Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers have reversed a small piece of House Bill 2 dealing with the right to sue for wrongful termination in state court, but they left intact the remainder of the controversial measure dealing with LGBT rights and the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals.
That change was inserted into House Bill 169 late Friday night as lawmakers worked to end their legislative session for the summer.
Members of the House voted 82-18 in favor of the fix. Senators voted 26-14. The measure now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory, who has sought this specific change since House Bill 2 passed in March.
"Governor McCrory is pleased the General Assembly has acted on his request and restored non-discrimination protections in state courts. This action reinstates all statewide non-discrimination protections that were previously in place," McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said in a statement.
The law was passed to kill a Charlotte ordinance that required businesses allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice, but it also delved into a number of areas dealing with LGBT rights.
Friday's action reverses a slice of that bill.
"This was just one of the incredible mistakes made in the passage of House Bill 2," Rep. Chris Sgro, D-Guilford, told his colleagues.
Although he embraced the fix, Sgro said that lawmakers ought to go further and reverse the entire measure.
"I am woefully embarrassed that this is the result of two-and-a-half months of conversation about the most disastrous piece of legislation in the state's history," he said.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, insisted that Friday's measure actually did very little, saying press reports exaggerated and "widely misreported" the effect of the measure. He pointed out that a federal right of action for wrongful termination had remained. Democrats like Sgro pushed back on that notion, saying that the impact was broader than Bishop admitted.
House Bill 169 restores the state right of action to sue for wrongful termination due to age, sex, race or other forms for discrimination. However, before House Bill 2, workers had three years to sue. Under the rollback bill, workers will have only one year.
Social conservatives said they did not oppose the reversal.
"North Carolina Values Coalition is not opposed to the reported technical correction bill that intends to reinstate an individual's ability to file suit for discrimination under state law," said Tammy Fitzgerald, who heads the coalition and has been a frequent lobbyist on House Bill 2 and other social issues.
In general, Democrats and LGBT groups have said that anything short of full repeal would not be satisfactory.
"If this is the only step we take to repeal HB2 before we adjourn, it is going to cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars," Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, said.
Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, called House Bill 169 "a feeble and disingenuous attempt to repair the damage done by House Bill 2," saying in a statement that it "doesn’t come close to restoring the rights of the people in this state."
"We can’t accept this as a legitimate resolution for North Carolina, and it does little to absolve Republicans of the damage they have caused this state," Blue said.
"Protecting the safety and privacy of North Carolina families by keeping grown men out of bathrooms, shower facilities and changing rooms with women and young girls has always been our primary objective," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said. "Today’s action affirms and protects the core mission of the bathroom safety bill while answering the governor's and business community's calls."
One other HB2-related measure passed
Throughout the day, seniors lawmakers said they did not anticipate making broader changes to better known provisions of the bill. Among those provisions are requirements that government facilities require people to use the bathroom and changing room corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates, even if that person is a transgender individual.
While broader adjustments were floated throughout the week, lawmakers said none ever gained enough support to be considered.
"There was all this talk of draft legislation," House Speaker Tim Moore said Friday. "There's always legislation that gets talked about but never gets filed."
Lawmakers passed one other House Bill 2-related measure Friday. The bill, which is now on its way to McCrory's desk, would set aside $500,000 of disaster relief money to pay for litigation related to the law.
Asked if pressure from businesses such as the NBA had made a difference, Moore, R-Cleveland, acknowledge having conversations with the basketball league. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said the league might look to move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte if the law remains on the books.
"I certainly respect the NBA and value having them here in North Carolina," Moore said. "I certainly hope the NBA will keep the All-Star game here. We want to see a healthy and strong NBA and a healthy and strong Charlotte Hornets."