HB2’s Replacement Worse for Cities

March 31, 2017 - (3 min read)

With the passage of HB142, North Carolina has officially repealed the infamous “Bathroom Bill.” Unfortunately, it also brings a host of preemptive measures that threaten the notion of local control in the Tar Heel State.

On March 30, 2017, HB142 was signed into law by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. (Getty Images)

Following a boycott campaign that spanned from PayPal to Deutsche Bank to the NBA, the state of North Carolina repealed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — better known as HB2 or the “Bathroom Bill.” Victory for the law’s opponents came in the form of HB142, a compromise measure drawn up through dramatic last-minute negotiations inside the state legislature.

Unfortunately, while HB142 does make some improvements to the original law, it fails to fix HB2’s preemption of local authority — and serves to further ignore the will of local voters.

As a response to criticism, HB142 does only the bare minimum: It repeals HB2’s controversial restrictions on bathroom access by transgender individuals. At the same time, however, the bill places a shockingly broad moratorium on local laws around nondiscrimination.

Already, a wide audience has weighed in on HB142 — with mixed reviews, at best. Advocacy groups including the Human Rights Campaign and ACLU have already mobilized against the law, and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has described his tepid support for the bill, which he helped broker, by stating, “it’s not a perfect deal.”

Though it may ultimately be marketed as a civil liberties victory by the state, HB142 is just one more entry in a long line of attempts by state legislatures to preempt the authority of city leaders. In February, the National League of Cities (NLC) published a report, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption,” offering a state-by-state analysis on the growing trend of preemption. The report found that North Carolina is one of three states that explicitly preempt local authority to pass anti-discrimination ordinances.

Despite egregious actions against local control in statehouses across the country, NLC is committed to standing with cities facing preemption battles. Later this year, NLC will host City Summit 2017 in Charlotte, where a local nondiscrimination ordinance led to the original adoption of HB2. NLC will continue to support and fight for cities that build inclusive communities and exercise local control.

Make no mistake: HB142 is a fleetingly small step forward for civil liberties, but it represents a huge leap backward for local authority. City leaders are America’s most trusted form of government, and they are the leaders closest to residents’ concerns.

By stripping power away from local governments, the state of North Carolina has chosen to strip power away from its citizens. A substantive law returning that power should be enacted soon, and in full, if the state is to overcome its recent past.

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.