Raleigh, N.C. — Saying he doesn't want a state law limiting LGBT rights "to see its first birthday," Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday proposed another deal to repeal the controversial measure.
Cooper said the legislature needs to act with urgency to rescind House Bill 2 to ensure North Carolina isn't blackballed by the NCAA from hosting championships for the next six years, and he said his plan would address the major concerns of Republican legislative leaders.
The General Assembly passed House Bill 2 in a one-day emergency session last March to head off a Charlotte ordinance that would have required businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the public bathroom of their choice. The state law requires people to use bathrooms in schools and government buildings that match their birth gender and lets businesses make their own rules for bathroom use. But it also created a statewide nondiscrimination policy that excludes the LGBT community from protections, prohibited cities and counties from adopting their own policies and barred cities from setting their own minimum wage.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson plan to introduce companion bills Tuesday that call for repealing House Bill 2, increasing the penalties for crimes committed in public bathrooms and locker rooms and requiring cities and counties seeking to create nondiscrimination ordinances to provide 30 days' notice to the legislature.
Cooper said he hasn't yet discussed the deal with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger or House Speaker Tim Moore, but he pressed them in a news conference to push GOP lawmakers to accept the deal.
An effort to repeal the law in December that included Charlotte rescinding its ordinance went down in flames after Berger, R-Rockingham, tacked a six-month moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances onto the repeal legislation.
House and Senate Democrats have filed four bills in recent weeks to renew repeal efforts, but Berger has insisted that any repeal effort include some sort of compromise to ensure the safety of women and girls in public bathrooms and locker rooms.
Cooper said ratcheting up the sentences for sex-based crimes in those locations would do more to protect public safety than House Bill 2 ever did.
"House Bill 2 doesn't do anything to protect anybody," he said. "This proposal protects all kinds of people in public restrooms and dressing rooms, and it sends a strong signal that the state is not going to tolerate these crimes."
Berger questioned Cooper's sincerity in floating the plan, suggesting that the governor didn't properly enforce trespass laws involving bathrooms when he was state attorney general and noting "it does not require an assault to make a woman feel violated."
"I don't see this as a compromise," he said. "I don't see this as anything different than what he's been saying all along. I don't know how you could say that that's something we could build on."
In a statement, Berger also continued to push Cooper on whether he believes men should be able to go into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities.
Cooper said local governments need to decide such questions because they are the closest to the people they represent. He said his 30-day notice plan would ensure that local nondiscrimination proposals would be carefully considered and thoroughly debated before any vote.
"If the legislature had had to give 30 days (notice) before it passed House Bill 2, it never would have passed it," he said.
The Charlotte ordinance was debated for much longer than 30 days before it was passed, but he noted the landscape has changed since then. Local governments and state lawmakers are in closer contact now, he said, and officials realize the damage that can be done by another "fiasco of House Bill 2."
The law has brought nationwide scorn on North Carolina, including businesses scrapping plans for expansions, entertainers canceling concerts and organizations moving their conventions elsewhere. The NBA moved the All-Star Game, which would have been in Charlotte next weekend, to New Orleans, and the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved its football championship from Charlotte to Orlando, Fla.
The NCAA has already stripped North Carolina of about a dozen championships in various sports, and sports marketing officials say communities around the state are unlikely to be granted any of their bids to be host sites for 133 NCAA events through 2022 if House Bill 2 remains on the books. Those bid decisions will be made in the coming weeks.
"February needs to be the month that we get this done. It may be too late otherwise," Cooper said.
Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said Cooper's proposal would put North Carolina "back in the game with the NCAA, the ACC, the NBA and others" if approved by the General Assembly.
LGBT advocates criticized the plan, however, saying the state needs a simple repeal without any strings attached.
"Thirty days (notice) is unnecessary. Local governments have the ability to decide protections for their own citizens," said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina. "Every other piece of this conversation (beyond a repeal) is a distraction."
Sgro, a former House member, blasted Berger and Moore, R-Cleveland, comparing them to Lucy repeatedly pulling the football away as Charlie Brown tries to kick it so he lands on his back instead.
"We all were around in December, and we all would do well to remember what happened in December when Berger and Moore got precisely what they asked for. Charlotte City Council went out on a limb, the governor went out on that limb with them and Berger and Moore cut that limb out from underneath the council, the governor and the entire state," Sgro said.
Conservatives simply derided the proposal.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said it would amount to a "state-sanctioned 'Look But Don't Touch' policy in our bathrooms" because men who watch watch women dress or even try to shower next to them in locker rooms would face punishment only if they assaulted someone or filmed something.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said Cooper's plan would force businesses "to choose between government coercion to participate in events and speech which violate their beliefs or suffer frivolous and costly lawsuits.
"Governor Cooper needs to explain to the people of North Carolina why he values political correctness over respecting and protecting the privacy and safety of women and children," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Cooper and Democratic leaders say they have enough votes in a bipartisan coalition to pass the deal if legislative leaders will allow it to come up for a vote, but GOP leaders have said they won't vote on any deal that doesn't have majority support among Republicans.
"Despite what the governor has said, I don’t at the moment count 61 votes in the House, so I don’t know how we get to that number," said Re. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who chairs the House Rules Committee.
Lewis said Cooper's proposal has "some merit" and that lawmakers continue to work behind the scenes on ideas to move North Carolina past House Bill 2.
"The members of this General Assembly and the people of this state are perhaps growing tired of the subject being discussed, and I think, if there’s going to be any action taken, that the timeframe is probably pretty close at hand," he said.