You'd think if Republicans and Democrats agreed that a law was bad, and that it was costing hundreds of millions of dollars, they could manage to change it. But in this ultra-contentious political climate, in the ultra-ultra contentious state of North Carolina? Not so much. Late Wednesday evening, after a nine-hour special session called specifically to repeal the state's infamous "bathroom bill," North Carolina legislators gave up and went home for the holidays without having changed a thing. Welcome to the new era of non-bipartisanship.
The very dysfunctional story so far:
Charlotte expands discrimination protections.
In February, the Charlotte City Council expands its local anti-discrimination ordinance to include gay and transgender people. The state's majority-Republican legislature reacts with alarm and calls a special session.
State legislature votes in HB2.
In March, legislature Republicans vote in a law officially titled "An Act to Provide for Single-sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations." It's commonly referred to as House Bill 2, or HB2, or "the bathroom law." It requires transgender people who haven't been surgically altered to use bathrooms for the gender they were at birth. Democrats in the state's Senate walk out in protest during the vote.
There's fallout. Lots of fallout.
The ACLU and Justice Department sue North Carolina, and the state sues the federal government right back. Other states join the fight, arguing that the federal government is wrong to withhold funds from states that don't allow transgender people to use bathrooms for the gender they identify with.
There are also widespread boycotts of the state by just about everyone. The NCAA pulls seven championships out of North Carolina in 2016. The Atlantic Coast Conference pulls its football championship out of the state as well. Ironically, it would have happened in Charlotte. PayPal cancels plans to build a facility that would have employed 400--again ironically in Charlotte. Ringo Starr and Bruce Springsteen are among the many stars who cancel their North Carolina appearances. The United Kingdom issues a travel advisory for LGBT citizens planning travel to the state.
Estimates vary as to how much business the state lost because of HB2, but it's safe to say the figure is in the hundreds of millions so far. Another victim of the law is Republican Governor Pat McCrory who went on national television to defend it, and lost to Democrat Roy Cooper on Election Day. It is a somewhat hollow victory, with the Republican-controlled legislature voting to severely limit the new governor's powers.
Charlotte repeals its ordinance--sort of.
The legislature has always said it would repeal HB2 if Charlotte repealed the ordinance that started it all. Though the city was initially resistant to that deal, it eventually tells the legislature it will repeal its ordinance at a meeting on Monday. With a deal in place, the legislature convenes a special session for Wednesday with the express purpose of repealing HB2.
Monday comes and the City Council votes to repeal only part of its ordinance, namely the part having to do with bathrooms. Other elements remain in force, though, including a rule preventing the city from hiring contractors who discriminate against subcontractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as one preventing taxi drivers from refusing passengers because they are gay or transgender.
When Republicans in the legislature hear about this, they are outraged. The City Council quickly reconvenes Wednesday morning to repeal the ordinance in its entirety. Council members insist that no trickery was intended. But it's too late.
Republicans try to repeal the law but add six-month moratorium on city ordinances.
They claim that Charlotte is planning to put its ordinance back on the city books just as soon as HB2 is off the state ones. To keep that from happening, they propose a bill with a six-month "cooling off" period during which no city can enact or amend any ordinance relating to employment rights or access to bathrooms. But legislative Democrats and some Republican HB2 opponents block this idea. They insist things must go back to exactly the way they were before the whole mess started.
And so here we are.
Legislative Republicans meet behind closed doors for hours and hours, trying to find a solution to the impasse. As the evening wears on and the hour gets late, the House votes to adjourn. At first, the Senate resists, hoping to come to a last-minute deal, but eventually it gives in and votes to adjourn as well.
What's next for the hated law? Who knows? At this rate, it might stay in force forever. That would be bad news for North Carolina's startups and small businesses, and just about everyone else. But in this crazy political climate, just because everyone hates something doesn't mean they can do anything about it. Not if fixing it would require working side by side with their opponents.