HB2 compromise draws mixed reactions

Published 7:51 pm Friday, March 31, 2017

After months of controversy, House Bill 2, known colloquially as the “bathroom bill,” was repealed Thursday.

Larger cities experienced noticeable backlash, but in Beaufort County, the effects are not as tangible and have yet to be determined.

The repeal will allow Beaufort County Schools and Beaufort County Community College officials to sleep more soundly, as some were worried about HB2’s effects on federal funding for education.

For local businesses and organizations, it is difficult to nail down whether HB2 discouraged out-of-state visitors from coming to the Washington area, especially considering the law’s brief tenure, according to Debra Torrence, executive director of Arts of the Pamlico.

“That’s the challenge — is that you don’t know who would have come that didn’t. It’s only the things that were scheduled and lost. I don’t know that we felt an impact,” Torrence said. “What I’m hearing from folks in our state is that we knew who didn’t come, but what we don’t know is who didn’t come because it happened.”

“What little I heard was that they thought it was ridiculous, that it was even an issue,” Washington City Council member Virginia Finnerty said of her bed and breakfast customers. “The feedback that I got was from people who travel, and the comments were, ‘It’s not an issue anywhere else — why is it an issue here?’”

HB2 mandated that bathrooms be used based on one’s biological sex at birth, and included prohibitions of discrimination lawsuits at the state level and municipalities passing their own discrimination or minimum wage ordinances.

Opponents homed in on the bathroom-related portion of the law and viewed it as an attack on the LGBTQ community. The Associated Press estimated that North Carolina lost $3.76 billion in revenue, due to the ACC’s and NCAA’s decision to pull their tournaments from the state, as well as a variety of businesses and performers, from Bruce Springsteen to Cirque de Soleil.

“Companies that I have talked to, companies that I have recruited, who were hesitant or refusing to bring businesses to our state before the passage of today’s bill now are telling me: We are coming,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday, as reported by The Associated Press.

HB2 was replaced with House Bill 142, which continues to cause controversy, as some do not view it as a repeal at all.

The new legislation removed the bathroom provision, but it solidified the state’s authority — and municipalities’ lack thereof — to pass similar legislation in the future. HB142 also imposed a moratorium, limiting local governments’ authority to regulate private employment or public accommodations, including anti-discrimination and minimum wage ordinances, until December 2020, when the legislature will debate it again.

Some legislators think passing HB142 and its moratorium was simply a way to avoid a problem.

“I voted against it. I think it’s sort of just kicking the can down the highway, if you will,” Republican Sen. Bill Cook said. “I think we’re avoiding an issue, really.”

Cook represents N.C. District 1, which is comprised of eight counties, including Beaufort.

Cook said he is still strongly in favor of the HB2 legislation, and thinks waiting to discuss local governments’ power with ordinances may not be a good thing.

He said he believes the power to enact such ordinances should go back to the state.

“That’s the law in North Carolina, and it has been the law in North Carolina since the beginning of our Constitution,” Cook said. “It means they can’t do anything without us approving.”

Only time will tell when it comes to how North Carolina fares post-HB2. One certainty is that the issue is not null and void — it will raise its head once again in 2021.

Reporter Mike Voss contributed to this report.