State Politics

Cooper blasts HB2 compromise’s referendum provision: ‘Like putting the Civil Rights Act to a popular vote’

Cooper calls for both sides to tone down rhetoric on HB2 repeal

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper talks about the need for compromise in the repeal of HB2 before the NCAA pulls future events from N.C.
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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper talks about the need for compromise in the repeal of HB2 before the NCAA pulls future events from N.C.

Gov. Roy Cooper called on Republican legislators Sunday to drop a provision in a proposed HB2 repeal compromise that would allow for a referendum vote on local nondiscrimination ordinances.

Cooper issued a news release and posted a video Sunday afternoon calling on House Speaker Tim Moore to “return to the negotiating table.” Cooper says his primary concern with a compromise proposed by Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady and two Democratic legislators last week is a provision that “would be like putting the Civil Rights Act to a popular vote in cities in the South during the 1960s.”

Cooper also said it would prolong the debate and continue to harm North Carolina’s image.

“Imagine the endless campaigning —  months of one side demonizing the other about whether LGBT citizens have rights,” Cooper said. “Toxic 30-second TV ads. Nasty mail filling up your mailbox. And North Carolina is still in the national news for all the wrong reasons.”

McGrady’s proposal would restore the ability of local governments to pass nondiscrimination ordinances – something that’s banned under HB2 – although the ordinances could only address transgender bathroom access for government facilities, not private businesses. But it would allow opponents of a local ordinance to submit a petition and initiate a ballot referendum if they collect enough signatures, forcing a vote on the ordinance.

“Rather than truly working together, Republican leaders introduced this ‘bipartisan compromise’ by promising Democrats that the referendum provision could be removed and then going back on that promise,” Cooper wrote. “This is not a Republican compromise with Democrats; it’s a Republican compromise with Republicans.”

Under the proposed compromise bill, HB2 would be repealed, but any local nondiscrimination ordinance could only take effect 90 days after being approved by the town or city council.

Cooper says he’s willing to consider other options to placate Republicans who are concerned about local nondiscrimination ordinances. “For example, the state could require cities that want to add LGBT protections to approve them by majority-plus-one votes,” he wrote.

Gov. Roy Cooper said that HB2 is a hindrance to recruiting businesses to North Carolina, and that some companies won't move here because of the 11-month-old law.

McGrady says a referendum provision might have stopped Charlotte’s city council from approving the nondiscrimination ordinance that prompted HB2, because its controversial bathroom provision likely would have prompted a referendum.

“They would have never put forward an ordinance with that bathroom provision on it,” he told The News & Observer on Sunday evening. “For me, the referendum provision is very important because of the way the Charlotte City Council did what it did. There needs to be some check on the power of city councils.”

McGrady says some Republican legislators might vote against the bill if the referendum provision is removed. “The key here is always, ‘can we get the votes?’” he said, adding that the referendum piece “is even more critical in getting the votes on my side of the aisle.”

The referendum provision has also prompted one of the compromise bill’s five Democratic co-sponsors, Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte, to withdraw his support.

“What you’re doing is taking away the decision-making power for elected representatives of the city and county, who the people already elected to use their best judgment,” Moore said, adding that his decision “doesn’t mean I won’t try to negotiate and hopefully come to some type of way to make this bill more palatable.”

McGrady said Cooper has been lobbying House Democrats to oppose his bill, and he said the governor needs to focus instead on negotiating with Republicans if he wants to see the HB2 issue resolved.

“I wish he’d shared his concerns by talking to people that are actually managing the bill as opposed to going on Twitter and recording YouTube videos,” McGrady said. “I drew no lines in the sand and was willing to talk about anything.”

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Knightdale joined Cooper’s calls for the referendum provision to be dropped. “If the demand for a referendum on people’s civil rights is removed, I too pledge to work with the governor to help deliver Democratic votes,” Jackson tweeted Sunday.

North Carolina’s legislature passed a law that prevents transgender people from using government-run bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. The law — House Bill 2 (HB2) — has incited a state-wide civil liberties battle. He

Craig Jarvis contributed to this report

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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