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Opinion: In North Carolina, the Good and Not-So-Good News

Compromise on ‘bathroom bill’ but an attempt to ban same-sex marriage

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, is fighting a Republican supermajority in the state legislature that has sometimes seemed more intent on thwarting him than governing, Mary C. Curtis writes. (Courtesy Gov. Roy Cooper Facebook page)
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, is fighting a Republican supermajority in the state legislature that has sometimes seemed more intent on thwarting him than governing, Mary C. Curtis writes. (Courtesy Gov. Roy Cooper Facebook page)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s North Carolina, so, of course, the good news is followed by that pesky dark cloud every time.

You would think everyone in the state would welcome the end of the long saga over House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, which was repealed recently in a compromise. That bill, which had compelled people to use the bathroom that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificates, also said cities could not follow Charlotte’s lead and enact their own anti-discrimination ordinances or a minimum wage and much more.

Admittedly, that repeal deal satisfied few, not those who believe the moratorium on local anti-discrimination laws sacrificed LGBT rights nor conservative groups who said it negated a “common sense privacy law.” But just as bruised business and political leaders at least welcomed a return of sports, entertainment and a decent reputation, a small group of conservative Republican state House members filed a bill to re-fight another battle most thought was over.

Their “Uphold Historical Marriage Act” would have North Carolina defy the Supreme Court and restore its ban on same-sex marriage, and refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The proposal, laced with Biblical quotes, won’t even get a hearing, GOP leaders have said. But it is a headline the state would rather not have. In Alabama, Judge Roy S. Moore lost this argument and was suspended over a similar move. So now, is North Carolina failing to learn from Alabama’s mistakes?

An uphill battle

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has been trying to make progress on his agenda, while having his own battles with the legislature, whose Republican supermajority has sometimes seemed more intent on thwarting him than governing. State lawmakers passed, and a narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory signed, a tsunami of laws as he headed toward the exit, limiting the powers and appointments for the next person in the job. Everything from Cooper’s appointments and hires are in play, with the balance of power on election and education boards and on the courts at stake. Of course, there are lawsuits.

When McCrory was governor, the state decided to pass on the federal Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. But now, Republicans are worried about constituents who are uncertain about coverage, and about rural hospitals on the financial brink. So, after saying no to Cooper’s Medicaid plan, some Republicans are coming up with a plan of their own — without calling it Medicaid expansion. Its progress should be interesting to follow.

We do know the state, pummeled of late by all the bad publicity, can now claim another dubious distinction. As New York State passes reforms to keep juveniles out of adult courts and prisons, North Carolina remains the only state that regularly treats 16-year-olds this way. (Several others still try 17-year-old as adults and sometimes send them to adult prisons.) An ACLU report has condemned the practice in Mecklenburg County of holding 16- and 17-year-olds — some just awaiting trial — in solitary confinement.

Young people still in school may be able, however, to add a “comprehensive firearm education course” to their list of electives if a proposed bill passes. No live ammunition will be permitted. The thinking of the bill’s supporters is that it is inevitable that many will buy shotguns and rifles as soon as they turn 18, so they may as well know how to use them. Some parents are a bit wary.

Deadly force

In, perhaps, related news, state Democrats have introduced legislation to pull back slightly on the state’s generous “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives citizens the right to defend themselves with deadly force in their homes, vehicles and at work without “the duty to retreat from an intruder.” The new bill would roll back the law to the common standard that gives citizens a “clear-cut affirmative defense” if they use deadly force to protect themselves in their homes, said state Rep. Pricey Harrison in The News & Observer. The Democrat is one of the bill’s sponsors; hopes for passage are slim.

In Washington, the professionalism of North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr has gained positive reviews as he leads the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election with his Democratic partner on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia. When compared to his House counterparts, Burr seems an island of bipartisan sanity.

But when the folks down home continue to bicker, it will take more than a little grown-up D.C. behavior to wrestle away the narrative of a state with too much time and too little sense, constantly at war with itself.

At least Tar Heel fans can fleetingly enjoy an NCAA basketball championship, if they ignore the unresolved issue of academic violations in the UNC athletic program.

Then again, it wouldn’t be North Carolina without that cloud.

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.  

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