The latest effort to repeal HB2 is slogging through a deeply divided North Carolina legislature, with Republicans, Democrats and advocates fighting a public-relations battle in a string of news conferences in the Legislative Building on Tuesday.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Hendersonville who is the main sponsor of HB 186, the latest repeal bill, told reporters negotiations were in a delicate balance.
McGrady said he is not currently negotiating with anyone, but he is willing to make changes to the bill.
“I won’t draw lines in the sand,” McGrady said.
Last year’s House Bill 2 rolled back local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and required people in government facilities to use bathrooms matching their birth certificates.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Sunday said a compromise was within sight if Republicans would negotiate over the referendum provision. Cooper, a Democrat, and House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, spoke by phone on Sunday.
Moore said the issue was non-negotiable, according to Rep. Darren Jackson, a Knightdale Democrat who is leading the repeal effort in the House. Jackson said Republican legislators have told him Moore refuses to let the bill move unless the referendum provision is intact.
“All that stands in the way of a deal today is Speaker Moore’s insistence on the referendum,” Jackson said.
Moore’s spokesman said he couldn’t confirm that Moore had taken that position. He cited Moore’s written statement issued Monday saying that the referendum provision was not unusual, in fact was taken from several city charters, and is a common-sense approach.
McGrady reiterated that he needs 35 Republicans to join 35 Democrats to provide enough votes to move the bill out of the 120-member House plus a margin of error. On Monday, he asked that the bill be moved to the House Rules Committee until it picks up enough momentum to proceed.
“At this point the bill is isn’t going to go forward unless I get the Democratic votes,” McGrady said, adding that those votes depended on the governor’s approval.
“I want to get this off the table,” he said. “It’s sucking all the wind out of every other issue we’ve got out there that we really need to work on – besides the economic damage that has been demonstrated by what you’ve heard now.”
Groups urge compromise
McGrady spoke at a news conference attended by the bill’s Republican sponsors along with business, sports and political leaders, many from Charlotte. The organizations called for some kind of compromise without specifically endorsing HB 186. Joining them was Sen. Joel Ford, a Democrat who represents Mecklenburg County.
Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan said HB2 has cost Mecklenburg County 2,500 lost jobs. He called the need for repeal “urgent.” Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, said HB2 has cost $140 million in losses due to boycotts by the NCAA, ACC and the move of the NBA All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans.
Earlier in the day was a news conference by groups pushing for a full repeal with no strings attached: Equality N.C., the Human Rights Campaign and Progress N.C. Action. The event included several business owners who said the economic losses from HB2 hit them personally, several Democratic lawmakers and the mother of a 17-year-old transgender boy from Morrisville.
Sherri Seagroves of Mebane, who owns an executive recruiting firm, said she had placed a client in a senior-level position in Charlotte but the client decided not to move to North Carolina because of HB2. The law was passed last March, blocking Charlotte’s attempt to allow people to use restrooms according to their gender identity.
Seagroves said her firm lost $38,000 that day.
Justin Miller, a Raleigh entrepreneur who started two businesses — a food truck and an online wedding photos application with $12 million in capital investment and 24 hires — said customers have told him they no longer use his services because of HB2. Miller said he has resisted advice to move to another state, in hopes of fighting for repeal here.
Jackson held a news conference in the afternoon to say HB 186 doesn’t have the votes to overcome the majority of House Republicans who apparently would oppose the bill if it came to a vote. An outright repeal of HB2 would draw 45 Democrats, he said; HB 186 without the referendum provision would draw 37 to 42 votes; while the bill as it is would only attract two to four members, he said, based on a survey of the caucus Monday night.
Jackson said the five Democrats who signed on to HB 186 – two of whom have since changed their minds – did so hoping that the referendum requirement could be removed in negotiations. Jackson said there is still an opportunity for negotiating an outcome that would satisfy both sides in the House.
“The deal isn’t dead until the speaker says it’s dead,” he said, referring to Moore.
Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill contributed