It’s a risky move to make, particularly in an election year. But North Carolina lawmakers needed some way to ensure the state would have enough money at its disposal to cover the cost of defending its controversial HB 2 law.
Under a bill approved last month by the Republican-run legislature, $500,000 that was previously earmarked for disaster relief will now go towards legal costs, reports the Raleigh-base News & Observer. So far, legal bills related to HB 2 have exceeded $176,000, and are expected to rise. The HB 2 law is being challenged in at least two separate cases: by LGBT-friendly organizations like Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of six plaintiffs, and by the Justice Department, which argues that the law violates part of the Civil Rights Act.
While Republican leaders had telegraphed their intention to use the disaster funds to defend HB 2, McCrory, a stalwart defender of the law, had the choice of whether to sign the funding bill or allow it to become law without his signature. But McCrory is up for re-election this year, and being seen as diverting some disaster relief funds — particularly should the state be hit by a natural disaster like a hurricane — carries some political risk and could give Democrats some ammunition against the embattled governor.
In a statement, the governor’s spokesman, Josh Ellis, said McCrory did not sign the legislation because he would have preferred the money come from the Attorney General’s budget “since he is refusing to do his job.” Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is McCrory’s Democratic challenger this fall, has previously said he will not defend the law because he believes it to be unconstitutional.
McCrory and Republican allies have repeatedly attacked Cooper for refusing to defend HB 2, which they argue is necessary to protect people’s privacy in restrooms. Among other provisions, the legislation demands that, in cases of multiple-stall, single-sex restrooms, transgender people be restricted to using the restroom that corresponds to their biological sex as listed on their birth certificate. Republicans also reject both Cooper’s and the Department of Justice’s interpretation that gender identity is protected by laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex.
Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, told The News & Observer: “Even legislative Republicans recognize the consequences of HB 2 have been a disaster. Unfortunately, Gov. McCrory is more interested in finding new and creative ways to point fingers than in fixing the problem.”
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