Raleigh, N.C. — A bipartisan quartet of lawmakers on Wednesday filed a measure to repeal large swaths of North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2, the 2016 law that deals with LGBT rights and bathroom use.
Although other measures to repeal the law have been filed this year, this one comes with at least the tacit involvement of House Republican leaders and is sponsored by key members of the chamber, including Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who has been a key player of the past year in drafting repeal efforts.
McGrady, who was out of the state when House Bill 2 was first passed, said many colleagues have sought his help in drafting a compromise repeal measure.
"They want a fix," he said. "The problem is they don't know what that fix looks like."
Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, who backed the original HB2, is also a lead sponsor. Two Democrats are also sponsors, including Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, a conservative Democrat who voted for the original House Bill 2, and Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland.
House Bill 186, as drafted, would repeal the current law and replace it with legislation outlining the authority of local governments to pass and enforce nondiscrimination ordinances, requiring a referendum for those ordinances in cases of substantial opposition to them, and limiting what restrooms those governments can oversee. It also adds new, stiffer penalties for crimes committed in restrooms and changing facilities.
"We want a bipartisan solution," Goodman said. "If there were a full repeal on the table, I'd be all for it. But that's not what's possible."
This is a nascent effort. Backers say they do not yet have official support from the state Senate. In a statement late Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he was concerned McGrady's repeal measure might not accomplish what the state needs.
"We must repeal House Bill 2, and I remain committed to getting that done. But 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," Cooper said. "I will keep working with the legislature."
McGrady said he has frequently visited with Cooper in his effort to draft the legislation, but the governor did not get an advance look at the bill he filed just before 5 p.m.
The measure takes several steps that erode some of the most controversial pieces of House Bill 2.
For example, it expands a statewide nondiscrimination law included as part of the law, bringing the state in line with the federal standard. While pregnant women and military veterans are now protected classes, LGBT individuals are not included.
With regard to bathrooms, cities wouldn't be able to regulate bathrooms with multiple toilets or locker rooms. Only the legislature could set those rules. Backers of the bill say it will take the state back to law as it was in the days before House Bill 2.McGrady said he hopes the bill would placate groups like the NCAA and the NBA, which have pulled sporting events from the state in reaction to a law they have described as discriminatory. Large businesses have also come out against the bill, and at least one, PayPal, declined to relocate to the state due to the measure.
However, the proposal does not placate some of the most vocal opponents.
"This failure of leadership is unprecedented," said Chris Sgro, director of Equality North Carolina, a nonprofit group that advocates for LGBT rights. "The clock has run out on the time for political gamesmanship, and what we desperately need is the full and complete repeal of HB2 to fix our state and move on with repairing our image."
Sgro added that the bill will not "bring back business or sporting events, and only serves to reinforce the damage."
McGrady said there was a reason he wasn't offering a simple repeal bill.
"We don't have the votes to do a straight-up repeal," he said.Asked why LGBT individuals were not included in the statewide nondiscrimination portion of the bill, he cited the same reason.
"Because I can't get the votes to go there. That would not allow me to pass a bill," McGrady said.
The bill would also increase penalties for certain crimes committed in bathrooms.
Cities would be given the ability to pass nondiscrimination ordinances that include LGBT people. However, they would be required to wait 90 days to allow opponents to collect signatures against such a law. If enough signatures are gathered, then the city would have to hold a referendum. Any such local law would not apply to religious or charitable organizations.
That referendum provision drew opposition from House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, who said the referendum provision would simply prolong the debate of transgender rights.
"All this does is say we're going to have mini-HB2 debates across the state," Jackson, D-Wake, said, most likely focusing unwelcome attention on some of the state's biggest cities.