We’re talking about $3-4 billion in taxes that North Carolinians have already paid that are now instead going to other states.”

Expanding Medicaid, Cooper said, would also bring tens of thousands of health care jobs to the state and get medical care to hundreds of thousands of low-income North Carolinians.

“I want to get North Carolina into the best position that we can possibly be in as we approach this Trump era of health care reform – whatever that is going to be,” the governor said.

Berger and Moore filed a lawsuit last week, arguing that Cooper cannot act unilaterally to expand Medicaid. They cited a 2013 state law, which Cooper has said impinges on his authority as governor.

Cooper also pledged to fight any efforts by the legislature to try to restrict voting. Last year, a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law passed by the N.C. legislature, saying it was deliberately written to try to depress black voter turnout.

“We should be making this easier, for people to register and vote rather than harder,” Cooper said. “I will fight any attempt at voter suppression... What happens is, when trying to suppress certain votes, you hurt everybody. You end up with long lines where everybody is waiting hours to vote. We should make voting places plentiful, provide opportunities to make it easier for people to register and we should make that a priority.”