North Carolina’s governor insists there are enough votes to kill the state’s “bathroom bill.” But a survey by The Associated Press, The News & Observer and seven other North Carolina newspapers shows less than a third of lawmakers are willing to publicly commit to that stance.
A closely watched deal to repeal the law fell apart during a December special session amid distrust between Democrats and Republicans. The law known as House Bill 2 sparked backlash from businesses and LGBT advocates who say it’s discriminatory because it requires transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. It also excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from statewide anti-discrimination protections.
Only 12 of 50 state senators and 40 of 118 House members said they support abolishing the law, nearly all of them Democrats. On the other side, 13 representatives and six senators said firmly that they want the law to remain.
But the survey doesn’t give a clear answer about the likelihood of undoing the law. In both chambers, those giving a “yes” or “no” were outnumbered by those on the fence or declining to participate.
“It’s going to be a heavy lift. I hesitate to comment one way or another without seeing a specific proposal,” said Republican Rep. Josh Dobson, who represents mountain counties.
“I will just have to see what the dialogue looks like,” said Sen. Ronald Rabin, a Harnett County Republican.
About 10 Republicans in each chamber said they were open to finding a solution but would have to see what’s included in a repeal bill.
The survey was conducted over the opening days of this year’s legislative session.
Many Republican lawmakers are likely keeping their views private to discourage public squabbling, said Republican Mike Hager, who served as House majority leader before leaving the legislature last year. The House Republican Caucus has been divided over repeal legislation.
Hager said many GOP legislators from rural, socially conservative areas are torn between concerns about HB2 hampering economic activity and the desire to protect bathroom privacy and respect religious views.
“People have deep-seated feelings about family norms,” Hager said. “You’ve got to have someone brave enough and offer a compromise, because that is what it’s going to take.”
The survey, sent Jan. 19 by email, asked legislators whether they would “vote to repeal House Bill 2 in its entirety” if such legislation were introduced. Reporters also contacted lawmakers by phone or in person over the following week.
Many Republicans say the law is needed to protect safety and privacy, while critics say those dangers are nonexistent.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper repeated his assertion that there are enough votes for full repeal in a blog post on Tuesday. Asked about the tepid survey responses, Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter said: “The votes existed in both chambers in December and legislative leaders could still repeal this law today.”
State Senate leader Phil Berger, responding to the survey, said he has told Cooper that repeal will require compromise and that “I’m encouraged that his response to those concerns is that he wants to work something out.” But Berger also told Time Warner Cable News on Thursday that he doesn’t believe there are enough votes “for an outright repeal without anything else.”
Republicans have large majorities in both the House and the Senate. Some Republicans said they will not vote for repeal without leaving part of the bathroom provision intact. Others have favored limiting local governments’ antidiscrimination measures.
The law was a response to an anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte, home to Republican Rep. Andy Dulin. He said he expects lawmakers crafting a repeal bill will be cautious to avoid another showdown with local governments.
“I am of the opinion that we need to let our urban centers and our state move forward,” said Dulin, whose district suffered from the withdrawal of the ACC football championship, the NBA All-Star Game and business projects.
“We know that a full repeal of House Bill 2 is what will bring businesses and entertainers back to North Carolina,” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri said. The Raleigh Democrat’s district includes parts of Cary, where the ACC and NCAA canceled events and where Deutsche Bank put a planned expansion on hold because of the law.
“Anything short of a full repeal will not remedy the economic damage we continue to experience,” Chaudhuri said.
By contrast, GOP Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County said he can support repeal “with conditions.”
“I want privacy protected,” he said. “The bathroom piece, the protections need to stay in place. That you go to the bathroom on your birth certificate.”
Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from mountainous Henderson County, was among those who declined to answer “yes” or “no,” saying: “It really depends on what else is with it. If we’re talking about a straight repeal and nothing else, I don’t know.”
Staff writers Lynn Bonner, Colin Campbell, Will Doran and Jim Morrill contributed.