Last week’s failed deal to repeal House Bill 2 wasn’t the first time Republican-led efforts toward a compromise have failed.
During the final days of the legislature’s session in June, GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville was quietly working on legislation he says would likely have prevented the loss of NBA, NCAA and ACC sporting events.
The sports leagues have canceled major events in North Carolina, voicing concerns that HB2 promotes discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender people. The moves will likely cost the state’s economy millions of dollars in tourism revenue.
This month’s decisions by the ACC and NCAA prompted Gov. Pat McCrory to suggest a repeal of HB2 was possible if the Charlotte City Council first repealed its nondiscrimination ordinance, which would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Charlotte leaders declined to take action, effectively killing the proposal.
The legislature can legally repeal HB2 while also passing a law to prevent the Charlotte ordinance from taking effect, but Republicans appear unwilling to support that option.
While this month’s proposed compromise hinged on Democrats in Charlotte, June’s HB2 deal fell apart thanks to Republicans, McGrady said. As he circulated copies of a draft bill within the GOP caucus, someone sent the draft to Charlotte TV station WBTV.
“This was leaked with the clear intent of torpedoing a deal that could have been reached,” McGrady said. “There were players out there that were not to be trusted. There were internal politics being played.
“Once it got out, people on the right and left quickly tried successfully to kill it.”
Democrats and LGBT advocacy groups urged lawmakers to oppose anything short of a full repeal, while conservative religious groups didn’t want to see any changes to HB2.
McGrady’s proposal wouldn’t have changed HB2’s most controversial provision, which requires people visiting schools and government facilities to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. Nor would it have restored the ability of local governments to pass nondiscrimination ordinances.
Instead, the bill would have replaced the anti-discrimination language in HB2 with federal standards for discrimination protections. It would have increased punishments for crimes committed in public bathrooms and created a “sex reassignment certificate” for transgender people seeking to use bathrooms that don’t match their birth certificates.
It also would have established an “anti-discrimination task force” at the legislature to study discrimination issues and make recommendations to the General Assembly.
“We were pretty sure that if we could enact the bill ... that the NBA would not have pulled its All-Star Game” from Charlotte, McGrady said. “There was also was the specter of once that happened, that would be the first domino.”
Rep. Darren Jackson – a Knightdale Democrat who has lobbied for a full repeal of HB2 – says he doesn’t think the draft bill would have stopped the economic losses.
“In my opinion, I think you had to have a full repeal to limit those losses,” he said. “The first step always had to be full repeal.”
McGrady said he sought to keep his proposal private until he had enough Republican votes to bring it to the House floor. “If we can have discussion among ourselves before the advocates on either side begin to do their thing, there’s the potential that you can find consensus,” he said. “I got fairly close to having a majority of the Republican caucus supportive of the concept.”
McGrady said McCrory pushed for a compromise but wasn’t involved in drafting the specifics of the bill because he’s “big picture.”
“The governor did come to a joint caucus (of House and Senate Republicans),” McGrady said. “He was trying to help bring Republicans on board with a proposal that would pass muster with the NBA.”
McCrory also met with Democratic legislators in the final days of the session regarding HB2. But Rep. Ken Goodman, a Rockingham Democrat who attended the meeting, says the governor didn’t detail any proposed compromise and didn’t ask for the legislators to vote on anything.
Goodman disputed reports that the Democrats agreed to a compromise with McCrory but were later lobbied by attorney general Roy Cooper, who’s running for governor, to oppose the deal.
“That story is just a myth,” Goodman said. “I talked to Roy Cooper that morning, and he never mentioned House Bill 2.”
Jackson said he was never shown McGrady’s proposal, and he thinks the secrecy surrounding the bill was the wrong approach – particularly after HB2 was passed within hours of the bill becoming public.
“I would think you needed to be very transparent in what you were doing to get everybody’s support because of the way everybody got burned the first time,” he said.
McGrady said he doesn’t plan to push his compromise bill again when the legislature returns in January.
“That sweet spot, that window of opportunity, it’s gone now,” he said. “It will take a different approach.”