RALEIGH - Two Republicans and two Democrats have teamed up on a new proposal to repeal House Bill 2 that also would prohibit cities and counties from regulating bathroom access in private facilities.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican sponsoring the bill in the state legislature, said during a news conference that the legislature must act before HB2 causes more economic damage. The NCAA is reviewing bids for championship events in North Carolina and could blacklist the state over the law, which has already led the NCAA and others to pull events from the state.
House Bill 186 was the subject of closed-door negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday. Its initial sponsors were McGrady; Rep. Marvin Lucas, a Cumberland County Democrat; Rep. Ken Goodman, a Rockingham Democrat, and Rep. Ted Davis, a Wilmington Republican.
It isn’t known yet whether there will be enough support among Republicans in the House and Senate. Later in the evening, five more Republicans signed on to the bill.
McGrady said the bill is a starting point for negotiations, but he said he felt certain he could get enough Republican votes to support it. He added he needs Democratic votes, “if the governor will help me get them.”
“This is not a take-it-or-leave-it bill,” he said. “This is the best starting point we’ve had up until now. It’s a bill that I view as sort of a bipartisan path forward ... We’ve got to forget about special interest groups on the right and the left, and do what’s right for North Carolina.”
But Gov. Roy Cooper – who floated his own compromise last week – voiced concerns about the proposal. “I am concerned that this legislation as written fails the basic test of restoring our reputation, removing discrimination, and bringing jobs and sports back to North Carolina,” the Democratic governor said in a news release Wednesday. “I will keep working with the legislature.”
A spokeswoman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said “we typically review and comment on House bills if and when they pass the House.”
The bill would repeal HB2 but would limit the ability of local governments to pass nondiscrimination ordinances – something HB2 banned. Any ordinance could not address access to bathrooms in private facilities like the Charlotte ordinance that prompted HB2 by allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Towns and cities could, however, regulate bathroom access in facilities they own or operate.
Any local nondiscrimination ordinance could only take effect 90 days after being approved by the town or city council. Opponents of an ordinance could force a voter referendum on it by submitting a petition with the signatures of 10 percent of the voters who voted in the most recent municipal election.
The bill includes a statewide nondiscrimination law that would ban discrimination on the basis of “race, sex, national origin, citizenship, religion, age, veteran status, genetic information, pregnancy, handicap or disability.”
Like the nondiscrimination language in HB2, the protections would not extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. But it would allow UNC system boards of trustees to adopt nondiscrimination policies that go beyond the state law and add protections for other groups of people.
The bill also would create tougher penalties for crimes committed in bathrooms, a provision that was part of the compromise bill introduced by Cooper last week.
Wednesday’s proposal quickly garnered opposition from LGBT advocacy groups and some Democrats in the legislature.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality N.C., said the bill would “double down on the harm our state and LGBTQ people have already suffered.”
“I’m certain this will not bring back business or sporting events, and only serves to reinforce the damage,” he said in an email. “We can still fix this – by allowing for the immediate vote on a clean repeal of HB2. Everything else is a distraction from the real issue.”
McGrady, however, said House leaders “don’t have the votes for a straight-up repeal.”
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Knightdale tweeted his opposition to the bill’s provision that would let residents petition against a local nondiscrimination ordinance and have a referendum vote on whether to keep it.
“James Madison: Government should ‘protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.’ We cannot put NDO’s (nondiscrimination ordinances) to a vote of the majority,” Jackson tweeted.
Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, tweeted that “H186 is in no way, shape or form a repeal of the discrimination of #HB2. Don’t believe anyone who tries to say it is.”
But Rep. Scott Stone, a Charlotte Republican, said the bill would offer a reset on the key issues surrounding HB2.
“It does include the protections for the bathrooms in the sense that it doesn’t allow local municipalities to regulate bathrooms and that’s important to a lot of people,” he said. “This gets us back to where we were before the Charlotte ordinance with regard to the bathrooms.”
Goodman, one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors, says he hopes the proposal could end the state’s economic losses. “Our goal was just to move the ball and start a conversation done in a bipartisan way,” he said. “Our hope is that we can get something that will remove the sanctions from the NCAA and ACC and some of the business people who have stayed away ... that will be a good thing.”
Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, had said last week that Cooper’s proposed compromise would put the state “back in the game with the NCAA, the ACC, the NBA and others.”
Asked about the bipartisan proposal filed Wednesday, Dupree said “I don’t know how the NCAA will view this bill, or any of the recent bills, and I’m not going to attempt to speak on their behalf.”
Craig Jarvis, Colin Campbell and Jim Morrill