Raleigh, N.C. — Nascent efforts to roll back parts of House Bill 2 have caused a lot of chatter in political circles, but there is little evidence that it has gained enough political momentum to get anywhere near an open debate, much less a vote in the legislature.
"I have no sense as to whether leadership on the House side is going to take it up," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who is himself a House budget chairman and often tapped to help draft complex pieces of litigation.
McGrady acknowledged he had been involved in some tentative conversations about a measure that would roll back parts, but not all, of the controversial bill. McGrady was out of town when House Bill 2 was passed, and therefore is seen as someone who could broker a deal.
But, he said, given the lack of buy-in from House leaders, he has dropped those discussions in favor of work on the budget and a coal ash cleanup bill.
"I've moved on," McGrady said.
Lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in March as a reaction to a transgender nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council. The state bill rolled back that ordinance, requiring that people use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificates, and went much further. The law eliminated the right to sue in state court over wrongful job termination due to sex, race, veteran status or other characteristics. It also set a new statewide nondiscrimination standard that didn't include LGBT people and invalidated any local nondiscrimination standard that went further than the state's new definitions.
Since then, the bill has sparked fierce debate across North Carolina and across the nation. While some, like Gov. Pat McCrory, have stood firmly by the bathroom provisions as necessary to protect women and children, others have expressed outrage. Many businesses have said the bill will hurt their recruiting efforts, and PayPal and Deutsche Bank canceled plans to expand in the state as a result of the bill. Many entertainers have either refused to play in the state, such as Bruce Springsteen, or have donated profits from their shows to LGBT causes to make the point that they disapproved. The National Basketball Association has said that, unless House Bill 2 is addressed, it will not host its All-Star Game in Charlotte next year.
WRAL News reporters have seen multiple drafts of a four-point plan that would roll back parts of House Bill 2. It would restore the private right of action for being wrongfully fired from a job, and it would tweak the state discrimination standard. However, the proposal also keeps the parts of the law that would force transgender men and women to use the locker room and bathroom corresponding to their birth certificates, even if that would be at odds with how they're living their lives. It would also continue to exclude gay and lesbian people from discrimination protections and ban local governments from passing additional protective ordinances.
"If these reports are true, the actions of these legislators are about to make the mess they’ve created even worse," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT group that has been actively pushing for House Bill 2's repeal. "By doubling down on this mistake, they will continue to harm residents and visitors, as well as alienate businesses who want to see HB2 repealed and replaced with statewide nondiscrimination protections."
Word of a potential House Bill 2 fix has spread more quickly among legislative Democrats and Democratic operatives than among legislative Republicans, who appear to be divided over how to approach the measure. While at least a handful might go along with a full repeal – and even more might embrace the four-point plan floating as it has been described – others are dead-set against repeal.
"I am a 'no' vote on any change to HB2," House Majority Leader Mike Hager said Friday.
Asked whether he's had any direct conversations about the plan, Hager, R-Rutherford, said, "I have heard rumors, but I have not been involved in any conversations."
That's telling, because any repeal effort that would move through the legislature would almost certainly be vetted through the House Republican caucus and its leaders, including Hager. With some sizeable group of Republicans set against any repeal, and a number of Democrats who won't settle for anything but a full repeal, any path for a compromise measure is difficult.
"From day one, I have been clear that I support full repeal of House Bill 2," Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said.
Jackson is the sponsor of a bill to repeal the law and an effort to use a parliamentary procedure to dislodge that repeal measure from committee.
"Ten weeks later, the only bill that the citizens and businesses I have heard from can accept is a real solution that repeals all the hurtful impacts of HB2 and provides meaningful, equal protections for the entire LBGT community," he said.
Jackson said the partial repeal bill "does nothing" to address the discriminatory or economic impacts of the law.
For a few days this week, several lawmakers said they believed that a House Bill 2 rollback or repeal might be linked to a bill that would be favored by conservatives, such as a taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR. It is not unusual to see such pairings that allow two politically fraught bills to move forward, although in recent years, such deals have typically involved economic development measures and have frequently fallen apart.
The thinking, as described by the lawmakers who said they heard about the deal, was that reluctant conservatives, and particularly Senate members, might be willing to go along with a repeal in exchange for long-sought state spending and tax cap.
"I'm for TABOR, but not in exchange for HB2," Hager said.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said that, while he knew there were ongoing discussions about a House Bill 2 fix, he did not believe that anyone was seriously talking about such a linkage.
It's not clear that such a deal would lure the votes a repeal or compromise would need, given that the proposed "fix" would not actually change any of the components of the law that have garnered negative headlines around the country and the world.
Lawmakers said on background that a "fix" deal, if agreed to, could be rolled out as soon as Thursday and that leaders would seek to move it quickly through both chambers in one day to minimize media coverage of the proposal.
As of Saturday afternoon, McCrory's office has not yet taken a public position on the rumored deal.