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Legislative leaders: Cooper ‘lied about wanting to end focus on HB2’

October 19th, 2017

— Legislative leaders angrily fired back at Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday over his agreement to settle a federal lawsuit over transgender access to public bathrooms that was filed after House Bill 2 went into effect last year.

“Roy Cooper made a deal with the business community and the legislature to repeal HB2 and put divisive social issues that North Carolinians are sick of hearing about behind us, and his attempt to resurrect these issues shows he acted in bad faith and lied about wanting to end the focus on HB2,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement.

House Bill 2 required that people use bathrooms in schools and other government buildings that match the gender listed on their birth certificates. Within days of its passage in March 2016, three transgender people filed suit, arguing that the new law violated their equal protection rights under the Constitution.

Cooper’s administration said in a proposed consent decree to settle the lawsuit that continuing to fight the lawsuit would be a waste of time and money.

The deal, which still must be approved by a federal judge, would allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice in public buildings controlled by agencies in Cooper’s administration, including most state offices in downtown Raleigh, highway rest stops and state parks and historic sites, without fear of arrest or prosecution.

“We trust the court will reject the governor’s latest stunt, which is inconsistent with the deal he negotiated to repeal HB2,” Berger and Moore said.

House Bill 2
Complete coverage: House Bill 2

To end the nationwide scorn of North Carolina over House Bill 2 – conventions and sporting events were moved outside the state and some companies dropped expansion plans – Cooper and lawmakers agreed in March to repeal House Bill 2 and replace it with legislation that continued to put the state in control of who could use which public bathroom and blocked local nondiscrimination ordinances until the end of 2020.

“This starts to undo some of the damage of HB2 and [replacement legislation] HB142, but it’s one step in a much larger process,” Chris Brook, legal director for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs, said Thursday of the proposed settlement. “This is going to make certain transgender individuals in our state are not prevented from using public facilities.”

Joaquin Carcaño, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the proposed settlement provides temporary relief for him and other transgender individuals.

“There’s been a lot of damage done by HB2 and HB142. I think there’s been a lot of fear, and we feel targeted,” Carcaño said. “We deserve equal rights. We deserve equal protection. We deserve to live our lives in safety.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said the deal would provide access to women’s restrooms to sexual predators.

“While I take at face value the Governor’s intent to help transgender people use the bathroom of their identity, his order creates a legal loophole that will be exploited by non-transgender pedophiles, stalkers and perverts,” Forest said in a statement. “All bathrooms at state rest areas, parks and museums will now be fertile ground for sexual deviants who will falsely claim to be transgender to gain protected access to our women and children.”

Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, tweeted “Truce torched” about the settlement.

On his Facebook page, Bishop called it “the epitome of a collusive settlement” and said “business interests who pleaded for the HB2 controversy to be quelled by good faith compromise” should call Cooper to complain.

“The governor has exceeded his authority,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the conservative North Carolina Values Coalition. “It was a betrayal of business owners in North Carolina who are now going to be coerced and punished by the state government for exercising their beliefs in their business.”

The University of North Carolina system, which also is a defendant in the lawsuit, and Republican legislative leaders, who intervened in the dispute, aren’t part of the settlement. Brook said neither party wanted to sign on to the consent decree.

“We think moving forward with this consent decree is a step in the right direction for all North Carolinians,” he said. “We hope the legislature will see the light about that. Given their rather tawdry reputation when it comes to their treatment of the LGBT community, we’re not holding our breath.”

The UNC system was another matter, however, he said.

“It pains me the university would stand with the legislature to prop up discrimination support,” he said.

UNC administrators refused to enforce the bathroom provisions in House Bill 2 when it was in effect.

“House Bill 2 has been repealed, and we believe the case should be dismissed,” UNC system spokesman Josh Ellis said in an email Wednesday to WRAL News. “Furthermore, we have a clear nondiscrimination policy and always strive to ensure our institutions are welcoming places for everyone.​”

Both the university system and GOP leaders are expected to file responses to the proposed settlement by Monday.

Cooper also signed an executive order on Wednesday that forbids state agencies from discriminating against people based on gender identity and extends that prohibition to state contractors and subcontractors.

The executive order reaffirms some of the protections for LGBT state workers put in place last year by former Gov. Pat McCrory, but it rescinds sections of McCrory’s order dealing with bathroom access. Neither executive order extended to local governments or schools.

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