Legislative leaders say the House Bill 2 repeal compromise proposed by Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady is the best shot at resolving the controversy that has cost North Carolina sporting events, corporate expansions and concerts.
House Bill 186 is stalled amid a standoff between House Republicans and Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. Cooper wants to remove a provision that would allow referenda on local nondiscrimination ordinances, while Republicans say they can’t support the bill without it.
“If (Democrats) choose not to take advantage of this opportunity, there will probably be no further discussions on this bill for the next couple years,” House Speaker Tim Moore said this week in an interview with Time Warner Cable News.
Cooper said in a news conference Wednesday that he questions why Republicans are insisting on the referendum provision.
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“You have to wonder if the Republican leadership really wants to repeal House Bill 2,” he said. “Every time you get close to something, they move the goal posts and they want something else, and you’re going to end up with a House Bill 2.2 that doesn’t work.”
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson, who’d been involved in negotiations with Republicans, filed a different proposal Wednesday: A bill that would simply repeal HB2 and do nothing else.
Outside state government, business and community leaders are eager to see the issue resolved. “Thanks for everyone’s hard work,” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane tweeted Wednesday. “Please don’t give up. NC is waiting for the fix.”
On Thursday afternoon, negotiations on the bill remained at a standstill, McGrady said. “As of today, there’s no difference than yesterday, and yesterday was no different than the day before,” he said.
So what would the proposed compromise bill do in addition to repealing HB2? Here’s what you need to know about HB 186:
The referendum provision: This is the part of the bill that’s causing bitter divisions between Democrats and Republicans.
HB 186 would restore the rights of local governments to pass nondiscrimination ordinances that protect people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. But there’s a catch: Any local nondiscrimination ordinance could only take effect 90 days after being approved by the town or city council.
And during that time, opponents of an ordinance could force a voter referendum on it by submitting a petition with the signatures of 10 percent of the voters who voted in the most recent municipal election. In Raleigh, for example, that would mean a petition with about 3,000 signatures.
Republicans say that provision would prevent overreach by city councils because they’d have to make sure their ordinance has strong support. But Democrats argue it would open the door to voting on civil rights.
Cooper says the NCAA wouldn’t like the referendum system, because it could select a city for a sports championship and then find out the city is overturning its nondiscrimination ordinance. “This puts us in a bad situation and doesn’t help remove the stain on our state,” he said Wednesday.
The bathroom provision: HB2 stemmed from a fight over transgender bathroom access. Charlotte’s city council wanted to allow transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity; HB2 overturned that ordinance and requires people to use the bathroom in government facilities that matches the gender on their birth certificate.
Under the compromise bill, state law would no longer address bathroom access. Local laws couldn’t address it either when it comes to private businesses. But cities and towns could set their own rules for facilities they own and operate. So could public universities.
That means that transgender people would likely face different bathroom rules in different locations across the state.
Conservative groups take issue with this provision, with the Christian Action League – which opposes the compromise – arguing it “does nothing to protect a citizen’s fundamental right to privacy.”
Exemptions for nonprofits, religious institutions: This section of the compromise bill is getting less attention, but it’s drawing opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union.
HB 186 would exempt all nonprofits and religious institutions from complying with a local nondiscrimination ordinance. The exemption is in the bill because legislators don’t want to impose on a religious group’s beliefs, McGrady said.
“It harkens back to churches’ objections to gay marriage and whatnot,” he said, adding that he “didn’t want to involve the Boy Scouts” and hopes to “let these organizations decide their own policies.”
Mike Meno of the ACLU says the provision would “create a sweeping and dangerous precedent by making North Carolina the first and only state to broadly exempt nonprofits from following local nondiscrimination laws in employment, housing, and public accommodations.” It would be a “license to discriminate against employees, customers, and clients,” Meno said.
Tougher penalties for bathroom crimes: This is one provision that both parties agree on, and it’s also included in the other compromise bill floated by Cooper.
It would impose a stiffer sentence – typically more jail time – for crimes such as sexual assault, indecent exposure and secret peeping if the incident occurred in a restroom, locker room or changing room.
Statewide nondiscrimination protections: The bill includes a statewide nondiscrimination law that would ban discrimination on the basis of “race, sex, national origin, citizenship, religion, age, veteran status, genetic information, pregnancy, handicap or disability.”
The protected categories do not include gender identity and sexual orientation. A similar law is part of HB2 – a provision that was designed to replace local nondiscrimination ordinances struck down when the law was passed in March 2016.