Politics & Government

Chamber: Let cities pass own LGBT protections

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory applaud at an event at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce announcing that PayPal, Inc. would open a Global Operations Center in Charlotte, creating 400 new jobs and investing $3.6 million by the end of 2017. PayPal ended up dropping those plans because of House Bill 2.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory applaud at an event at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce announcing that PayPal, Inc. would open a Global Operations Center in Charlotte, creating 400 new jobs and investing $3.6 million by the end of 2017. PayPal ended up dropping those plans because of House Bill 2. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

A day after Charlotte City Council decided not to vote on whether to rescind the ordinance that triggered House Bill 2, leaders of the Charlotte Chamber made public a letter asking legislative leaders to allow North Carolina cities to pass their own ordinances to give legal protections to the LGBT community.

In a letter sent Monday to House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, the chamber said municipalities have “diverse needs,” and in “limited circumstances it makes sense to allow cities to decide if they want to bolster their nondiscrimination laws.”

Monday’s letter was the strongest position the chamber has taken on the issue that has drawn scorn and economic boycotts to the state. Chamber leaders said time is running out for Charlotte and legislative leaders to reach a compromise during the legislature’s short session.

But the group did not call for a full repeal of HB2. Chamber President Bob Morgan and Chairman Ned Curran said the group’s executive committee discussed whether to call for repeal but decided against it.

Curran said groups that have called for a repeal haven’t been included in negotiations between the city and state, while the chamber has acted as a “shuttle diplomat.” He said the chamber wants “a seat at the table” and didn’t support a “litmus test” of requiring immediate repeal of HB2.

“We made quite clear we don’t encourage or support discrimination of any kind,” Curran said. “Those that are calling for a litmus test are failing to get any traction to make that better.”

The chamber is fighting back against accusations from the Human Rights Campaign, which called the group an “anti-LGBT bully” on Monday for supporting a City Council vote to repeal the city’s recently passed nondiscrimination ordinance.

After the news conference, the HRC, a national gay rights group, called on the chamber to ask for a repeal of HB2.

“If the Charlotte Chamber truly believes that cities should be able to protect LGBT citizens, it should speak up now for Charlotte’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance and against the vile HB2,” said Jay Brown, HRC’s communications director.

Local LGBT groups have also pressured the chamber. The LGBT Chamber said Tuesday that it is reconsidering its affiliation with the Charlotte Chamber.

“Unfortunately, by calling on our City Council to rescind the expansion of protections passed in February, the Charlotte Chamber is no longer aligned with our mission to protect all of our members against statewide discrimination,” said Melissa Morris, the group’s president.

The specter of losing more prominent events, such as the NBA All-Star Game scheduled for next year, still hangs over the city. Curran declined to comment on the status of the game. The 2017 NBA All-Star Game would generate about $60 million in spending. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in April said HB2 is troubling for the league, but he did not set a timetable for changes to the law.

“We’re going to work very hard to demonstrate to the NBA that we want to go to work as one of their franchise cities to represent all people,” said Curran.

On Monday night, Republican City Council member Kenny Smith asked his colleagues to vote on a resolution that Smith said would have been a good faith gesture toward Raleigh lawmakers.

The resolution would have affirmed that the city opposed discrimination, but it would have removed the city’s nullified nondiscrimination ordinance from the city’s book of ordinances. The repeal wouldn’t have taken place until June 30.

If the legislature didn’t act, the city’s nullified ordinance would have remained.

Leading up to Monday’s vote, some council members believed there were enough votes to pass such a repeal. But by Monday morning, a majority of council members said they didn’t want such a deal.

They voted 7-4 against voting on Smith’s proposal.

Smith and other proponents of the idea didn’t say specifically what the General Assembly might do if the city had acted. But sources said it was similar to what the chamber proposed Tuesday: giving municipalities some autonomy in creating their own nondiscrimination ordinances.

The chamber’s proposal could extend more legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, but it could still face opposition from gay-rights organizations, as well as those on the City Council.

One of the most controversial parts of HB2 requires people in government facilities to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. That part of HB2 would likely supersede any transgender protections Charlotte might pass.

Curran told reporters that business leaders will “continue to work with the city and the legislature” to break the impasse over HB2.

But, Curran said, Monday’s 7-4 council vote makes that more difficult.

“We’re clearly very disappointed,” he said. “It makes it harder that (the City Council) chose not to take some formal action.”

He also acknowledged time might be running out to reach a deal, as both sides dig in and the legislature’s short session moves forward. He predicted there are just three to six weeks left for a compromise.

“We have some degree of optimism,” said Curran. “We have three to six weeks to try and achieve something.”

Economic impact of House Bill 2

The news conference came on the heels of a chamber report that showed Mecklenburg County has suffered an economic blow of $285 million and a loss of as many as 1,300 jobs as a result of HB2.

The report also says inquiries about new economic development are down 58 percent since lawmakers passed the bill in March, and client visits down 69 percent from last year.

“We have said all along that the economic loss has been real, the risk of further loss is great, and this is potentially catastrophic to our economy,” Morgan said.

The report was distributed to Charlotte City Council members and some lawmakers. Some council members argued that rescinding the ordinance could prompt lawmakers to change the controversial law, which has led to celebrity boycotts and dueling lawsuits by the state and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The chamber report said HB2 has cost:

▪ $3.7 million in lost sales and property tax collections for the county.

▪ $202.7 million in lost wages and benefits in the county.

▪ $7.1 million in lost income and sales tax revenue for North Carolina and its counties.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.

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