Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers are showing renewed interest in revising parts of North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2 after Republican members of the House and the Senate met behind closed doors with Gov. Pat McCrory Wednesday.
Joint caucus meetings between the House and the Senate are rare, and members of the two chambers were circumspect in describing their closed-door discussions. Still, based on both on-the-record comments and comments made on background, it seems clear the governor urged the legislature to act on some set of changes to the law.
The meeting "reaffirmed our commitment to making sure people are safe when they are in the bathroom or the shower," House Rules Chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said.
Lewis and others familiar with the conversations say there has been no discussions of rolling back provisions that require people using bathrooms and changing rooms in government buildings, including schools, universities and state complexes, to use the facility designated for the sex on their birth certificate.
"There is conversation to address other areas of the law, but there's no formal agreement to do anything," Lewis said.
If lawmakers are to act, their time is dwindling. This year's legislative session could end as soon as Saturday, and few, if any, lawmakers believe they will be in town past July 9.
The General Assembly passed House Bill 2 in March as a reaction to a Charlotte ordinance that would have required businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice. The state law negated that ordinance but went further, creating a statewide nondiscrimination standard that excluded LGBT people from those protections. The law also forbade cities and counties from extending protections beyond the state standard through either local nondiscrimination or contracting policies.
Several lawmakers who spoke on background described McCrory as particularly "driving" the push for changes, perhaps pressed by outside interests such as the NBA. In fact, if lawmakers do decide to act with regard to House Bill 2, many say it will be because they fear backlash from the business community and the embarrassment of losing high-profile events such as the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, now scheduled for Charlotte next February.
Since the bill passed, McCrory has pushed lawmakers to reverse a provision that takes away workers' ability to sue in state court for wrongful termination if they are fired due to age, race, sex or other factors.
McCrory declined to speak to reporters as he left the caucus meeting, taking pains to route himself around a gaggle of reporters stationed outside the room and saying only that he had a "very good meeting" with the legislative Republicans. As he darted down a stairway and into an elevator, he ignored questions about whether House Bill 2 was part of the closed-door discussion.
However, several Republican members pointed to Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, as the potential author of language that could address House Bill 2.
McGrady acknowledged that he is working on something and that he was incorporating the suggestions of Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, who was one of the primary authors of the original legislation.
Asked about his participation in that drafting process, Stam acknowledged that McGrady "circulated a draft, and incorporated some of my suggestions." However, he declined to elaborate on what that draft bill might say or what changes he might have proposed.
Pressed as to whether he believes any legislation addressing House Bill 2 might pass before lawmakers finish work for the year, Stam said, "I don't know.'
While McGrady has said over the past few days that he felt like something addressing the law would pass, he was unsure of the substance.
"There's nothing that's agreed to by all the parties," McGrady said, emphasizing that he "wouldn't bet on" any particular set of provisions being in the final bill.
However, he did say, "There is no discussion of rolling back the bathroom provisions at this time."
That seems unlikely to satisfy opponents of House Bill 2, who say that nothing short of a full repeal would persuade them to stop pressuring the state government.
"The only way for change to happen and make this storm go away is to repeal HB2," said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT causes.
Campaigners pushing against House Bill 2 said that they believe Republicans would pay a price at the polls if they don't repeal the measure.
"I think what we've seen with HB2 is an unprecedented attack on LGBTQ people, and I think the response from LGBTQ people will be just as unprecedented," said Matt Hirschy, with Equality NC, a local group that advocates for gay and lesbian rights.