With weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers could take action to tweak House Bill 2 without changing its main provision on transgender bathroom use.
Rep. Darren Jackson, a Knightdale Democrat and vocal opponent of HB2, said Saturday that he’s seen an outline of proposed legislation that could emerge this week.
According to Jackson, the bill wouldn’t change the provision requiring people in government facilities to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. But it would make an exception for transgender people who were born in states that don’t allow them to change their birth certificates after gender reassignment surgery.
The bill would restore the ability to file employment discrimination lawsuits in state courts, Jackson said. HB2 eliminated that action in state courts, requiring people who claim they were wrongfully fired to instead sue in federal court, which is a more complicated process. Gov. Pat McCrory has been calling for that change to HB2 for months.
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Jackson said the outline he saw would also create tougher penalties for people who commit crimes in bathrooms. And it would tweak the language in HB2’s statewide nondiscrimination law — which replaced local nondiscrimination ordinances — to match federal statutes, which use the term “sex” instead of “biological sex.” Cities and counties would still be banned from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances.
Two Republican legislators reached Saturday said they haven’t heard much about proposed changes to HB2.
“I’m hearing rumors there is something out there,” House Majority Leader Mike Hager said. “The House caucus has not been brought into the subject, nor has, as far as I know, leadership.”
Asked by email whether the Senate leadership is working on changes to HB2, Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca said “not that I’ve been told.” House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown could not be reached for comment.
Hager said he’d be willing to consider changing the workplace discrimination lawsuit provision and stiffening penalties for bathroom crimes. But he said he’d oppose anything that walks back other provisions of HB2, and he doesn’t want to change the wording of the statewide nondiscrimination law.
“I think that opens it up to more confusion,” he said. “It’s unsettled law even in the federal issue.”
McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the governor has continued to press legislators to restore workplace discrimination claims in state courts. As for other elements of possible legislation, “I wouldn’t be able to comment on something without seeing a bill,” Ellis said.
Jackson, who has repeatedly called for repeal of HB2, said the proposal he’s seen won’t address the discrimination issues in the law.
“I don’t view this as a fix at all,” he said. “I don’t view it as a step in the right direction.”
Jackson said he doesn’t think the proposed changes would stop any of the economic losses North Carolina has seen, including canceled business expansions, conventions and concerts. He said the legislature risks losing NCAA sporting events if it doesn’t take further action by July, when proposals to host tournaments are reviewed.
Legislative leaders have said they hope to wrap up the current session before the July 4 holiday weekend. Once they leave town, they aren’t scheduled to return until late January.