State Politics

Could House Bill 2 be replaced by Indiana-like RFRA legislation?

N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady, sponsor of HB 186, a replacement for HB2, speaks during a press conference at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh, NC on Feb. 28, 2017.
N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady, sponsor of HB 186, a replacement for HB2, speaks during a press conference at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh, NC on Feb. 28, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

N.C. House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson says Republicans want to include “religious freedom” language – similar to a controversial Indiana law – in legislation repealing House Bill 2.

Jackson posted several images of the proposed legislation on Twitter Wednesday. “Since the speaker wouldn’t share with his caucus, I figured I would share the bill they are discussing,” Jackson wrote.

Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady, who’s been leading HB2 repeal negotiations in the House, confirmed that provisions similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, have been discussed.

“RFRA has been discussed, RFRA light, RFRA first cousin,” McGrady said Wednesday evening, but he stressed that the documents Jackson posted are “not my work.”

“I don’t know whether they reflect language that somebody may be proposing,” he added.

House Republicans were in a closed-door caucus meeting for hours on Wednesday, wrapping up around the time Jackson posted the documents. Moore had told legislators on the House floor earlier Wednesday that a rare Friday session is possible this week.

“House Republicans are considering a bill explained by the speaker,” McGrady said in a text message Wednesday evening. Asked if that bill includes any of the proposals Jackson posted, he said “I really don’t know. We haven’t been given a bill.”

The proposed legislation Jackson posted is labeled “Religious Liberty,” and says that anyone whose “Constitutional exercise of religious liberty and rights of conscience has been burdened ... by an action of the state” can sue the state or any state or local government agency involved.

A second document Jackson posted – which he labeled “the final piece of what Republicans have decided to run” – repeals parts of House Bill 2 but leaves intact the section dealing with access to bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities.

That’s the best-known provision of HB2, which says that people using government facilities must use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.

Jackson’s tweets quickly prompted outcry from fellow Democrats and LGBT groups.

“GOP leadership’s ‘repeal’ effort of #hb2 is to pass super RFRA,” Equality North Carolina tweeted. “What a nightmare that would be for our state.”

Democratic Rep. Cecil Brockman of High Point tweeted “why can’t N.C. Republicans just do the right thing.”

In 2015, House Speaker Tim Moore decided to scrap a proposed religious freedom bill following outcry from the business community.

Supporters said the RFRA measure would guarantee people’s ability to exercise religious liberties. Critics said it would allow discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.

“When you have business leaders from around the state coming in and saying, ‘We’ve got concerns,’ we’ve got to be mindful,” Moore said when he announced the bill wouldn’t move forward.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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