Raleigh, N.C. — As legislative leaders work toward closing down this spring's General Assembly session on Saturday, there is no firm plan to make changes to the controversial House Bill 2.
"Those that would like a change in House Bill 2 have ramped up their game because they know we're trying to wind down the session," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said Tuesday.
But asked whether there is a draft favored by House Republican leaders or one that has been reviewed by the broader group of Republicans serving in the state House, Lewis said, "There is not."
"I don't know where the draft that the reporter posted came from," he said. "I know that is only one of four or five drafts that I have seen floating around here."
Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, the House majority leader, confirmed that no bill has been reviewed by members of the House Republican caucus.
Lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in March as a reaction to a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice. The state law negated that ordinance but went further.
It created a statewide nondiscrimination standard but left LGBT people out of that. It also forbade cities and counties from extending protections beyond the state standard through either local nondiscrimination or contracting policies. The measure also removed the right to sue in state court for wrongful termination, and it requires that transgender individuals use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate in facilities owned by state or local government. It also prohibits local government policies that would force local businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice.
Since the legislative session began in April, there have been various discussions about how to change House Bill 2. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has pushed for a rollback of the lawsuit provision. Others have sought ways to soften the state's approach to transgender individuals and other LGBT people.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, has been involved off and on in conversations to modify the law. He said there are "lots" of proposed bills – others have used the term "dozens" – but none has risen to the level where it might be acted upon.
While he would like to see a House Bill 2 fix before lawmakers adjourn, McGrady said, "What that fix might look like is still very much uncertain. There's certainly nothing people have coalesced around by any stretch of the imagination."
Discussion about a potential change has intensified in recent days because lawmakers are set to wrap up their work for the year. Lawmakers could leave town as soon as Saturday, but they don't plan on staying beyond a week from Saturday.
Rollback conversations have mainly involved members of the state House. Senate Republicans have shown little interest in modifying the bill and will only say that, if their House colleagues come up with a proposal, they might be willing to look at it.
"I have seen nothing," Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said. "Have we discussed things? Absolutely, but nothing specific. There is no proposal that I've seen."
That said, copies of proposed legislative language surfaces from time to time. One of those informal draft documents became the subject of media reports Tuesday, sparking an outcry among House Democrats who said they were not consulted on any potential changes.
"Here we go again," said Rep. Chris Sgro, D-Guildford, decrying the language he had seen. "Once again, leadership is moving legislation in the dark of night."
Asked whether he had heard directly from House Republicans about a particular bill or proposal, Sgro, who also is the executive director of Equality NC, an organization that pushes for LGBT rights, said he had not.
Pressed as to why he and other Democrats were reacting so strongly to what amounted to a rumor, Sgro said that, with the legislative session winding down, Democrats have no choice but to push back against any possible bill they don't agree with.
"It is very clear that we are not going to have the luxury of getting significant public input on any sort of legislation that comes forward," Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, said. "So even if we ... haven't dusted for fingerprints on the draft to see whose actual fingerprints are on it, we have got to take it seriously."
But even Republicans who have pushed for changes to House Bill 2 say there is not yet any draft for critics or proponents to react to.
"I do believe we'll have some legislation before sine die, but what language will be in it is still being worked on," Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said, using the Latin term for the end of session.
Andy Munn, deputy chief of staff for House Speaker Tim Moore added that lots of people have been talking about House Bill 2.
"The point is, numerous business leaders, individuals and groups contact the Speakers' Office daily, and we receive, appreciate and sometimes vet their ideas," Munn said via email. "At the end of the day, the Speaker remains committed to making sure our citizens have the right to expect privacy in bathrooms and showers."
It's unclear if any bill short of a full repeal would win over critics.
"We need full repeal and replacement of HB2," said Sarah Preston, state director for the ACLU. "This legislature should not be considering leaving without fully repealing House Bill Two and replacing it with full non-discrimination protections for the LGBT community."