NC legislature convenes; City Council mulls reinstating LGBT ordinance

by: Joe Bruno Updated:

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RALEIGH, N.C. - Re-elected Republican leaders of the North Carolina legislature emphasized unity and civility Wednesday while ramping up for a two-year session likely to bring more conflict and occasional consensus with the new Democratic governor.

The House and Senate convened organizational meetings that ended in less than two hours.

All 170 legislators elected in November were sworn in and seated on an opening day marked by pageantry, music, family and friends.

The GOP-controlled chambers, without announced opposition, elected Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to a second term as House speaker and Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, to a fourth term as Senate leader.

After electing other officers and top administrators, the General Assembly adjourned until Jan. 25.

The new edition of the General Assembly arrived at the Legislative Building less than two weeks after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office.

Cooper, the longtime attorney general, narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by running a campaign targeting the rightward slant of state government created by the GOP.

It's also unclear if lawmakers will have to run again in 2017 after the Supreme Court put a temporary stay on the elections Tuesday.

The head of North Carolina's NAACP, Rev. William Barber, said lawmakers shouldn't get too comfortable.

"It is only a procedural thing, it is not a loss. That does not mean anything is being overturned. I heard Speaker Moore and Senator Berger celebrating it, how do you celebrate racist maps?" Barber said.

HB2 discussed

An effort by Cooper and legislative leaders to repeal House Bill 2, a law limiting LGBT rights and telling transgender people which public bathrooms they can use, fell apart amid partisan finger-pointing. 

"There's clearly bipartisan will to repeal HB2,” state Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Charlotte, said. “Some Republicans want a full repeal. Some want a partial. I think we'll find out in the next month if we'll get a full repeal"

At a time when Charlotte's relationship with Raleigh isn't stable, lawmakers are asking for everyone to be committed to solutions instead of campaign rhetoric.

Sources told Channel 9 that council members considered reinstating its non-discrimination ordinance as a symbolic gesture, days after an agreement with the General Assembly to repeal HB2 fell through.  

At-large Rep Julie Eiselt said she isn't against reinstating the ordinance eventually, just not now.

"I am interested in an enforceable ordinance, she said. “I'm interested in legally being able to protect people in this city. People who live here. People who visit here. People who are here on business."

Mayor Jennifer Roberts said city leaders are sitting tight.

"If we can get to a point where we each through good faith, fulfill our part of the agreement," she said. 

"Charlotte has done everything we can."

Charlotte's relationship with Raleigh is on thin ice when a wrong move could sink a deal.

"Let's just let this one sit and cool for a while,” Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Matthews, said. “It is obvious we are going to be talking this more, and as calmly and as cool as we can discuss it.”

Moore told reporters that conversations were continuing about looking for a way to end the standoff over the law. Companies have declined to expand, entertainers canceled concerts and the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference pulled their championships from the state in protest of the law.

"I think you'll see some trying to find compromise of that issue," Moore said, but "you won't see the General Assembly betray its principles."

Republicans hold majority

With Republicans holding 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats, there's little Cooper can do if Republicans unify against him. A U.S. Supreme Court order Tuesday temporarily blocking the redrawing of Senate and House maps and a special election this fall under the altered maps mean those GOP advantages are more likely to remain in place through 2018.

One of 18 new House members, Rep. Mary Belk, D-Mecklenburg, said voters elected her to work with her colleagues and get things done.