RALEIGH — Two legislators who represent Robeson County say House Bill 2 is hurting North Carolinians’ pocketbooks and will continue to do so, but neither sees any fix to the problem in the short term.
The legislation, quickly ushered through the General Assembly by Republicans, was signed into law in March by Gov. Pat McCroy. It nullified a Charlotte ordinance which protected transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity. HB2 also overrode local ordinances around the state that would have expanded protections for the LGBT community.
Since it became law, it has been blamed in North Carolina for corporations backing out of planned investments, entertainers canceling shows in the state, and most recently separate decisions by the NCAA and ACC to move sporting events out of the state.
“This has become a very serious economic issue,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat who represents part of Robeson County. “If we don’t address this issue, I think there might be other things, other shoes to drop. The PGA, other corporate partners.”
Critics say HB2 discriminates against LGBT individuals, while proponents say it protects bathroom privacy and security.
“It’s obviously really hurting our state right now,” said Sen. Jane Smith, a Democrat from Lumberton who represents Robeson and Columbus counties. “It is costing us a lot of money. I am also concerned about economic development.”
Smith, who spent 13 years as chairman of the NC Southeast Regional Economic Development Organization, believes that when a business is looking at new locations, any negative can quickly knock out a potential site.
“It doesn’t take much to eliminate you, and that’s what this is doing,” said Smith, who is facing a Republican in the General Election in her bid for a second term. “I am very concerned that we are losing out on jobs.”
Smith said that she does not see an end in sight to the impact of HB2.
“I doubt there will be anything soon,” she said. “Maybe eventually, but I doubt anything will happen before the election or before the next session in January.”
Goodman, however, believes the loss of sporting events could be a tipping point. Last week it was announced that all ACC neutral-site championship games and seven NCAA championship events, including the first-and second-round games of the men’s basketball tournament, would be moved out of North Carolina.
“Losing the ACC championship games or NCAA championship games, I think that made some people take notice of it,” Goodman. “I think a lot of people identified with that, like they do with ACC basketball.”
While opponents of HB2 speak of the consequences, most of those who supported it continue to tout it as a legislation to protect North Carolinians. They include Rep. Charles Graham, whose district includes part of Robeson County.
“I’m a Native American Indian, I’ve been discriminated against,” said Rep. Charles Graham. “I know discrimination when I see it.”
All four state representatives from Robeson County, including Garland Pierce and Ken Waddell, both Democrats, voted in favor of the legislation. Pierce could not be reached for this story, and The Robesonian did not attempt to reach Waddell, who is not seeking re-election.
Senate Democrats did not vote on the legislation, walking out of the chamber in protest. Smith had an excused absence that day.
On Friday, McCrory did open the door for a possible resolution.
Josh Ellis, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement that the governor would call a special session if two requisites are met: Charlotte must move first to repeal its expanded protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and a majority of lawmakers must be in favor of repeal.
“If the Charlotte City Council totally repeals the ordinance and then we can confirm there is support to repeal among the majority of state lawmakers in the House and Senate, the governor will call a special session,” Ellis said.
The General Assembly isn’t scheduled to reconvene until January. Last spring, legislative leaders said the Charlotte ordinance needed to be gone before any significant modifications would be considered to the state law. The Charlotte City Council declined to do so at the time.
The next Charlotte council meeting is Monday. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who backed the ordinance, was evaluating the situation Friday night.
The NCAA and ACC withdrawal from events in North Carolina prompted a handful of Republican lawmakers who voted for the law to call for a full or partial repeal.