The Week in Raleigh: No Deal as HB-2 Finger-Pointing Continues

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, speaks with reporters in his office about ongoing negotiations to repeal House Bill 2 on Thursday, March 23, 2017. (Clifton Dowell | NCInsider.com)

RALEIGH — The week in Raleigh saw the one-year anniversary of House Bill 2 come and go with no repeal but with plenty of discussion and a fair share of finger-pointing.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on Thursday that Republican leaders in the General Assembly are continuing to talk about the best way to repeal and replace House Bill 2, the controversial measure dealing with LGBT rights and the use of bathrooms by transgender people.

Moore said any change that can be made to help end the stigma damaging the state’s reputation would be welcome, but that no one should expect the GOP-controlled legislature to budge on the basic issue of requiring men and women to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to their gender.

“We’re not backing off those privacy issues,” Moore said.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has warned North Carolina to repeal the bill or risk losing basketball and other championship events through 2022. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper continued to call for repeal, but one Democratic senator from Charlotte accused Cooper of “ambivalence” on repealing HB2.

Sen. Joel Ford has sponsored a bill that would repeal HB2 while calling for a moratorium on local measures such as the Charlotte ordinance that prompted it. Ford said he secured Cooper’s support, but that later the governor “marginalized his original position — thus moving the goal post, signaling ambivalence on getting HB2 repealed.”

Ford, who is running for mayor of Charlotte, said HB2 critics should understand the need for compromise. “If there can be no compromise, there will be no repeal,” he said.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

Veto Override: Voters casting ballots for judges next year will know the political parties of the candidates after the House and Senate voted to override the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper. Republicans say party designations give voters helpful information. Democrats say it politicizes the courts. “I’m pleased the General Assembly corrected the governor’s misstep and this bill is now law,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican. House Bill 100 makes Superior Court and District Court elections partisan, completing a change that the legislature began with appellate courts including the state Supreme Court.

Gang Law: The state House has agreed to a partial rewrite of North Carolina’s criminal gang law that supporters say will make it easier to prosecute gang members and those who are directing violence. The measure adjusts gang-related crimes and defines more specifically what constitutes a criminal gang and criminal gang activity. Prosecutors and law enforcement says it’s difficult to prosecute gang members under a 2008 state law. The bill, would now heads to the Senate, would replace separate gang-activity crimes with more severe punishments for crimes when it’s determined in court they were committed as part of gang activity.

Bus Cameras: The idea of catching drivers passing school buses unlawfully with cameras and issuing monetary penalties based on photos or video is advancing again at the North Carolina General Assembly. The Senate voted in favor of letting counties pass ordinances imposing penalties and letting school districts install and operate bus stop-arm cameras themselves or through a vendor. A similar Senate bill passed in 2015. Supporters say the measure could save school children from death and injury by deterring motorists from breaking the law that prohibits motorists from passing stopped buses with their stop-arms open or lights flashing. The bill now goes to the House.

Population Centers: Robust growth continues to be seen around North Carolina cities, according to census data released on Thursday. The data from the U.S. Census Bureau covers county population estimates as of mid-2016. Mecklenburg remains the largest county in the Carolinas, with an estimated 2016 population of more than 1.05 million. Right behind it is Wake, which has about 8,000 fewer people than Mecklenburg. In 2010, that gap stood at nearly 19,000. And Wake is continuing to close the gap. Its growth rate remains a little bigger than Mecklenburg’s. It has more room available for development and covers more land than Mecklenburg, said Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center. Experts cite those factors for why they expect Wake to one day be the state’s most populous county. Mecklenburg’s growth tends to spill over to adjoining counties, including some counties in South Carolina.

Community College Tuition: Gov. Roy Cooper toured parts of the state to drum up support for making one of his campaign promises a reality — free community college tuition. “In my talks with business owners, I hear time and again that they have job openings but can’t find workers with the skills necessary to fill them,” Cooper said Tuesday on a visit to Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Like Cooper’s proposal, Tennessee allows recent high school graduates to receive free tuition. Tennessee spent $10 million its first year and estimates it will eventually spend $34 million a year. Cooper suggested spending $19 million to get the program, called NC GROW, started in North Carolina next year. As in Tennessee, Cooper proposed using lottery funds. Any plan would have to pass the Republican-controlled legislature.

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Compiled by the Insider State Government News Service for the member papers of the Capitol Press Association. Learn more at NCInsider.com or @NCInsider.