Legislative Democrats unveiled a proposal Thursday that would repeal House Bill 2 while also adding statewide nondiscrimination protections for a variety of groups. But the bill might not get a hearing in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Democrats filed the bill in both the House and Senate Thursday. In addition to ending HB2, the bill would create a broad statewide nondiscrimination law that would include sexual orientation, gender identity, military veteran status and other categories, according to Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro.
“It’s long overdue,” Harrison said. “We will do our hardest to enact this legislation.”
The nondiscrimination provision would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations – including bathroom access for transgender people.
“It shall not be deemed to constitute discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for a public accommodation to provide separate bathrooms or changing facilities based on gender, but a place of public accommodation shall provide access to such facilities based on a person’s gender identity,” the bill says.
The proposal has support from the two LGBT advocacy groups active in fighting HB2: Equality North Carolina and Human Rights Campaign.
It’s possible that GOP lawmakers could view the bathroom provision as similar to the Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance that prompted HB2. That ordinance allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
HB2, which the General Assembly passed last March, blocked the Charlotte ordinance and other local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. HB2 also requires people in government facilities to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.
House Speaker Tim Moore did not respond to inquiries about the bill. A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Bell said hasn’t yet reviewed the bill and has “no comment at this time.”
Senate leader Phil Berger’s office provided the same statement he issued several days ago, underlining a section indicating that Berger would only support a compromise “that keeps women from being forced to share bathrooms and shower facilities with men.”
Earlier this week, the N.C. Republican Party called on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to take the lead in proposing a compromise on HB2. Republicans say there are not enough votes to simply repeal HB2, while Cooper has argued a repeal could pass if Democrats joined with a minority of Republicans.
On Thursday afternoon, NC GOP executive Dallas Woodhouse issued a statement criticizing the bill. “It is now solely up to Gov. Cooper to create a solution that Democrats and Republicans can both respect and pass,” he said. “So far, he is failing at the leadership test he brought on himself.”
Also Thursday, Rep. Cecil Brockman, a High Point Democrat, filed a separate HB2 repeal bill that includes tougher penalties for sex crimes committed in bathrooms and locker rooms. Brockman said in a news release that his bill aims to find common ground with Republicans.
“My bill will enact real protections for North Carolinians by increasing penalties for sexual crimes while also adding the LGBT community to statewide non-discrimination laws,” Brockman said. “One of my goals is to meet my Republican colleagues at their concerns.”
Brockman, who is bisexual, is one of two openly LGBT legislators. The other one is Rep. Deb Butler of Wilmington, who’s co-sponsoring the other repeal bill.
Brockman’s bill includes longer minimum prison sentences for people who commit rape or other sex crimes while in a changing facility designated for the opposite sex. A similar provision appeared in one of the Republican-led compromise proposals that was briefly considered last year.
Brockman’s bill also includes the same statewide nondiscrimination protections that other Democrats are proposing. He’d previously said he would be co-sponsoring a bill with Harrison, but it appears the two Democrats disagreed on the tougher bathroom crime penalties provision. Brockman stressed that he’s supportive of both bills but wants to give GOP leaders several options to consider.
“Folks in the LGBT community do not commit sexual assault crimes at a higher rate than straight people do,” he said. “For Republicans, I think they can go home to their districts and make the argument that they are protecting the people they have been fighting to protect. It’s a way to compromise.”
Republicans have said they can’t support a no-strings-attached repeal of HB2 because they worry local governments would then enact something similar to the Charlotte ordinance’s bathroom provision.
Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat and a co-sponsor of the repeal bill supported by the LGBT groups, said a statewide nondiscrimination law would solve that problem.
“Let’s just end all this conversation and the back and forth between our leadership here in the General Assembly and the municipalities,” he said. “Let’s have a statewide nondiscrimination ordinances. It’s past time for us to enact this legislation and let’s stop discriminating.”
But the conservative N.C. Values Coalition, which supports HB2, said in a news release late Thursday that “there is no justification for adding new categories creating special rights for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing laws.”