The legislature approved limited changes to House Bill 2 late Friday night, restoring residents’ right to bring claims of discrimination in state courts.
Gov. Pat McCrory had been seeking the action for months. HB2, best known for requiring transgender people in government facilities to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates, also blocked a path that North Carolinians had to file state-court discrimination claims.
Though lawmakers’ action Friday restores that path, it comes with a statute of limitations shorter than before — one year instead of three years.
“As we said from the beginning, there was never an intent to limit the right of anybody to seek redress in state court,” House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
The House passed the change 85-15, and the Senate passed it 26-14 to send it to the governor.
Some HB2 opponents said they would vote for the change even though they said it did not address discrimination against the LGBT community that they contend is at the center of the law.
"While this is important, it doesn’t go nearly far enough," said Rep. Chris Sgro, a Greensboro Democrat. Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, had been one of the leaders of efforts to repeal HB2.
Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, called the change “the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.”
Martin said his excitement about voting for the bill was diminished because the statute of limitations is reduced.
“We’re not going back to the status quo on this,” he said. “Workers will still be worse off than before the passage of House bill 2.”
Lawmakers wrapped up their session late Friday just before midnight.
Draft legislation circulating this week included a proposal to offer “gender reassignment certificates” that would allow transgender people who haven’t changed the gender on their birth certificate to prove they’ve had gender reassignment surgery – and can therefore use the bathroom they prefer.
“There was all this talk of draft legislation,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of legislation that gets talked about that’s never even filed sometimes”
The vote came a day after the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets said they do not support “the version of the bill” that was circulating earlier in the week.
The league reiterated its commitment to its “guiding principles of inclusion, mutual respect and equal protections for all,” and that “constructive engagement with all sides is the right path forward.”
“There has been no new decision made regarding the 2017 NBA All-Star Game,” the statement read.
Moore responded to the NBA’s comments on Friday. “I certainly hope that the NBA will keep the All-Star Game here,” he said. “The process I don’t think lends itself to (passing) legislation perhaps that they might want to see. I hope that they – and frankly every business that had concerns about discrimination arguments – see fixing this issue with access to state courts as fixing that.”
Efforts by Democrats to completely repeal House Bill 2 failed for the session, although Senate Democrats said they planned to introduce “an alternative bill that will more closely respond to concerns from the business community and the public.” They then canceled a news conference and hadn’t released a proposal as of 11 p.m. Friday.
In Charlotte – where a controversial nondiscrimination ordinance including a transgender bathroom use provision prompted HB2 – leaders expressed disappointment in the lack of broader action.
Charlotte City Council member John Autry, one of the early proponents of the nondiscrimination ordinance, said he is worried about the continued impact to Charlotte and the state.
“What is my reaction? Of course I’m disappointed,” he said. “I would have thought cooler heads could have prevailed and seen this as a misstep by the General Assembly. I’m worried about all of the economic impact N.C. will feel either directly or indirectly.”
$500,000 to defend HB2 in court
Also Friday, the House voted 89-23 in favor of a bill that includes moving $500,000 from disaster relief funding to help defend HB2 in court. The same bill passed the Senate on Thursday and now heads to the governor.
Democrats criticized the move, noting the possibility of hurricanes. “I assume our coastal communities, especially, will not appreciate that moving into the future,” said Rep. Chris Sgro, a Greensboro Democrat and leader of an LGBT advocacy group opposed to HB2.
Moore defended the move and blamed Roy Cooper, the attorney general who’s also a Democrat running for governor.
“That law needs to be defended,” Moore said. “That’s the job of the attorney general. When that doesn’t happen, we have no option other than to hire outside counsel.”
Moore said using disaster relief funding won’t harm the state’s ability to respond to an emergency. “The state has more money set aside between disaster relief and the rainy day fund than at any time in the state’s history,” he said.
Staff writer Craig Jarvis, Charlotte Observer staff writer Steve Harrison and the Associated Press contributed to this report