As HB2 repeal co-sponsor abandons bill, backers, opponents trade jabs
Posted February 24, 2017 5:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2017 6:44 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — One of the five House Democrats to back a bipartisan effort to repeal House Bill 2 says he will no longer co-sponsor the bill amid raucous behind-the-scenes lobbying over the repeal effort.
Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, said during a phone interview Friday that colleagues had originally "assured me there would be some negotiations on the referendum and other points." The referendum in question would allow a voter-initiated process to override local governments that decide to extend discrimination protections to LGBT people, a point that many advocates find unacceptable.
While he wouldn't say which colleagues gave him those assurances, Moore said that he has since been told of comments from House Speaker Tim Moore that parts of the bill, including the referendum provision, were non-negotiable.
Rodney Moore's move to take his name off the repeal bill is the latest in the one-step-forward, two-steps-back story of all House Bill 2 repeal efforts. Even as he pulled his support for the measure, an influential group of Charlotte business people headed by Duke Energy's chief executive backed the repeal effort. Moore said he backs repealing the law but no longer believe the compromise will do the job.
"I wanted to try to get there and do what I could," Rodney Moore said, adding that he hoped to see the referendum provision changed or removed. "But really, I don't see a path for that."
A spokesman for Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said he doesn't know what the Democrat was referring to and added that the speaker hasn't taken a position on what provisions should stay or go in the repeal measure.
The bill's lead sponsor insisted Friday that none of the bill's provisions are locked in.
"No, they're all negotiable," Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said.
McGrady said it was not inflexibility by House leaders but rather pressure from Gov. Roy Cooper lobbying his fellow Democrats responsible for Rodney Moore's change of heart. He said that Moore and the other Democrats who had signed onto the measure had come under intense pressure from interest groups that want an unalloyed repeal of House Bill 2 and the Governor's Office.
When asked if the governor had brought pressure to bear on the repeal bill's Democratic co-sponsors, Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said, "The governor has spoken with several members of the caucus who are concerned about the referendum and whether it will simply keep the HB2 fight going."
She added, "Governor Cooper is committed to working with anyone to repeal HB2, but he's been clear about his concerns that HB186 won't get the job done to restore our reputation."
While it's not completely clear what has happened since the repeal bill was filed on Wednesday, sources speaking on background describe an active behind-the-scenes lobbying effort. Where they disagree is what exactly is being said. A source familiar with the conversations surrounding the repeal effort said that Tim Moore had, in fact, told lawmakers that he needs the referendum provision to stay in the bill in order to get it passed. Another source, speaking on similar condition they not be named for fear of upsetting negotiations, said the speaker would allow House members to make any changes for which they could get the votes assuming the measure got to the floor.
House Bill 2 passed on March 23, 2016, in a one-day special session in response to a Charlotte ordinance that, among other things, required businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice. Republican state lawmakers said the Charlotte ordinance would endanger women and girls.
While House Bill 2 prevented cities from making such bathroom regulations, it went further. It dictated a statewide nondiscrimination policy that left LGBT people out of the protections it offered.
McGrady's bill, House Bill 186, repeals House Bill 2 and replaces parts of it with a series of related measures. For example, it would not allow cities to make policies with regard to multi-stall bathrooms or locker rooms. While it would add veterans and pregnant women to statewide nondiscrimination law, it would leave it to local governments as to whether to extend protections to LGBT people. However, voters could circulate a petition and, if they got enough signatures, could trigger a referendum on whether to override the proposed ordinance.
McGrady said the referendum section was modeled on similar provisions in some city charters that allow residents to file protest petitions to challenge certain local ordinances.
Opponents of the referendum provision measure decry that approach, saying it allows people to vote on the rights of a minority. They point out that such a referendum provision would likely lead to years of local battles over LGBT rights throughout the state.
Even as lawmakers wrestle among themselves over what a repeal bill might look like, business and political leaders around the state, including University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings, have weighed in on behalf of moving forward with some sort of compromise, if not HB 186 specifically.
"The Wake County Commissioners commend the bipartisan effort currently underway in the General Assembly to repeal HB2. We applaud legislators from both sides of the aisle for their continued diligence and commitment to work towards a swift and timely resolution," Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement.