Raleigh, N.C. — As the House prepared Thursday morning to debate one of the nation's longest waiting periods for abortion, Democrats called for Republican leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory, to refocus on economic development and jobs and "move on" from social issues such as abortion and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
As the states of Indiana and Arkansas endured negative national attention over their approval of similar RFRA bills, North Carolina's House and Senate leaders put bills filed in the General Assembly on hold. But at least one version is expected to emerge for a vote in time to qualify for the April 30 crossover deadline.
The version filed by Republican leaders is nearly identical to the one that left Indiana leaders scrambling after a backlash that prompted large employers to cancel conferences and planned business expansions. Indiana has since signed a $2 million contract with global public relations firm Porter Novelli to repair the state's image.
Democrats say that's not an example North Carolina should follow, pointing out that large employers here, from Red Hat and Cisco to IBM and American Airlines, have already spoken out against it.
"Businesses don't want that social agenda," Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, at a news conference Thursday. "But legislative Republicans have shown little interest in the business community. They're really all about social issues, all the time."
Woodard criticized McCrory for refusing to say whether he would veto a RFRA bill if lawmakers send one to his desk, although McCrory has expressed his disapproval.
"We're calling on the governor to pledge now to veto RFRA, Senate Bill 2 [the Religious Refusal bill] and all other extreme social legislation out of step with everyday North Carolinians," Woodard said.
Republican leaders have said they have "sufficient capacity" to focus on both social issues and economic development, but Democrats contend that there has been no meaningful economic development legislation after three months of session, leaving state business recruiters hamstrung in their efforts to woo new employers.
"We're zero for three on automobile manufacturing," added Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, who has filed several economic development bills in the House.
"We don't have (Job Development Investment Grant) legislation yet. We just lost Volvo," said Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe. "I think that's sending a really bad message to the business community that we are not dependable."